Do you struggle to fit in your weekly training sessions? Don’t feel guilty, as you may be doing more exercise than you think. While a structured workout plan is a great way to meet your fitness goals, current wisdom suggests that short bouts of daily activity – such as taking the stairs or washing the car – will crush fat and carve lean muscle, too.

While this may sound like a feeble excuse for choosing the telly over a gym session, a plethora of research shows that Non-Exercise Physical Activity – or NEPA, as it’s been coined by experts – is impressively effective. One such piece of research, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, discovered that lean participants burned an average of 350 additional calories per day simply by doing more non-exercise activity, such as standing and walking, than their heavier counterparts. To put that in perspective, many people would blast a similar amount of energy on a three-mile jog. As study leader Dr Levine explains: ‘You can expend calories in one of two ways. One is to go to the gym and the other is through the activities of daily living.’

Of course, it’s not just calorie expenditure you should be concerned about, as an increasing amount of research is showing that a lack of activity in daily life increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health woes.

Excessive sitting and Type 2 diabetes

Data published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, discovered that people sitting for fewer than six hours a day lived longer than their sedentary comrades. More recently, experts at the University of Leicester added to this morbid news by discovering that excessive amounts of sitting increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

So, why has sitting got such a bad reputation? According to the experts, it’s because long periods of inactivity halt the muscle activity that triggers processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars in the body. Laziness is bad for your health – sounds logical, doesn’t it? Well, gym fanatics can suffer the negative effects of inactivity, too. Research shows that being fit won’t necessarily help matters – a structured workout such as gym session or lunchtime run is not the antidote to excessive bouts of sitting. Instead, scientists claim the answer is to take short and frequent breaks from being sedentary – walk your dog, get up to talk to colleagues or stand occasionally. As an added bonus, evidence suggests this will also reduce metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and abdominal fat – that contribute to heart disease risk), thanks to positive changes in the levels of lipoprotein lipase. Sounds simple – right?

How to be more active at home

So should you scrap your fitness sessions completely? We don’t recommend this, as planned workouts will still go a long way to improving your health and wellbeing, as well as boosting specific elements of your fitness such as stamina or power. But non-exercise activity is great for bolstering general fitness, too, and the foundations of NEPA are certainly not new activities. In fact, before technology and industry, most people enjoyed a greater level of non-exercise fitness. It’s only in recent years we’ve chosen to sit down to work, after all.

Non-exercise physical activity

With this in mind, to increase your amount of NEPA, simply aim to be more active in day-to-day life. This increase in activity may include walking to the shops, doing the gardening or cleaning the dishes – they are all examples of non-exercise physical activity. NEPA pioneer Dr Levine says that all of the things we do in the course of the day, whether dancing, going to work, shovelling snow, playing the guitar or walking, count as NEPA. It’s simple, so give it a go.

Get fit with housework

Yes, those necessary chores do count as exercise! While cleaning the house may not be the most exciting way to get a fitness fix, consider the upside – you’ll burn loads of calories and then relax in a clean and tidy home afterwards. According to experts, washing the floor or cleaning the car blasts more than 150 calories in just 30 minutes.

Tidy the garden

You can blitz some serious fat during a marathon gardening session. Statistics show you can use up to 200 calories per half hour of gardening, plus going from standing-to-squatting is great for muscle tone! Choose traditional gardening methods to work your body harder, such as feeding the plants with a watering can rather than using a hose.

Walk to work

Walking is a great way to boost your leg strength and up cardiovascular fitness. If you live too far away from the office, park your car a few miles away from work and walk the rest of the distance. As a good rule of thumb, you’ll torch 100 calories per mile.

Take more breaks

According to data, the average adult spends 90 per cent of their leisure time sitting down, and further research shows that reducing sitting time by 90 minutes daily would decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Cut your sedentary time by getting up to talk to colleagues, making more tea at work and going for regular strolls.