Fitting In Fitness

Most people, deep down, want to be healthy, active, strong, and fit.  But until the clever scientists invent a pill to do all that: you know you gotta exercise.  Motivation?  You may have tons!  But how are you supposed to find the time to get in shape?

What with demanding jobs,  Facebook, family obligations, Twitter, an active and wholesome social life,  catching up on Dexter challenging intellectual hobbies, Farmville, community involvement,  going out to dinner, cooking nutritious meals, and getting enough sleep to keep from doing a faceplant into your skinny carmel macchiato during staff meetings... just when are you supposed to exercise?

But somehow President Barack Obama makes time to exercise.  Um, is your job that much more important than his? A study of exercise and top executives found that CEO's and other higher ups who exercised regularly kicked unfit executive ass when it came to overall leadership effectiveness. And more specifically, they outperformed the sluggards when it came to "inspiring commitment, credibility, leading others, leading by example, energy, resilience and calmness."

Yet again though... how do they find time to do it? Clearly, people who work out consistently despite busy schedules must have some secrets.

I exercise religiously, but then I'm not a top executive, nor President of anything other than my own imagination. Nor am I a parent, a moonlighter working two jobs, a full time student, or an office worker with a 2 hour commute.  And even I struggle sometimes to fit everything in.  So I can only guess how the super-achievers do it. But it does seem as though there are some common themes among folks who, whatever life demands they face, are almost never too busy to exercise.

1. Plan It

Sounds obvious, but the biggest mistake many motivated but busy folks make is to substitute wishful thinking for planning.  "Hmm, maybe I'll get up early tomorrow?  Maybe after work I'll go for a run?" Maybe you'll get to the end of the week and realize you haven't done squat?  Consistent exercisers have schedules and routines and back-up plans.  They anticipate logistical problems, are prepared for last minute schedule changes, have worked out all kinds of alternatives depending on the circumstances, and are generally prepared with the right clothes and equipment.

2.  Combine Exercise With Other Activities

Pets! Family! Friends!  They're all important to spend time with... maybe a hilly hike or a game of frisbee or a bike ride instead of getting together over a big meal?  Oh, wait, dogs are notoriously bad bicyclists. But perhaps you could romp around with your pooch and sneak in some intervals rather than standing there throwing balls for him or her to chase.

If there's a TV show you just gotta watch... could you stretch during it? Walk on a treadmill?

Got any chores you could do the "hard" way?  Swap a hand mower for a power one, walk or bike to the library, etc.?

3. Substitute Exercise for Useless Addictive Time-Sucks

Depending on how much time you like to waste, this could be as powerful as creating extra hours of the day by cutting out aimless web surfing or crappy tv shows. Or it could be as minor as swapping out some of the little compulsive breaks you don't even realize you're taking during the day to check things that don't need such constant attention...whether it be email, social networking sites, sports scores, stock prices, or your feed reader. What if instead you took more of those mini-breaks by stretching, or doing a couple of squats, or getting up for a drink of water?

4.  Increase Workout Efficiency

Often it's possible to do two things at once, or substitute exercise intensity for extra time.  Examples are circuit training, which incorporates cardio by the use of rapid strength training;  interval training, which can allow you to get a hideous and horrible challenging cardio workout in less than twenty minutes; exercise classes that combine cardio and weights; Cross-fit and other functional fitness routines; certain kinds of yoga (stretching/strengthening/meditating), or even inventing your own synergies.  You can sometimes stretch a couple of different body parts at the same time, or use your cardio warm-up or cool-down time to increase range of motion or work on balance training.

5. Sneak Exercise Into Your Day

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've all heard these before.  But are you doing them? Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further from the building, commute by bike or on foot, use a stand-up workstation or treadmill desk, use your lunch hour for a walk or run and eat a rushed sweaty meal later on at your desk. And as mentioned above, you could do stretches or relatively stationary exercises like calf raises, squats or isometrics to take a break while going about your day.

6. Ditch the Perfectionism

If you have a demanding life, and try to compare your exercise accomplishments to the stuff you read or see on tv, you're never going to feel like it's enough. Weirdly, this does not motivate better performance, often it does the opposite! Many well-meaning folks fail to take advantage of perfectly good opportunities because they seem too wimpy compared to perfect-world exercise heroics shown on tv.

If you're busy, every little bit counts! So sure, try to strategize as to how you could get more out of the time you have, but if there's no time for the gym, maybe you could slip in a playout at the playground with your kid, or walk for half an hour after dinner. Something is always better than nothing.

7. Find the Joy

What sort of exercise gets you excited? Hiking? Tennis? Dance? Skateboarding? Golf? Window shopping? Busy people sometimes unconsciously equate "fun" with "naughty." But scheduling time for exercise that you look forward to is not self-indulgent, it's crucial for your health and productivity. And activities you love to do, or at least don't hate, are much easier to stick to in the long haul.

8. Get A Wife

I suspect that's the real secret of so many CEO's who handle huge jobs but still fit in workouts. They've got someone else taking care of all the random crap that isn't work-related. However, going out and procuring a wife may prove difficult for the average heterosexual female.

So what to do about domestic duties if you also work outside the home? Left to their own devices, shopping, errands, bill-paying, cooking, cleaning, child-care, etc. will expand to fit every available hour of the day and consume every spare minute you've got.

This is a huge subject, and none of these are easy, but some areas to explore are: getting better organized; lowering unrealistically high parenting and housekeeping standards; renegotiating family responsibilities so they are shared more equally; financial juggling to prioritize hiring help if possible; exploring exercise-with-kids options (jogging strollers, gyms with daycare, etc), and multi-tasking discussed above in #2.

9. Get A New Life

Some people are fortunate--they wake up each morning pretty darn happy to see what the day will bring. (Or, in some cases, and we won't name names, they wake up in a semi-coma but after a lovely cup of coffee then they feel all excited to start their day). These lucky folks know that while it's a balancing act, and there will be inevitable obstacles, basically they'll have a decent chance of getting exercise, because it's something important to them. They also look forward to accomplishing stuff that means something to them, and even expect to have a fair amount of fun before the day is over.

But many folks wake up thinking... oh damn, it's Monday. They seem to settle into careers, geographical locations, lifestyles, attitudes, social lives, and even marriages--that don't reflect their true priorities anymore. Especially if it's not just exercise that ain't happening, but other sources of joy, accomplishment, and fulfillment. But rather than explore whether and how life could be better, most people find it a whole lot easier to pretend everything's just fine and let the years pile up without rocking the boat or challenging themselves.

And yeah, this last item is indeed an underhanded ploy to plant subliminal life coachy suggestions in the minds of vulnerable readers who aren't truly happy with the status quo. Apologies to those of you who are! But hey, you get that fun little buzz of recognition as your register that you're someone who's got it all pretty much figured out already.

10. Find Other Ideas on the Web

Our pal The Merry just put up a post on this very topic over at her awesome blog Sheesh.

A quick google search turns up lots of links for fitting more activity and exercise into your life. But I'm only going to list a few, and confess that I haven't taken time to have reviewed them. 'Cause guess what? Y'all know how to google too, and it's time for me to work out! And if any of you bloggers out there have written about this and want to share an URL in the comments, I'd love to include you in the list too.

Article on Fitting Fitness into a Busy Schedule

Web MD video on Too Busy to Exercise?

A presentation on Too Busy to Exercise. (Can you tell what google search term I used?). It's not bad-- but unfortunately it's in friggin' Power Point format.

Want to know what the movers and shakers are doing to keep fit? 'Drea, who also has a great blog, just alerted me to this WSJ series call "What's Your Workout?"

What sort of obstacles do you busy-but-fit folks contend with? Got some handy tips?


  1. I have always made exercise a priority. Mostly because I know if I don't get some form of exercise, I turn into a cranky person. Having a dog that demands a walk every day helps too.

  2. Leah, I know you find every opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the spectacular scenery where you live. Idea #11: move to Canada!

    And Mary, dogs are excellent exercise motivators. Especially dogs like Roxy who have their owners on a short leash.

  3. Good ideas. I always say to myself that something is better than nothing when all I have time for is a 10 min walk to the shops - consistency is the key for sure.

    And as a heterosexual married full time working woman I would LOVE a wife to do all the stuff I dont want to do haha!

  4. One thing that works for me -- drink plenty of water, and have a house with all the bathrooms either upstairs or downstairs. Add cats and kids that make the whole place an obstacle course to get through.

  5. Great ideas you have there. I may have to try to use some of them, or just get off my butt.

  6. Sarah, good point about consistency. And all those "10 minutes's" add up!

    Messymimi, you crack me up with the water tip, though it's actually excellent advice.

    And Reb, getting off your butt can be tricky after major surgery! Well, you know that. Plenty of time to catch up once you've recovered.

  7. Have you ever seen that TED talk about getting a new life/job? I wish I could remember who gave it offhand, but I'm sure you would love it. Very in line with #9.

  8. Thanks Westwood, it sounds great! Will try to look for it. Any idea around when it aired? TED stuff is always good but I forget to check there very often.

  9. I need a wife. I hear you can hire folks to do the stuff you don't want to, but my husband is opposed to that (OMG people will think we're rich or something!). I say that's fine...then you go clean the toilets. :)

    Oh yeah, all your other pointers are spot on as well.

  10. I'm with you bdaiss-- I think in order to have a vote in whether household help is necessary, you gotta do at least half of the household chores. If not, your vote doesn't count!

  11. Awesome post. Much better than the thing I wrote.

    I want minions.

  12. I was almost too lazy to click the link because I don't have enough time, OK too busy watching TMZ & political craziness, ;-)... GREAT POST!!

    When the gyms hit 24 hours, & I worked 60++++++ hours per week, well, I just slept less most of the time & watched little TV in exchange for my wokrouts... they were more important to me. Can't say the hubby was thrilled but we all have our things.... planning is crucial & yes, fit it in wherever & whenever you can! It does NOT have to be traditional!

  13. Have you seen the What's Your Workout? series in the Wall Street Journal.

    It's pretty cool.

  14. Merry, "the thing" you wrote is great! Plus, you actually have a demanding job and long commute etc, etc. You're reporting from the trenches!

    And Jody, you are a role model for fitting in fitness!

    Hey 'Drea, thanks for the link, that's great! I added it to the post.

  15. I have a stepper in front of the computer at home that I use while scanning blogs, etc. Makes it time well wasted for me :-)

  16. Awesome post as always!

    I learned that if I waited past the noon mark I'd begin to embrace my inner sluggard and do a half-ass attempt at a work out. Switching to the a.m. was a HUGE mental thing I had to overcome since I'm so NOT a morning person. Now a.m. workouts are the key to consistent for me.

  17. I have trouble finding time for regular exercise, but I have a very physical job. I came home from one day, where I'd spent nine hours without sitting down except for lunch, and not standing still for more than a minute at a time, and asked myself "Just why do you think you need to find time for a walk?"

    Crabby, I'm too lazy to go hunt up the post about your chinup success, but I started trying the same approach with pushups, fitting in several sessions of wall and countertop pushups during the day, in hopes of being able to do more than three real on-the-floor pushups. It didn't work, in the sense that my shoulder still says "Stop!!!" after three, but the effect on my arms was noticeable, and I added alternate days of squats. I do these while waiting for water to boil, or the microwave to finish, time I would otherwise just be standing there.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  18. Joyce, wow, you made the transition to morning? Awesome! That's tough to do if you're not a natural-born early bird.

    And Mary Anne, people with physical jobs, in my mind, are exempt from the exercise requirements that sedentary office workers need. Especially since you're doing strength training (to the extent that your shoulder will allow).

  19. I'm a little by little gal - no doubt! and I have been looking for a wife too - female gender not a requirement LOL

  20. I used to run quite a bit (not in races, but its the only time I could listen to my own music!) but the arrival of my 2 year old grandson into my house on a permanent basis means no time to myself.

    Any ideas?

  21. Kris, I think a lot of women would agree the world needs a few more male wives out there!

    And Jason, yeah that's a tough one isn't it? Hmm, I suspect most grandparenting manuals would advise against using a 2 year old as a handy barbell or weighted vest. Actually, so many of the options depend on your particular circumstances--I know a lot of parents/caregivers use those jogging strollers, or find gyms with daycare, or exercise classes that combine adults & kids, or do babysitting trade-offs with others who need exercise breaks. So when you brainstorm ideas that would fit your own life, do you get stuck? Is there some one you could brainstorm with to help you find creative solutions that fit your particular situation? Good luck and hope you're enjoying getting to spend time with grandson!


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