Fitting Fitness into Your Busy Schedule

by Deborah L. Mullen, CSCS

Do you know about the benefits of exercise and the risks of inactivity, yet still find it difficult to incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle? If so, you are not alone. Most people have good intentions, but don't seem to find the time, or inclination to exercise. This article is written for you. When you are finished reading it, I hope that you will have found a few tips that you can use, and a way to help you to actually do them.

Your Automobile
Which do you find more appealing: a) a two-minute drive with long stoplights, heavy traffic and a search for a parking space or b) a ten minute walk where you get to be outdoors and get a chance to slow down and take notice of things? I'm hoping that you preferred the second, otherwise you need more help than I can give you.

Why do we use our cars for such short trips? If safety isn't a concern, then probably it's just force of habit. Really, now, an extra ten minutes won't collapse your day's schedule. Think of the saving in wear and tear on your car--your starter motor will thank you. You know that the walk will do wonders for de-stressing you, so next time you hear that nasty little voice urging you to turn the key and hit the gas pedal--just lock the doors and hoof it!

If you do have to drive around to do errands, make sure to park in the farthest space in the parking lot. This forces you to get an extra few minutes in--remember it all adds up! You also will save a lot of dings and scratches to your car this way.

Your Office
At work, why don't you try hand-delivering messages instead of picking up the phone? It's a great way to limber up muscles that have gotten stiff from sitting too long. Also, the recipient of your message would probably appreciate talking with you in person.

The simplest way to increase your physical activity at work is...if there is an elevator, don't use it! If your office is higher than the fifth floor, you are allowed to take the elevator--but only to the floor that is 3-5 floors below yours! Accept the fact that people will give you odd stares. Oh, well. They are concerned with convenience, while you are concerned with staying healthy.

Bring your walking shoes and turn your coffee break into a "stress-reduction and revitalization break". It really isn't that hard to do. Remember, this isn't a cardio workout--you won't get sweaty and have to change your clothes if you walk at a moderate pace for ten minutes. It's best to keep your shoes at work. Every Monday bring five pairs of socks to work and on Friday bring them home. Try to come up with a few different walks. Assess how your body and your mind feel before and after your walk. The benefits will spur you on to continue the habit.

At Home
Modern technology has taken the physical activity out of chores. I'm sure that you're happy not to have to mow the grass with a push mower or to use a washboard for clothes. That's o.k. But you need to replace that lost physical activity with something else. When watching television, use commercial breaks to climb the stairs five times. Take "physical breaks" from the desk or computer to tone your muscles for five minutes with some easy strength-training exercises. With a little creativity, you can think of some ways to combat being a high-tech slug and move around more!

In order for you to actually incorporate any of these ideas, you must first change your attitude about them. If the "little voice" in your head automatically dismisses a potentially good one for you, remember not to listen. Usually it's a feeble excuse to keep things as they are.

"Not enough time" is the primary excuse for remaining inactive. You Do Have Time! Five or ten minutes isn't going to effect anything. If it is, you are in serious need of some time management consulting. "Too tired" is the second most common excuse. Sitting all day will make you feel tired and sluggish. A little physical activity will blast oxygen to your brain and muscles, thus revitalizing you. Also, it is one of the best ways to combat excessive stress and anxiety--our bodies were designed to use physical activity as a response to stress (fight or flight).

For any of the other excuses you come up with, just remember, they are only that. Acknowledge them for what they are—and do it anyway. Think of how important it is to your health that you add this crucial physical activity into your lifestyle.

Think Physical Activity, Not Exercise
Do you find yourself making excuses for not exercising? Here are some tips to make it a more enjoyable experience. Do you find that you say to yourself "I hate to exercise"? That's o.k. Many (or most) sedentary people feel this way. If that's the way you feel then don't exercise. All you really are trying to do is increase your physical activity. You must change your attitude if you are to succeed. Don't think exercise, think physical activity. And when you think of physical activity, think of a fun recreational activity that just happens to include moving your body.

Walking is the easiest and most popular way to increase your physical activity. If you think walking would be something you might want to do more of, but haven't got around to it on a consistent basis, you need to think of ways to make it fun. I'm going to throw a phrase at you that I will use again in this article: If it's Not Fun, it's Not Done.

Find an interest of yours that could be taken into the walk. How about strolling through the neighborhood to check out the gardens? Or who got a new car? Or what houses are being refurbished? I'm sure you can think of something. Remember to tell yourself this is the reason for the walk.Are there birds you would like to know the names of? Buy a bird guide and use that to identify the ones you see on the walk. Keep track of how many different species you see.

Who says you have to move the same way throughout the walk? I don't know about you, but I find that walking the same way all the time isn't very fun. For variety, I like to do intervals of something different: walk faster (by taking shorter, quicker steps), walking sideways, (right foot behind left, left, right in front of left--then face the other way and left behind right, etc.) and walking backwards (hey, it's great for the front of the thigh and for improving balance). My 71 year old mom, when first attempting backwards walking, thought it was a little strange. Now she does it at the end of each walk--and gets a kick out of the looks she receives!

Do you have a piece of cardio equipment that is currently being used as a clothes rack? Do you like to watch movies? (and what do these two questions have in common?) Get videos to watch when you're on the treadmill, bike, stairclimber, etc. Buy, swap with friends or rent from the library (you get them for a week). Then only watch that movie when you are on your cardio machine. This is a great way to stick to your workout and to make it a lot more fun. You'll find that when you are absorbed in a movie, the minutes fly by. As the suspense increases, so will your speed. You may even find yourself staying on a little longer just to see the end of a scene.

Strength Training, the Most Time-Efficient Way to Better Fitness
I'm sure that you have come across articles telling you how great strength-training is (a.k.a. resistance training, weight training). Well believe them, because they are true. If you're looking for a really quick, easy and efficient way to better fitness, this is it. You can add muscle or tone up what you already have, effectively drop extra body fat, and prevent or even reverse certain diseases, all in 1/2 hour, twice a week! You don't need fancy equipment, elaborate exercises, or a membership at a gym. There is a simple, safe and inexpensive way to train at home...with Exercise Band Kits.

Family Recreation--Quality Time and Better Health in One Activity
What types of things does your family do for recreation? Watch television? Have a barbecue? Why not replace a few hours a week of your more sluggish activities and try something a little more physical. If it's important for your family's health, can't you arrange your priorities and squeeze in some physical fun? Then you will truly be spending some quality time. Kids aren't very interested in doing something that's good for their health. They need a better motivator (and so do you). Remember, If it's Not Fun, it's Not Done.

Walking is a good physical activity for starters. Try using the techniques mentioned before. Also, you can add things like follow the leader--each family member gets to lead for 5 minutes. Set rules ahead of time for what is allowed. Ideas are: walk "tightrope" on the curb, walk up and down on the curb, hop to sidewalk lines, weave in and out of trees--there are lots more.Have each member of your family come up with four ideas.

If you are lucky enough to live near a state park or forest area, hit the trails in a fun way. Use nature walks as a way of counting how many different birds, animal, flowers, etc. that you can find. After deciding on a category and going over an identification guide, give each family member a check-off list on each walk (don't say "hike"). Decide on a healthy reward for the member with the most sightings.

How to Stick With Your Physical Activity Plan
I hope that you've found a handful of ways to add a little more physical activity into your lifestyle. Now you need to come up with a few ways to make sure that you do them.

The Contract

Personal trainers love to use contracts to get clients to commit to their plans. We find them to be useful for targeting the type and amount of physical activity to be done in a certain time frame, with a reward named for compliance.

When giving Family Fitness Workshops, I find that the contract is very popular. (If you are single, simply make one out for yourself and possibly some friends) First, have your family brainstorm physical activities with a duration of 30 minutes or more that they would enjoy and that can realistically be done. Come up with a minimum number of sessions you would like to perform in a month. Next agree on a healthful reward (go to the movies, buy a new video, cd, etc.) Then fill out the contract and have each family member sign it. Post it in a visible place.


The (name)_______________________________ family, during the month of ___________________ will participate in (number)__________ physical sessions of at least 30 minutes. If we successfully do this, we will treat ourselves to: ___________________________________________________________




Planning Ahead
Get organized. Do whatever you can ahead of time. Planning ahead helps to overcome the tendency to put off the activity when the time comes to actually do it. Place your walking shoes and socks in your doorway so that you will have to either trip over them or put them on when you get home. Have air in your bicycle tires and water in your bottle.

Here is a typical "dragging your feet" scenario---say that you've planned a nature walk for the upcoming Saturday morning. You picture how nice it will be, how much fun you will have. Saturday morning arrives. You find that you are very cozy being indoors. You think about all the stuff you have to get ready to be able to go hiking. It's so much easier just stay home and watch television or read the newspaper.

I know, because I've been guilty of this myself. What I've found to be extremely helpful is to get food and clothes ready the night before, when I'm still thinking about how much fun it will be. This way, when Saturday morning rolls around, my husband and I have less excuses for not going.

Also, it helps to play time traveler. By this, I mean that you have to transport yourself to actually being in the forest and using all of your senses. Think about being there already. How many times have you told yourself that you were silly to make so much of a fuss about doing an activity--that when you were involved in it, it was a lot of fun?!

Just remember the phrase If it's not fun, it's not done when thinking of ways to add physical activity into your life. Also keep in mind that brief bouts of strength training and stretching can be done while listening to music or watching TV. The mental and physical relaxation you feel afterwards should be a good motivator to continue to do these activities.

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