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9 ways to exercise every day without really trying from gardening to drinking a coffee

What counts as exercise? Is it running a 5k, sweating in a gym or following along with a celebrity workout video? According to the World Health Organisation, physical activity is defined as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure” – which, in real terms, translates to pretty much anything.

“Many people have negative associations with working out, but all movement counts as exercise,” says personal trainer Mollie Mollington. “You don’t need to be sweating loads, unable to catch your breath or in a stereotypical exercise environment for movement to have benefits.”

For beginners, moving more outside of traditional “exercise” parameters can make them feel more confident and accomplished. Even experienced exercisers can benefit from changing their view of what counts: studies, like a 2020 paper from Frontiers in Psychology, report that novelty in your workout routine is one of the most important factors in staying active across your life.

If it’s time to broaden your movement horizons with exercise that doesn’t feel like working out, try these.

1. Walking cafés

If your weekend usually involves a catch-up with a friend over a flat white in a bustling café, take your caffeine hit to go. Walking work meetings are a popular concept, with research showing that breaking up your working day with outdoor activity increases creativity by 81 to 100 per cent – but it can also boost your friendships.

Research from the American Psychological Association found that walking with a partner increases positive rapport, empathy and pro-social behaviour. “There are additional benefits of social support and connection when doing activities with others, and this can really support wellbeing, as well as making it feel fun rather than like exercise,” says Abigail Ireland, personal trainer and founder of Understanding Performance.

2. Get jumping

Kids love a trampoline, so if you’re a parent, godparent or relative of young people, get bouncing with them (or even without them). The workout is Nasa-approved, as it’s shown to increase oxygen uptake and stimulate the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments more so than running.

Yet you might be having too much fun to notice, according to a small 2016 study that found 19-minute trampoline workouts burn the same amount of energy as running at six miles per hour for the same time but feel less intense thanks to the distraction of enjoyment.

3. Soft hiking

Soft hiking is the latest TikTok trend, but it’s not just one for the app. Coined by the creators of @softgirlswhohike who say of the workout: “It’s not about pushing yourself to the limit… soft hiking is about the pure joy of spending time in nature and moving your body. It’s important to take breaks, eat and actually take in your surroundings. Take time to go off trail and be present in the moment. There’s no need to rush.”

Research suggests that low-intensity exercise improved aerobic health as much as a HIIT session, but feels far more enjoyable.

4. Strength snacking 

Exercise snacking is the name given to short bouts of exercise performed throughout your day, rather than in one chunk of time. According to Loughborough University researchers, meeting the NHS-recommended 30 minutes of movement a day still matters, but there are just as many benefits to six five-minute sessions or three 10-minute bursts.

The best way to snack is by tagging your exercise onto other workouts – squatting while the kettle boils and doing calf raises while brushing your teeth all add up to a full workout at the end of your day.

5. Dancing 

Raving at 5am might not sound like good health advice, but it is when the parties are sober wellness raves that begin, rather than end, in the early hours. Throwing shapes at Daybreaker or Morning Gloryville will get your heart rate up but if you prefer dancing alone then follow along with YouTube dance workouts by creator EmKFit. A 2021 study even found that dancing for three days a week lowered cholesterol levels while improving fitness and body composition in post-menopausal women.

6. Gardening

“There is a gym outside many windows,” according to a Clinical Medicine report, with digging, raking and mowing being calorie-intensive activities that rival traditional exercise. Regardless of calorie burn, moderate-intensity exercise during downtime is also associated with a longer lifespan – particularly if combined with nature, with an Australian study found gardening was more protective against dementia than maintaining a moderate alcohol intake.

A woman digging compost into a raised bed constructed out of old scaffolding planks.
Digging, raking and mowing are calorie-intensive activities (Photo: Christopher Hopefitch/Getty)

7. Cleaning 

As well as the work to be done outside the house, getting chores done inside could help you get your heart rate up. A 2023 study found people burn around 276 calories when cleaning the kitchen. Scrubbing the bathroom burns 173 calories, and a bedroom is 154. A 2007 study done on 84 female hotel maids also found that the placebo effect of believing cleaning was beneficial can help your health too: the women were told that cleaning was part of an active lifestyle and as a result they decreased their blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and BMI.

8. Walking pads

If time is the block between you and a regular workout routine, a walking pad might be the answer. More functional than a treadmill, walking pads can be placed under a standing desk so you can step while you work. They’re not cheap – the namesake brand costs around £399, with other pads costing roughly £200, but they’re currently a viral sensation for helping people be less sedentary during the workday.

“Workload, juggling priorities and time challenges tend to stop people from regularly exercising, but combining movement with another activity [in this case, work] can make you feel more accomplished in the same space of time,” adds Ireland.

9. Get climbing

Taking the stairs might sound like an obvious way to move more but when did you last do it? A PMC Public Health paper from 2021 reported that people who take the stairs are less likely to have metabolic syndromes, while another study from 2021 involving 280,423 participants found that climbing more than five flights of stairs a day lowered the risk of premature death, with six to ten flights adding up to 55 days onto participants lives. Walk the escalator or take an extra flight wherever possible.

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