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It’s a pretty common goal these days to try and increase the amount of exercise we are doing. For some people, this is easy and comes naturally. But for a lot of us, it can be a struggle to motivate ourselves to start up a new or more intense exercise routine, or even to exercise at all. This is certainly true for me – I am well aware of the benefits of exercise, for physical and mental health. I have the best intentions to exercise more, but it doesn’t always happen.
Part of the reason for this is that exercise can be a time commitment. When I get busy with other things it can be easy to skip that morning run, saying, ‘I don’t have time today’. Even when I have plenty of time to spare, it can still feel as though exercise is taking up a big chunk of my day, especially when I factor in the preparation and aftermath, which includes getting changed into exercise clothes beforehand, and showering after. It can feel like more effort than it’s worth, even though I know that is not true because the benefits of exercise are surely worth the time and effort.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get plenty of exercise, but without putting in any extra time or preparation? Well actually, I have come up with several little ways in which you can get more exercise throughout your everyday life, which won’t take up time and may even save you time! You won’t even have to put on your exercise clothes. These tips are not a replacement for dedicated exercise sessions, and I would recommend that you still make time for the occasional run, gym session or whatever your chosen form of exercise, because longer periods of exercise have additional benefits over short ones. But for anyone who tends to be unmotivated and put off exercising, doing some of these things would be better than nothing.
The key is to squeeze in a bit of exercise whenever you have an opportunity to. Follow these three basic rules whenever it is appropriate:
- If you would normally sit, stand.
- If you would normally stand, walk.
- If you would normally walk, run.
Let me elaborate…
Standing up burns more calories than sitting down, so even just by standing you are making a small difference. Here are some examples:
- Stand up on public transport instead of sitting. If you are on a wobbly train or bus, this will even give your legs a workout as you keep your balance!
- Stand up when you make or answer a phone call. There’s no reason to be sitting down for this, unless you need to make notes at a desk.
- Consider investing in a standing desk. Yes, such a thing exists! This would probably be a big and expensive step for most people. But if you spend a lot of time at your desk and you are serious about keeping fit and improving your posture, it could be worth looking into.
- Instead of kneeling down, squat. This will give your legs a workout as you are rummaging in that low cupboard!
There are some obvious, well known ways to incorporate more walking into your life, such as taking the stairs rather than the escalator or lift, and parking at the far end of the car park so that you have to walk further to get to the shops (or wherever you are going). Here are some other ideas that you may not have thought of:
- Walk around while talking on the phone, brushing your teeth, waiting for the train, and other activities when you would normally stand still.
- Walk (or run, or cycle) instead of driving, if you live near to your destination. In rush hour, that could be even quicker than driving.
- If you are already walking from place to place, try power walking. Up the pace and see how quickly you can get there. This will save you time, and you may even have time for some stretches when you arrive.
- Go for a walk while eating your lunch. Of course, some foods lend themselves more easily to this than others! But it’s fairly easy to eat a baguette, a packet of crisps and a piece of fruit, for example, whilst walking along at a leisurely pace. If you are at home, you could walk around your garden or up and down your street. This has the added benefit of getting you some fresh air!
If you are in a public place or office, you can easily incorporate extra walking into your day. However, it’s not so easy to incorporate running. You might look a little strange if you run up and down the train platform, or run to the photocopier and back (but feel free to do so if this doesn’t bother you!).
When you’re at home this is a different story! I recently read a great book, “Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain” by John Ratey and Eric Hagerman, and something that stood out to me was the fact that even a short 30 second sprint has been shown to release a huge burst of beneficial hormones in your brain, which can have lasting positive effects on your physical and mental health for many hours after the sprint.
This has to be looked at in context. In the studies mentioned in the book, the participants were already doing cardiovascular exercise such as jogging, and incorporating sprints into this. It would probably not be the best idea to suddenly sprint as fast as you possibly can with no warm up, as there would be a risk of injury. But this idea can certainly be adapted. It seems likely that you would get some benefit from incorporating short bursts of vigorous exercise into your day. Here are some ideas:
- Run from room to room in your house, if space allows. Dash upstairs to the bathroom and back. Run to the kitchen to make a cup of tea (but perhaps don’t run back with the tea in your hand!).
- Do vigorous exercise whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, the toast to pop up, and anything else that involves waiting. You could do star jumps, jog on the spot or dance around. Or you could challenge yourself to run to the end of the garden and back before the kettle finishes boiling (space dependent!).
It’s not all about cardiovascular exercise!
Most of the tips so far will help you to burn more calories, and get your heart and breathing rates up, to some degree. But there are other types of exercise you can also incorporate, to help improve your strength and flexibility. For some of these, you won’t even need to stand up!
- Keep some free weights on your desk, so that when you are waiting for something to load on your computer, you can do a few repetitions. This is a good alternative to unnecessarily checking social media or emails. Make sure to look up the proper lifting techniques first, to avoid injury!
- You could also keep a Powerball on your desk! This is a device that can help to strengthen your wrists and arms. You set the ball spinning and rotate your wrist to increase the spinning speed. It exerts an outwards force which will give your wrist and arm a good workout. Have a look on the Powerball website for a better explanation and some videos! Powerball can help to rehabilitate you wrists in the case of repetitive strain injury, and can also prevent this from happening in the first place. It can also be great fun to try and beat your personal best spinning speeds!
- Do some stretches. Stretching has many benefits – it gets the blood flowing properly to all your extremities, improves your flexibility, and can be very relaxing! Every so often, while you are waiting for something to load or chatting to someone, take a moment to stretch your arms above your head, or stretch your body from side to side.
- Think about your posture. Sitting up straight will burn a few more calories than slouching, and also help you to avoid any back problems caused by poor posture.
- You could of course opt for doing some stretches or weights in the scenarios I mentioned earlier, such as while waiting for the kettle to boil, or while talking on the phone.
Here are some additional ideas for getting some bonus exercise:
- If you are a person who naturally tends to jiggle your legs when you are sitting down (like me), that’s good news in terms of fitness. I read that ‘jigglers’ actually burn quite a lot of calories from all the leg movement!
- For some tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, washing up and hanging up laundry, you are already standing up and moving around. But you can encourage a bit of extra movement by putting on some lively music while you do these tasks – you may well find yourself swaying and dancing around to the music a little bit while you work!
- Alternate static tasks with more active ones, so that you are not sitting still for extended periods of time. For example, if you have a lot of work to do at the computer, take occasional breaks to do slightly more active tasks such as laundry or ironing, rather than just sitting at your desk all day.
- Exercise while watching TV or a movie. You don’t necessarily have to do this for the entire show, but try spending 10 or 15 minutes walking or jogging on the spot, doing some stretches or even bouncing on a trampette which is a fun and easy way to burn some extra calories as you gaze at the screen!
- If you are out and about on a chilly day, wear one less layer of clothing than you normally would. This will encourage you to speed up your walking pace to keep warm. Be sensible with this – only do it if you are going to be walking around a lot, (for example, when out shopping) and not standing still outdoors. You don’t want to be uncomfortably cold, or put yourself at risk for Hypothermia!
- Incorporate exercise into your social time. If you are going to be spending time with a friend, why not suggest meeting at the park for a game of football, tennis or another sport that you enjoy? You could also invite them for a walk, a trip to a zoo or theme park (or any other attraction that will involve lots of walking), or for a swim. If the weather is unappealing, you could go bowling, or stay at home and play active video games such as Wii Fit.
- If you do regularly go out for some ‘proper’ exercise, such as the gym, a run or a swim, keep all your exercise gear together in an accessible place, to save time getting ready. You could keep a ‘gym bag’ by the door, containing a water bottle, a towel, locker money, mp3 player and any other items you need at the gym, so that all you have to do is get changed, pick up the bag and go.
- Schedule your ‘proper’ exercise before the time that you would normally shower. This will save you spending time on extra showers.
It can be fun to see how much physical activity you can squeeze into your normal day, without much effort or any time commitment. You may be surprised at how easy it is, and even if it doesn’t seem like much, the fact that you are doing a little bit of movement frequently throughout the day will at least get your blood flowing and prevent any problems associated with sitting on your bottom for hours on end. All these little bits of exercise will add up, and could make a significant difference to your mobility, fitness and health. So get moving!
Remember though, your body needs to rest and relax too, so don’t take this overboard – it’s okay sometimes to curl up on the sofa at the end of the day and watch a TV show or movie without feeling obliged to get up and jog on the spot while doing so!