With a little planning, and a touch of ingenuity, you can beat the clock and make time for fitness. For many people, the biggest obstacle to exercising is lack of time. On the whole, leisure time has shrunk, while the average workweek, including commuting, has grown.
But just in the nick of time, scientists at Stanford University have found that very short workouts – as brief as 10 minutes – pile up fitness benefits that approach those of longer exercise sessions, if you do them often enough. The researchers had two groups of men follow different jogging routines: One group ran three times a day for 10 minutes at a stretch; the other group did a 30-minute run once a day. After eight weeks, both groups recorded comparable gains in endurance. Both groups also lost an average of 2 kg. apiece.
This means any exercise counts – a stolen walk here, a few minutes on an exercise bike there. The trick is to carve out those precious moments wherever you can find them.
Walk to Work
If you live a short distance from your office, you can cover several miles a week this way while cutting down on transportation costs. Walking a mile and a half (2.4 km) each way will give you 30 minutes of exercise per day. Since you won’t work up a sweat, you won’t have to shower. You’ll need sturdy, soft-soled footwear, however, and you may want to keep a pair of dress shoes at the office.
Run to Work
You don’t have to be a marathoner to accept this challenge. A few miles back and forth will give you plenty of good training, but you’ll probably need a shower as well as a change of clothes at work.
Bike to Work
A distinct possibility if your place of work is a few kilometres away and you don’t have to manoeuvre traffic-clogged, pot-holed roads. Cruise along at a no-sweat pace, so showering doesn’t become necessary. If you work late shift, use a bike lamp and wear reflective gear when cycling in darkness. People who commute a long distance by train should also consider cycling to the station and locking the bike there. This a healthier option even if you have a car. (Also, think of how much you’ll save on parking fees and petrol!)
If you’re a morning person, this is the perfect time to exercise. Just set your alarm for half an hour earlier than usual. Get your body up to speed by spending a few minutes stretching.
If you don’t mind delaying the dinner hour, early evening is prime time for exercise. The key is to workout before you get home; once you plop yourself on the couch and turn on the TV, you’re history. Your best bet is to join a gym or health club so you can head straight for it after work. Or arrange to meet a friend for a workout, or sign up for an exercise class. Develop a routine; use this opportunity to release the day’s tensions and you’ll feel more energized the rest of the evening.
The Home Gym Alternative
Another solution to the scheduling dilemma is to install a stationary bicycle, stair-climber or rowing machine in your room. This gives you more time options and eliminates any excuses about inclement weather. Also, home workouts let you watch your favourite television show while you exercise.
Exercise at the Office
There’s a rising interest in lunch-hour exercise: Studies have shown that productivity goes up and absenteeism goes down when people join employee fitness programmes (so, your employer also stands to gain). You can also try a mild jog or a brisk walk during your lunch break. There are even exercises like leg stretches and neck rolls that you can do at your desk.
Weekends are theoretically the easiest time to exercise, but they aren’t fool-proof. When time seems to evaporate into the flow of myriad activities, your bicycle can be your lifeline – whether it’s getting together with friends or taking the kids to the beach.
Mix Work and Play
Errands, gardening and even housework can count as aerobic exercise if you move briskly as you do it. Once you’ve decided on a good time for exercising, use that time efficiently. When you have a free half-hour, take five minutes to warm up and another five to cool down, and devote the 20 minutes in between to steady, focused effort. To get even more out of your workout, alternate easy patches with more intense activity. For example, if you swim, do faster laps occasionally. If you walk, pick up the pace periodically. With practice, this approach can turn your half-hour workout into the most productive time of your day.
The Two-Minute Workout
What if you can’t spare even half an hour out of your busy schedule? In his book, Living with Exercise, Dr. Steven Blair, director of epidemiology at the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, suggests beginning with a brisk two-minute walk. “Get off your bus one block early and walk to your office, or walk a block or two down the street for lunch,” says Blair. “Go out for a two-minute walk before breakfast, walk down the hall on your coffee break or take a stroll during a TV commercial.” Over time, these mini-workouts add up, says Blair. “The length of any single workout is less important than the cumulative effect of a lot of small workout. Just two minutes of walking can be the first step to good health.