Healthy AgingStress and Relaxation

Fitting Exercise into Your Day

Thoughts from a busy doctor

Many of us struggle to find time for exercise, yet exercise is crucial for cardiovascular health, weight management, detoxification, and even mental and emotional health. The work day is long, and just fitting in the basics of grocery shopping, laundry, and getting from point A to B can be a challenge. And on top of this, many of us are now dealing with children at home and springtime weather that is fickle!

In stressful times, exercise is even more paramount to self care. Exercise helps us step away from the stressors of life, and helps us get a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. With springtime blooming, exercise can also be a visual vacation from the four walls and electronics all around us in our homes.

There are several well-known books about the habits of highly effective people, and other texts pertaining to goal setting and accomplishing tasks. Framing these same concepts around exercise, and perhaps just picking one or two strategies to focus on, can help to make exercise an inherent part of your life.

Here are some tips for incorporating exercise into your busy lifestyle:

First things first – plan ahead!

Sometimes it is hard to look at the day and figure out when exercise can possibly fit in. But having enough time really is about time management and prioritization. Where does exercise fit in your shakedown of necessary things in the day? Many things in life require planning. Fitting exercise into the day also can be done more effectively with planning as well. For some this may mean getting up with the sun before the kids do, while for others it may mean taking a break in the middle of the day to run or do an exercise video. Getting outside in the mid-day sun can do wonders for your mood, and helps your vitamin D levels as well!

Some people may feel they need their lunch break do just that: make lunch. But if you planned ahead for the day and ate leftovers or pre-made a smoothie, could you fit in a 30 or 40-minute walk instead? Rather than packing lunches in the morning, could this be done at the same time as cleaning up from the meal the night before? How can you shift things to better find time for and prioritize exercise as well?

Find something you like to do

Exercise can be fun! But not everyone likes the same things. The monotony of running or dangers associated with biking may bring dread to some, while the idea of coordinating movements in a class like kickboxing or Zumba is petrifying to others. It is important to find something that works for you and you enjoy doing to start (and stick to!) an exercise plan.

Consider YOUR body and what it is capable of

Not everyone’s body responds positively to the same types of exercise. There is no need to feel a sense of shame that you can’t run because you have a bad knee, or a fear of water keeps you from swimming. Sometimes finding appropriate equipment such as shoe inserts to make up for disparate leg lengths or a knee brace may be helpful, and consultation with a physical therapist will shed light on this.

At times taking a class with other beginners will help introduce you to a new activity. Although I’m a long time avid runner, I often falter in yoga or pilates classes as my abdominal strength is null and sense of balance and lower back stability is poor. But because I still enjoy things such as yoga I chose to go to beginner or restorative classes.

There is no need to perform super-human feats, as you are doing this for yourself, and connecting with and respecting your body is the most important thing.

Step away from the desk. No really, step AWAY from the DESK!

In the middle of a hectic work day, many people struggle to step away from the desk for lunch or even more than a 10-minute break. But is the work really all that time based? Does the next e-mail response absolutely have to occur in the next 5 minutes?

So often we get stuck in the patterns of back and forth communication with emails rebounding from the person on the other end almost as fast as you can send them. The constant e-mails and pop-up messages actually distract from getting real work done, or seeing what the next necessary steps are in a big project or task.

Taking a moment away from the desk can interrupt that process, and give you a chance to think about what needs to be done and create a plan of attack, such that you can much more effectively implement this plan or process when you come back. And for just once, DON’T bring your PHONE!

Exercise as a commute?

If it takes you 15 minutes to get somewhere in your car, and possibly 30 or more with traffic, why not consider walking or biking? The additional amount of time to switch up your A to B commute and integrate exercise can be minimal, particularly in settings of larger cities with rush hour traffic.

Perhaps the distance is too far or not appropriate to consider walking, but why not drive part way and then walk the rest? Many times in my medical school education I did just this, as parking was limited in the area near our school and the rush hour commute could easily take more time than walking. I would drive to a location that was about two miles away, and walk from there to my final destination. The walk over the bridge gave me time to enjoy the commute, talk with a friend, or even study flashcards to help my memorization of herbs, drugs, and so much more. And now in later years, I spend my time studying Greek with my phone app or flashcards while walking! The list of podcasts to enjoy also is long and there always is something to make the time pass!

In summary

In reflection of how exercise has been a part of my life for so long, it is easy to see how each of these strategies have made that possible. It doesn’t have to be a part of a “to do” list, it isn’t a New Year’s resolution, it is just inherent. Just take a moment to think about which one or two of these things you could do to make exercise more frequent in your life. Trust me, both your body and your mood will thank you!

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