Perspective features the opinions of prominent people in the fitness industry. Here, Australian Fitness Network’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Paul Batman, laments the decline of incidental activity in the past half century and argues the case for helping clients move more outside of their training sessions.

Our homo sapien ancestors, who originated approximately 200,000 years ago, were a pretty active bunch, hunting, scavenging and expending around 3,000 kcals per day. During their 16 waking hours, early homo sapiens would expend approximately 2 METS (7 ml/kg/min) which was equivalent to 30km of walking per day. This enormous workload indicates that their survival was dependent upon their physical activity. The evolution of physical activity became intrinsically linked to the structure and function of all aspects of our human organism.

Over the past 50 years rapid changes to our domestic activities, work and urban environments and methods of travel have resulted in us sitting more, moving less and generally becoming unrecognisable in our behaviours to our ancient ancestors. Since 1960 there has been a significant increase in service delivery industries such as health, education, finance, leisure and hospitality, while the more active manufacturing and agricultural industries have decreased.

Today, less than 20 per cent of people in developed countries are sufficiently active in their daily lives. Of the remaining ‘active jobs’, some, such as the military, police and fire brigade, are dropping the physical standards required for entry. Physical activity behaviours that kept us alive and healthy have all but disappeared. The move from moderate intensity occupations to light intensity ones, combined with increased TV, computer, gaming and internet usage, has decreased energy expenditure by at least 140 calories per day. This may have played a significant role in body weight increase over the past 50 years, as time spent at work represents the largest time period in a person’s day. This is further compounded by the travelling time to and from work which is usually undertaken in a seated position.

The decline in necessary daily activity that started in the 1960s may be the most dangerous legacy that newer generations are inheriting. The quickly evolving technology age may have even greater repercussions. Recent accelerometer studies have reported up to 9.3 hours of a person’s waking time (average 16 hours) can be spent in sedentary behaviour, which is defined as light activity with an energy expenditure of less than 1.2 METS.

As our lifestyles became increasingly inactive, studies began to be published supporting the benefits of moderate intensity lifestyle activities performed outside of designated exercise sessions. It was hard to believe that moderate intensity activity could also produce significant health benefits – that even football spectators are improving their health by merely standing, sitting and walking.
Personal training programs have largely focused on fat loss, increased fitness, dietary regulations, exercise technique, postural alignments and correcting muscle imbalances, predominantly conducted within a specific training session that comprises about five per cent of a person’s 24-hour day. So, what about clients’ other nine waking hours of sedentary behaviour?

It has been reported that the physiological benefits of intense physical training may not counteract the damaging effects of sedentary sitting. This means that clients who undertake moderate to vigorous exercise for an hour with their personal trainer may still be classified as sedentary due to the increase in sitting time.

The belief that high intensity exercise produces the most favourable benefits in fitness, health and fat loss is also now being debated. A substantial body of information suggests that clients should be prepared progressively for intense workouts due to the production and neutralisation of free radicals that can cause both significant benefits and extensive side effects. The role of moderately intense daily activities can no longer be ignored as a significant contributor to health and fitness, nor can clients’ and members’ training sessions be seen as sufficient for them to achieve optimal health.

The time has come for fitness professionals to extend their influence over their clients by formally assisting them to create experiences that increase their daily energy expenditure with combinations of light, moderate and intense activities in their work and domestic environments, transport choices and leisure activities. Our aim should be to reduce clients’ sedentary sitting behaviour during their waking hours. By turning back the clock in this way, we will truly help more people realise a brighter future.


Paul Batman, Phd
Paul is director of the Fitness Institute Australia, a company specialising in fitness instructor education and continuing education. Prior to this, he was a university lecturer in exercise science for over 15 years. He has written five books, over 100 articles and made over 1,000 presentations throughout Australia, Asia, the UK and the US.