Is going to the gym daunting? “By the time I change, workout, shower, get back, it’s a two-hour ordeal.” “I have kids, a job, I don’t have time to work out.” “Exercise is a luxury.” Sound familiar? With the alarming rise in obesity in the U.S. and all the related health problems (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, to name a few), exercise is not a luxury, it’s something everyone needs to make a priority. We talked to some exercise experts about ways to find time for fitness.
Exertion with a purpose
“Integrative exercise,” the buzzword of the moment, refers to everything from doing squats while you load the dishwasher to opting for the stairs over the elevator to riding your bike to work. As Jacqueline Epping of the physical activity and health branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains: “The notion behind suggestions like taking the stairs and parking farther away from your destination when you drive, exiting the bus or subway earlier—these are all ways to integrate physical activity into the normal course of your day.” In other words, it’s the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone approach to fitness: You have to get to work, the grocery store, the 29th floor anyway, right?
Make it fun
Sometimes it’s not finding time that’s a problem, it’s finding the motivation. If combining two dreaded tasks (say, housework and exercise) doesn’t appeal to your sense of accomplishment or martyrdom, then you might want to find a way to make physical activity fun. Is there a sport you loved in high school? Always been meaning to take up tap dancing? Those cross-country skis or ice skates gathering dust? “Take a class in ballroom dancing, or salsa or African dance,” suggests Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. The key is to find ways to put the fun back in physical activity. Signing up for a class with a friend means you’ll be less likely to quit—and more likely to move it from the “chore” to the “fun” category. Go ahead: Take aqua ballet with a friend. Samba your way to svelte.
Be a team player
“Most communities have recreation centers that offer a variety of team sports—volleyball, softball, etc.,” says Bryant. But don’t fall back on coaching from the sidelines. If you’re coaching your child’s soccer team, Bryant urges that you join an adult league to bone up on techniques you can pass along to the kids.
Make quality time active time
Bryant also suggests replacing that family matinee and super–sized popcorn/pop combo with family leisure time. “Go on family bike rides, spend an afternoon at a wall climbing facility. And when you’re planning a family vacation, plan active things: windsurfing, snow shoeing, skiing.” The CDC’s Epping likes the idea of going for a walk with the kids after the evening meal, combining quality family time with activity.
Get fit while helping others
You can do something good for yourself while doing good for others by signing up for volunteer work that keeps you active. Epping suggesting outside work like cleaning up roadsides, pitching in at park and recreation areas or walking dogs for people at shelters or for the home bound. There are also numerous fundraising events you can sign up for that will help raise money and lower your weight: keep your eyes peeled for local walks, rides, or races for breast cancer, MS, or AIDS research to name a few.
The key thing to remember when trying to craft a fitness plan is to pay attention to your own likes and dislikes and your basic personality. “There is no one-size-fits-all strategy,” says Epping. “It’s going to be different for different people and vary across your own lifetime. So it’s important to be able to identify what is fun and purposeful for you and design your activity around that.”
This means if you’re social, you should pick activities that involve others. Join a team or a gym that offers classes, multiple machines and even social activities. If you’re more of a loner, plan to walk to work or go for a jog or bike ride. “My husband can get up every morning and ride the stationary bike for 30-40 minutes while watching TV,” confides Epping. “That would last about a week with me.” She likes to mix it up with a walk with the dog, a class, a jog, a volleyball game. “You have to know what rings your bell and select from that menu of options that resonates with you.”