6 tricks to get more active

Increasing your physical activity can add time to your day, not take it away
A smiling man types on his cellphone in the park.

Having a hard time fitting in physical activity? You’re not alone. Being active is hard. In an effort to be ever more efficient, we’ve engineered activity out of our lives.

Lots of jobs, from farming to desk jobs, are far less active than before. The same is true for household chores now with dishwashers, remote controls and robot vacuums. Some of these changes have made certain tasks safer, but many have just made us more sedentary. In creating this efficiency at work and home, we’re now encouraged to get exercise in our spare time. This doesn’t seem all that efficient to me; we sit around all day just so we have to be active later? Besides creating generations of inactive people, this has created a myth that being active is inefficient and takes time. This is far from the truth.

There are lots of ways to be active without taking time away from your day. Some will actually save you time, and even money. Here are just a few:

Take the stairs

Whenever we enter a building and see an elevator or escalator, we’re more likely to use them even when the stairs are right beside them.

Chances are, if you’re only going up three flights or less, the stairs will be faster. In the hospital where I work, the only people using the elevators are visitors because the staff all know how slow they are.

Park at the first spot you see

We all love to get parking spots as close to the door as possible. It’s like winning the lottery!

But searching out a prime spot doesn’t save time and it reduces opportunities for physical activity. If we park at the first spot we see, even if it is farther away, we’re likely to get to the door faster than if we circle around and around, looking for the closest one. And, as one of my colleagues suggested, park further away, get even more steps, and it’s less likely your car will get dinged by others trying to park next to it.

Take transit

I’m not suggesting you need to give up your car (although that would have benefits too). But people who take transit are more active than those who don’t. An obvious explanation is because the bus or train doesn’t pick or drop you off at the exact destination you want.

For people who work in a downtown core, taking transit does away with fighting traffic and finding parking, which can cost more than bus fare. While riding a bus that stops frequently may take longer than driving, a subway or light rail transit can be faster, especially in rush hour. You can also read, answer emails or, as I do, write on a laptop. 

If you want to get even more steps, get on the bus one stop later or get off one stop earlier. Some stops display the estimated time of arrival; if it’s five or more minutes, I’ll make use of that time and walk to the next stop and still catch the same bus.

Charge up your chores

I’ve previously published a study indicating that even getting physical activity from household chores can help prevent disease. Now many of us do chores anyway so you may be wondering, how can doing something I’m already doing increase my activity?

It might entail making slight changes in how you approach your chores. Get rid of your robot vacuum and vacuum the house yourself. Go old-school and get a rotary push mower. Hang your clothes to dry instead of using the dryer. If you only have a few dirty dishes, wash them yourself

Walk and talk

Who says meetings have to be held sitting down? For most one-on-one meetings, getting outside and going for a walk can be equally effective. It also tells your colleagues that being active is important to you -- an attitude that may rub off on them.

Change how you travel

Active transport means using your own body as a means to get you somewhere you want to go, like school, a store or work. Most often this means either walking or cycling but I’ve seen people rollerblade to work and even skate or cross-country ski in winter. What sets active transport apart from other activities is that the purpose is the destination, not how you get there. This way you can do two things at once; be active and get where you need to go.

I live 5 km from work and I commute by bike — not just to get in activity, but also because it is free (no paying for parking) and faster than the bus and driving during rush hour. By the time I get home, my activity is done, so I don’t have to fit it in later.

Try all or some of these ideas. Even making simple changes can dramatically increase your daily and weekly activity. It may seem like only a small amount at first, but it adds up and can make a real difference to your long-term health.


Dr. Scott Lear

Dr. Scott Lear is a leading researcher in the prevention and management of heart disease. He holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and he is a professor in the faculty of health sciences and the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Lear also lives with heart disease himself. Follow his blog at drscottlear.com.