Finding the time to exercise can be easier said than done: Managing hectic schedules while juggling responsibilities across our family, professional, and social lives have many of us busier and more stressed out than ever. But, paradoxically, regular exercise can boost our physical and mental health, making us more efficient and better equipped to manage stress.
Ultimately, when you don’t make time to move your body, you sacrifice your long-term health and well-being. According to the National Institutes of Health, lifelong regular exercise is associated with a longer health span and can delay the onset of 40 different chronic diseases. In addition, physical activity can enhance sleep quality, increase strength, improve balance, give you more energy, and boost heart health—all benefits that help you live a longer, healthier life. Exercise also has emotional and mental health benefits, such as helping combat depression and anxiety while improving your mood.
Personal trainers are in the business of helping you reap these benefits of fitness. But they also get it: Life can make it hard to squeeze exercise into a busy schedule. “There are plenty of ways to up your activity level without dedicating too much extra time to an exercise session,” says Kate Meier, CPT, a certified personal trainer at Gym Garage Reviews. All it takes is a little creativity and commitment.
1. Walk more during your day
“Consciously walking more throughout the day will increase your activity level, whether that’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away at the supermarket,” says Meier.
If you’re a desk worker, she also suggests standing up for at least a few minutes every hour if possible. Ben Schermerhorn, CPT, a master personal trainer at Life Time, suggests having NEAT meetings (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). “When you’re on a remote meeting, try to do it walking instead of sitting at your desk,” he says. “This will increase your activity level and get you moving.” You can pace the room while on a call, or head out for a stroll around the block. If there’s a place in your office or home where you can stand during Zoom meetings, even that can help stretch out the legs.
2. Establish a five to 10-minute morning workout routine
Working out first thing in the morning or earlier in the day has many benefits, especially for your energy levels. Schermerhorn says, “Morning workouts will increase your energy throughout the day, reduce stress, and allow you to think more clearly. If you wait until after work, it will be difficult to summon the energy and easier to make excuses to skip a workout if you have a family, pet, or work obligations.”
Meier suggests establishing a five to 10-minute workout routine that you can do before the rush of the day kicks in. “This can help wake up your muscles and brain so your day starts strong,” she says. Her top recommendation to squeeze in an effective workout quickly is high-intensity interval training. “Warm up for a minute or two, then pick two or three exercises and try doing 45 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds of rest. Cycle through the moves for as much time as you have, then stretch for a minute or two to cool down,” says Meier.
Quick exercises that improve cardio include running in place, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, squat jumps, and jump rope. If you want to focus on strength training, Schermerhorn suggests basic compound lifts to get the most bang for your buck: “Squats, deadlifts, bench press, and pull-ups will cover all the major muscle groups.”
Try this 10-minute core routine that only requires a towel:
3. Give yourself mini “exercise snacks”
Whether you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, hanging out for a few minutes before a meeting, or watching the kids at the playground, use the time to work in just a quick exercise or two. “Throughout the day, take just a few moments at a time to get some movement in,” says Meier. “Knock out 10 air squats and 10 push-ups every hour or two—anything is better than sitting still.” New findings show even two minutes of intense activity per day can help you live longer.
4. Make social outings and family time active
Instead of going out for dinner, drinks, or movies with friends, make your social outings active. “Go for walks or hikes with friends,” recommends Meier. “Even something like going to a museum is an activity that will keep you moving for hours without realizing it.” Family time could include sledding or playing frisbee at the park. “Taking your dog for a family walk is an excellent group activity that gets you and the whole family moving,” says Schermerhorn.
5. Netflix and sweat
You can also work a little movement into your “me-time.” Put on your favorite episode of Grey’s Anatomy while running on a treadmill or do a quick HIIT workout during every commercial break. “Watching Netflix or other streaming services on a stationary bike or treadmill is a fun way to exercise if you find it tough to get motivated,” says Schermerhorn.