The smart way to exercise when you’ve time

You should probably already know that being physically active has numerous health benefits. It:

  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduces your risk of some cancers
  • Improves your mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Improves your flexibility, agility and coordination, which make it easier for you to do every day activities and, if you're an older adult, prevent falls
  • Increases your chances of living to a ripe old age
  • Helps you to manage your weight
  • Strengthens your bones and muscles
  • Helps prevent injury

However, you are probably less aware that you don’t have to be an elite athlete, or live in the gym to get these benefits. You can still benefit from even modest amount of exercise even at a moderate intensity. It is probably due to this misconception that many people don’t do any exercise at all. Particularly since today’s busy lifestyles means that most people find it very difficult to find time to dedicate to exercise regime.

Back in the 60s, the vision for the future was one of a population living a life of leisure. Automation and computers would be doing all the work and people would have nothing to do but entertain themselves. 2015 is a far cry from that imagined utopia. The average person works in a highly demanding job (and, let’s face it, all jobs are demanding of your time), plus they are trying to balance family life. People consider themselves to be time poor, especially when it comes to exercise. The result: 80% of the U.K.’s population are failing to meet the government’s moderate target for exercise – 30 minutes, 12 times a month – that’s not even once a day[1].

The good news is that because the exercise you do accumulates, you don’t even have to do the 30 minutes in a single session. You could try two 15-minute sessions, three 10-minute sessions or five 6-minute sessions (or any other combination of 30 minutes) five days per week.

Even if you don't feel you have the time to dedicate to a structured exercise or fitness program, you can still get the benefits of keeping fit by taking advantage of the hidden opportunities to get your body moving and your heart pumping just a little bit faster. You will be surprised just how easy it is to boost the activity in your life. Here are some suggestions.

Instead of sitting down to watch your favourite soap you could stand up and strengthen your core by tightening and releasing your stomach muscles. You could grab some weights or if you don't have weights a 500g - 1kg bag of food (rice, sugar etc.) and use it to do bicep curls. You could use the back of your couch or a chair to do tricep dips. Or if you want to be really adventurous you could move your exercise equipment into the living room and "work-out-while-you-watch".

Rather than getting off at your stop or driving around looking for a parking space outside your destination, get off one or two stops earlier or park a couple of streets away…and walk. Perhaps make a pact with yourself to always take the stairs rather than the elevator. If you work above the sixth floor, take the lift part way and get off at least 3 floors before your level.

How many times have you stood or sat waiting for the kettle or a meal to cook? Well, here’s a great opportunity to get dancing. Put on your favourite track and start shaking that booty!

Stand up frequently. Simply standing up throughout the day can be more beneficial than doing a short workout and then sitting down for the rest of the day.

Work your abs while you update your social media. If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, use the time to work your abs. Set a timer to go off every 15-20 minutes and when it does, imagine you're trying to get your bellybutton and backbone to touch. Hold everything in for the count of 10 release and then do it again a few times. Techogym’s Wellness Ball, which uses active sitting principles, is another way to say active while sitting for long periods.

If you have young children, treat them to some ‘rough and tumble’ or a trip to the park. It is a great way to spend some quality family time with them and keep you all fit while having fun.

Before you get washed in the morning, use the time it takes to fill your bath or till the shower runs hot for a quick workout. Depending on the size of your bathroom, you could do some squats, lunges, press-ups, sit ups or even star jumps. If you are short of space, do tricep dips on the toilet or edge of the bath. Or sit on the toilet with the lid down and raise and lower your legs.

Keeping your home clean and tidy is also a great way to keep fit. Step back in time with your household chores and swap the vacuum cleaner for a broom. When making the bed, shake out the duvet 5-10 times. Instead of shying away from things like decorating, gardening, hoovering the stairs, cleaning the windows; these activities require a lot of energy so use them to keep fit.

Use your journey to work as a workout – cycle, run, roller blade, or even use a scooter. Conversely, when socialising with friends and family choose active nights out, for example roller discos, ice skating, bowling, night clubbing (remember to get up and dance rather than sit at the bar all night).

This list merely scratches the surface. Finding opportunities to become active and increase your movements, even when you are short of time, is primarily a mindset shift. Set yourself the goal of discovering ways to build your fitness within the time you have by making small changes to your lifestyle and you will soon start reaping the benefits.

[1] The Guardian Observer report on research by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University.