Short on Time? How to Build in Exercise Throughout the Day

Shannon Miller

February 27, 2023

What usually gets in the way of healthy habits? Many would say lack of motivation, but more often than not, time turns out to be a make-or-break element in keeping a routine alive. This is especially true with exercise. Carving out time each and every day for exercise can be challenging in our fast-paced lives. However, by learning to bolster your routine and surroundings in a way that lends itself to more movement, you can begin to incorporate exercise within your day without worrying about time constraints.

The benefits of exercise

The human body was designed for movement. Our joints are aligned to support walking, running, squatting, and lifting. For thousands of years, the survival of the human species depended on movement – and movement, in turn, supported physical health. Turns out (at no surprise) the same is true in modern day.

By now, it’s safe to assume exercise is hugely important to overall health. Weight lifting, cardiovascular exercises, balance work, and stretching are all considered important elements of physical activity. Consistent exercise reduces the risk of chronic disease, improves body composition and metabolism, supports mental health, and is linked to longevity. The key word here, however, is “consistent.” One lengthy workout per month does little good compared to shorter, more frequent sessions of movement throughout the week. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, which can seem easy to some people and impossible for others. For many, committing time to work out daily can be challenging, with work, family, errands and other responsibilities typically becoming priority. However, it is possible to build in moments of movement into your already established routine to reap the physical and mental benefits of exercise.

How to sneak exercise into your day

Putting pressure on yourself to spend hours at the gym every day is unnecessary and unsustainable. It can also lead to burnout pretty quickly. If time is a challenge, learn to lean on “micro-moments” throughout the day to incorporate movement.

Set your timer

“Sitting is the new smoking,” according to public health experts, with prolonged inactivity now associated with rick of chronic disease. If you work a sedentary job, set your timer to stand up from your desk every 20-30 minutes to stretch your legs and get blood flowing. Walk around the house or office, or take a brisk walk outside around the block. You could also utilize a standing desk or treadmill desk for extra movement while working, or even take work calls standing up or on a walk.

Do “secret reps”

Turn any idle moment into an opportunity for movement. Cooking dinner for the family or heating up your food in the kitchen? Do a quick round of calf raises or push-ups on the edge of the counter. Have an extra long meeting? Sit on an exercise ball to engage the core. Use your biceps to lift your grocery bags 5-10 times while walking them in from the car into the house. Choose a parking spot far away from the entrance to a store or office to get in extra steps. Pause and pulse in a lunge a few times while walking up the stairs to engage your glutes – or make a habit of taking the stairs wherever possible. There are hundreds of moments in the day where extra movement and muscle engagement can be built in. These small moments over time add up into substantial health benefits

Keep it fun

Keeping movement fun is also a crucial strategy in building a sustainable exercise habit. Here, we can use our brain’s sophisticated chemical reward system to our advantage. Dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are powerful chemical hormones that signal happiness and pleasure. Physical activity can release these hormones which helps boost mood and can reduce feelings of anxiety or sadness. This feedback loop of exercise and mood elevation can create positive reinforcement that makes it more likely for you to repeat similar activities. Try an upbeat community workout class, invite a friend on a walk, or join a challenge to “gamify” your workouts. Making workouts fun can lessen the pressure for them to be lengthy, strenuous sessions each day. Rather, a quick walk to catch up with a friend or a 15-20-minute online dance class can keep you smiling and burn calories without the need to budget in hours in the gym. Tracking your progress over time can also generate a positive feedback loop once you can see actual changes in your health based on new habits.

Time is an extremely valuable asset. While it is important to commit time to take care of your health, it can be stressful to try to devote hours of exercise every day on top of other priorities in life. Making small efforts throughout the day can help promote health over time and be more effective than going weeks without exercise on a regular basis. Consistent micro-moments of movement can have more of an impact on health than the occasional burst of intensity. Take the pressure off of yourself, meet yourself where you’re at, and use your environment to support healthy habits.

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