You can still exercise–you just need to sneak in the equivalent in resourceful ways. “The idea is to keep moving,” says fitness expert Ann Grandjean, EdD. “Get a cordless phone or put a long cord on your regular phone, and walk when you talk. Find whatever works for you and just move. Park half a mile from the mall and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Those little, itty-bitty things add up.”
Every Stolen Moment Adds Up
Lest you think that short bursts of activity have a negligible effect on your fitness program, think again. One study found that women who split their exercise into 10-minute increments were more likely to exercise consistently, and lost more weight after 5 months, than women who exercised for 20 to 40 minutes at a time.
In a landmark study conducted at the University of Virginia, exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser, PhD, asked men and women to complete 15 10-minute exercise routines a week. After just 21 days, the volunteers’ aerobic fitness was equal to that of people 10 to 15 years younger. Their strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility were equal to those of people up to 20 years their junior.
In yet another study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore found that for improving health and fitness in inactive adults, many short bursts of activity are as effective as longer, structured workouts. “It would be useful for people to get out of the all-or-nothing mind-set that unless they exercise for 30 minutes, they’re wasting their time,” says Gaesser.
Breaking exercise into small chunks on your overscheduled days can also keep your confidence up, says Harold Taylor, time management expert and owner of Harold Taylor Time Consultants in Toronto, who has written extensively on the subject. “Skipping exercise altogether is ‘de-motivational’–you feel depressed and guilty,” Taylor says. “If you skip it, you tend to figure, ‘What’s the use? I can’t keep up with it anyway.’ Yet as long as you make some effort each day, that motivates you onward. Success breeds success.”
Keep in mind, though, that short bursts of exercise are meant to supplement, not replace, your regular fitness routine. Here’s a roundup of practical ways to work exercise into your day even when you “don’t have time to exercise.” (You don’t have to do them all in 1 day; select what works for you.)
Around the House
1. When you go outside to pick up your morning newspaper, take a brisk 5-minute walk up the street in one direction and back in the other.
2. If you’re housebound caring for a sick child or grandchild, hop on an exercise bike or treadmill while your ailing loved one naps.
3. Try 5 to 10 minutes of jumping jacks. (A 150-pound woman can burn 90 calories in one 10-minute session.)
4. Cooking dinner? Do standing push-ups while you wait for a pot to boil. Stand about an arm’s length from the kitchen counter, and push your arms against the counter. Push in and out to work your arms and shoulders.
5. After dinner, go outside and play tag or shoot baskets with your kids and their friends.
6. Just before bed or while you’re giving yourself a facial at night, do a few repetitions of some dumbbell exercises, suggests exercise instructor Sheila Cluff, owner and founder of The Oaks at Ojai and The Palms, in Palm Springs, CA, who keeps a set of free weights on a shelf in front of her bathroom sink.
7. Walk around the block several times while you wait for your child to take a music lesson. As your fitness level improves, add 1-minute bursts of jogging to your walks.
8. Walk around medical buildings if you have a long wait for a doctor’s appointment. “I always ask the receptionist to give me an idea of how long I have left to wait,” Cluff says. “Most are usually very willing to tell you.”
9. While your son or daughter plays a soccer game, walk around the field.
10. Turn a trip to a park with your child into a mini-workout for you. Throw a ball back and forth and run for fly balls.