Time is on your side. The benefits of incidental physical activity…quickly!

Regular physical activity is essential for good health and wellbeing. Despite the clear benefits of being active, only half of Americans meet even minimum recommendations for exercise and other activity.

As a way to get people moving, they are encouraged to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. This includes taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away and walking to their destination. However, the perception that these “steps” take longer than the less active alternative may serve as a disincentive for many people.

Studies conducted by my students at USC Aiken show that these forms of what I call incidental physical activity do not necessarily take longer than the less active alternatives. In fact, in most cases the active way is quicker! This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

B&E stairs elevator


In one study, we examined the time required to ascend and descend one floor using either the stairs or elevator in a building on the USC Aiken campus. The results showed that the time required to take the elevator was about twice that to use the stairs (36 vs. 16 seconds). The increased time on the elevator was due to waiting, in some cases almost one minute, for it to arrive.

It is worth mentioning that this study was conducted in a building with two floors. To be sure, the elevator would be quicker if you were going up or down several floors. But let’s be honest, not many buildings in our area have enough floors for this to be relevant. For most of us, the stairs will be quicker most places we go.

In another study we compared the time required to park in the first convenient parking space in the parking lot as opposed to driving around searching for a space closer to the destination. We asked several people to record the time required to enter their destination after either parking in the first convenient space compared to searching for a parking space closer to the destination on campus and at businesses in the community.

The time required to search for a parking space closer to the destination was significantly greater than the time required to park in the first convenient parking space on campus and at stores. Driving around looking for a closer spot meant that it took an average of three minutes to enter the destination building. It took people about half that long if they parked further away and walked.

These studies show that taking a few extra steps in the parking lot or on the stairs is actually quicker than driving around and parking closer or using the elevator. This information might help people decide to be more active. And these small changes may lead to further healthy choices.

Of course, simply using the stairs instead of the elevator or talking the first available parking spot isn’t going to replace regular exercise. But making activity a part of your everyday routine is an important part of developing a healthy lifestyle. In fact, a recent study suggests that multiple bouts of activity as short as a few minutes can add up to equal the health effects of a single prolonged exercise session each day. Now that you know that active choices won’t necessarily slow you down, what ways will you save time by being active?


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