You already know you should exercise more. You’ve heard that it’s good for your heart, helps maintain a healthy weight, strengthens muscles and bones, improves mental health and mood, reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers and could increase your life span. Even knowing all this, it still can be tough to find the time to exercise when your day is jam-packed with work and family obligations.
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise to improve cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. That works out to approximately 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week.
Michael Jonesco, DO, a sports medicine physician at the Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center, suggests that shorter spurts of intense exercise could be just as good for your health. “More intense activity is equally effective at preventing premature morbidity,” he says. “The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests 20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week as a less time-intensive alternative.”
Jonesco goes on to say that, according to the ACSM, “duration matters little, meaning 10 minute bursts of activity several times a day are equivalent to one longer duration of exercise.”
If you’ve been skipping exercise altogether because it feels impossible to fit in long sessions at the gym, this is great news. Scattering short bouts of exercise throughout your day feels more manageable than carving out 30 minutes to hit the gym. Several mini workouts can add up to a huge impact on your health.
We asked health and fitness experts for simple ways to squeeze exercise into a busy day. Here are their suggestions.
Walk to work
You have to get to the office somehow, so why not exercise on your way to work? Ditch the car, subway or bus, and lace up your walking shoes instead. Walking is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that people of all shapes, sizes and ages can do.
What if it’s too far to walk the whole way? Brad Thomas, a fitness trainer, wellness expert and founder of Brad Thomas Mind Body in New York City, suggests you “stroll the final forty [city] street blocks. This distance is equivalent to 2 miles. The average man or woman would burn over 300 calories walking just one-way.” If you don’t live in the city, park your car a reasonable distance from your workplace and walk the rest of the way.
Take the stairs
Once you’ve made it to work, “take the stairs instead of the elevator”, says Dan Inglis, director of Sports Performance at the OSU Wexner Medical Center. Climbing stairs has numerous benefits. It increases aerobic capacity, raises the amount of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the blood, strengthens the legs, and improves bone density in post-menopausal women.
Core work on the couch
You don’t have to be a couch potato when you’re lounging around watching TV after a long day. Exercise your core muscles while catching up on your favorite shows. Mindy Kim, a yoga instructor at TruFusion in Las Vegas, NV, suggests the following exercise: “Sit up and lean back, back long, belly button to spine. Lift legs onto the coffee table and do toe taps up and down with the option to alternate legs. You’ll start to feel the burn!”
Cut loose with the kids
What could be better than spending quality time with your kids while reaping the health benefits of exercise at the same time? Activities that kids do all the time just for fun are also excellent workouts for adults. Playing hopscotch, jumping rope, running around the yard, riding bikes, doing jumping jacks, and splashing in the pool are all ways to increase your heart rate and burn calories.
From Dr. Jonesco: “I use my toddler as my own personal kettlebell. I lift her overhead, let her ride my back as I do pushups, or add some knee bends when I’m rocking her to sleep. She sleeps, I sweat. It’s a win-win.”
Strengthen at the supermarket
While walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket, use your groceries to strengthen your arms. Cristina Osorio, a kettlebell instructor at TruFusion, suggests using baskets instead of a cart. Baskets full of food act as weights to challenge your arm muscles.
The trip home from the market is an opportunity for exercise too. “Pile up as much as you can carry and walk home (if you can) with bags in-hand,” says Osorio. “Two miles with about 10-15lbs of groceries in your hands leaves you sweaty by the time you get home.”
Dan Inglis, director of Sports Performance at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Michael Jonesco, DO, sports medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Mindy Kim, yoga instructor, TruFusion
Cristina Osorio, kettlebell instructor, TruFusion
Brad Thomas, ACSM, MFA, MA, fitness trainer & wellness expert
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “The Benefits of Physical Activity”
American Heart Association: “Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults”
Duke University: “Benefits of Taking the Stairs”