Too busy to exercise? Here’s some simple tips anyone can apply to find the time and motivation to exercise without compromising their work or life.
Growing up sport was a huge part of my life. I absolutely loved being outdoors and participated in almost every sport I could. As a result I was active every day without ever putting in an ounce of effort. Then, in my last week of high school, I was involved in a serious car accident that injured my neck, and meant that the exercise I could do was limited. This, coupled with finishing school (so no more organised sport), starting university and working 3 jobs meant that the amount of physical activity I did rapidly declined.
As I climbed the corporate ladder it only got worse. I work long hours, I travel internationally for business and even when I am not at work I seem to be surgically attached to my iPhone waiting for it to ring or the little red circle to pop up indicating I have a new message or email. I had the desire to increase the amount of physical activity I was doing, not just for health and fitness, but for the mental break and the joy of exercise, but was always making the same excuse…
I’m too busy and don’t have enough time…
I was so busy working, that I had fallen victim to the habit of dedicating too much time to my work, and not enough time to myself and my health. After a mystery illness that kept me sick for close to 5 months I made the decision to get my health back in check. There were two small but significant changes I decided to make. One was to sleep more and the other was to exercise more.
I had tried to exercise more before. I tried setting goals of working out 3 times a week, I tried sticking to a running program, I tried hiring a personal trainer, I tried a bunch of different things, none of which worked. I would always have a good excuse… A meeting that would pop up, a business trip that would mess up my schedule, a business dinner, a late night so I was too tired in the morning, too much to get done, too jetlagged, too sore because I actually managed to work out yesterday and went too hard, too unfit, not enough time to do a worthwhile workout you get the picture.
I know I’m an all or nothing kind of person so I decided to set myself the goal of exercising every day to develop the habit.
No more excuses. It had to happen every day no matter what.
So, today marks the day of 365 days of exercising every day (almost! see #10), so I thought I would share my learnings from the journey:
1. Start small
At first I only set the goal to exercise every day for 30 days. When I got to the end of 30 days it wasn’t as difficult as I thought, so I extended it to 90 days, then 120 days, then until the end of the year but at that point I already knew I was going to go for the whole 365 days.
I wouldn’t suggest going cold turkey and setting a goal to exercise every day for a year. When you set lofty goals, they can seem unachievable and when times get tough you convince yourself that you probably would have never achieved the goal anyway. There is no shame in starting small and quickly building. It is much better to check off little goals, than it is to completely miss a big goal.
2. Set easy rules
I wanted to make it really easy to achieve so I couldn’t fall victim to the past excuses that had held me back from being active. The rules I set were:
- Do it every day, no excuses allowed
- Minimum 10 minutes
- Have to consciously choose to exercise (incidental exercise like a walk to the shops doesn’t count unless you plan that to be your exercise and do it with purpose)
That was literally it!
My advice is that you need to make it really achievable for yourself, the higher you set the bar the harder it is to do it, and the easier it is to find reasons not to do it. No one can say that they can’t find 10 minutes to do something active.
3. You are not too busy
I managed to find the time. I managed to exercise every single day despite what else I had going on in my life at that time. Yes, I am a busy person, but I decided I am not too busy to make my health a priority. I pride myself on being successful, but I had to redefine success. Success for me became not just about career success, but about being successful in my career while also successfully prioritising my health and well-being.
The reality was I thought I was “too busy” but no one even noticed I was exercising more. I didn’t keep it a secret, but I also didn’t put my life on hold in any way shape or form. I still worked and delivered as much as before, I still travelled, I still attended social events, I still slept and I still spent time with my husband (admittedly often exercising, but he has super aggressive running goals). I thought I didn’t have spare time, but I just had to use my time more effectively. Now, when I have a spare 30 minutes I throw on my workout gear instead of deciding it isn’t long enough to exercise so I will answer a few more emails, or mindlessly search the internet or watch TV.
We all have the same amount of time in a day 24 hours, 1440 minutes, 86400 seconds, it’s how you use that time that matters.
What is Important is not the time we have but instead how we use that time. It’s all a question of priority and choice. You may have some big, important role, you may have a family that keeps you on your toes, you may have a million other things going on, but 10 minutes is less than 1% of your day. You can dedicate 1% of your time to living a healthier life. It’s truly amazing what you can find the time for when you make it a priority.
4. Have a why
I had 2 reasons I was committed to making sure I did exercise every day:
- To improve my health
- To be a role model to others
Being sick for such a long time definitely scared me enough to make sure it never happened again. I remember someone saying to me (thanks Harue) “I know your job is important to you, but how will you continue to do it if you get more sick? How will you be there to take care of your family if you are not taking care of yourself?” It was a good wake up call to remind me that health is not something you can put off until tomorrow. You need to take care of improving it today.
I mentioned before about changing my definition of success. One thing I realised was that not only was I short changing myself with such a narrow definition I was also setting a bad example for others. Being in a senior leadership role and being a coach and mentor to a number of individuals I wanted to role model that you could be successful in both your career and in your life, they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I decided it was my duty to prove to others, particularly young females, that you can have it all. That career success doesn’t need to be built on the foundation of sacrificing everything else in your life. If I failed at this I wasn’t just failing myself, but I was failing the millions of people around the world that aspire to live a fulfilled life.
Unless you have a why, a purpose, for doing anything in your life you won’t be able to successfully maintain any habit.
Focus and discipline is only sustainable on its own for a short period of time. You need something to drive you into action on the days you don’t feel like getting out of bed. You need to know why it is important to you to achieve whatever goals you have. Sometimes it is important that your why goes beyond you. You do more for others than you do for yourself. If you let yourself down you that’s one thing, but if you let others down that is a tough pill to swallow.
5. Be prepared
I was the queen of excuses so I made sure that I was super prepared.
As I travel a lot I bought some shoes that are light weight and squash down to almost nothing (Nike Flyknits) so I could no longer use the excuse that I didn’t have enough space in my carry on to take gym shoes. I also bought a lightweight travel yoga mat (Manduka eKO Superlite) that could be folded and slipped into the front pocket of my carry on so I could no longer make the excuse that the hotel gym wasn’t open or that the carpet looked scummy so I didn’t want to touch it. I researched a bunch of different exercise programs and downloaded apps so that I always had resources to go to quickly so I didn’t have the excuse of not knowing what exercises to do. I dusted off the exercise bike and weights we had at home and set them up so that I didn’t have to waste time getting organised each time.
The key is certainly preparation.
I would encourage you to brainstorm the excuses you have used in the past and make sure you come up with actions to eliminate these obstacles in the future. The more prepared you are and the easier you make it for yourself the better.
6. Keep it interesting
I did anything and everything for exercise during the 365 days. The things I did most were running, cycling (on the exercise bike), yoga/stretching and the 7 Minute Workout. The key was to allow myself to do whatever I felt like so I kept enjoying it, I had “easy” things to do if I had a tough day and didn’t feel like doing anything, and I didn’t overdo it.
I wanted to regain the joy of exercising so I knew a regimented, intense program was not for me. The goal was to sustain it for the whole time so keeping things flexible and having easy and hard as well as short and long workouts to do, meant that I could choose based on how I felt and how much time I had available. In the past I had a pattern of deciding to exercise and jumping in with such intensity (all or nothing :)) that I would get injured or sick, so I had to make sure that I didn’t repeat that by setting myself up for success.
Obviously it depends on your goals, but I would encourage you not to limit yourself in what you do. If you read all of the literature on fitness it is not recommended that you exercise with intensity every day as your body needs to oscillate between stress (intense activity) and recovery (rest), so make sure you do have some days that are intense, but others where you back off and do much lighter exercises.
7. Get support
When I first decided to work out every day for 30 days I told my mastermind group of 6 people (thanks Superstars!). I wanted their help to keep me accountable so I messaged them every day after I had exercised to tell them what I had done. They were hugely supportive and encouraged me, joined me and gave me another reason not to give up. I didn’t want to “fail” by reporting I had missed a day. From memory I only reported in for those first 30 days, after that the habit was ingrained enough to manage myself, but I knew they had my back if I needed support.
I also joined a running group, House of Running so I had a group of people to run with on weekends so I didn’t get so bored and give up after a 30 minute run. I couldn’t make every session due to work and travel, but they are a super awesome, flexible community. In this group I have made some amazing friends and also managed to train for a half marathon during the year, not something I ever thought I would achieve.
My husband (Michael from Running For Planes) was my biggest supporter. He would encourage me when I was finding it tough, exercise with me for company, even when it meant that he would have to still go and do his own work out later, come up with new interesting programs and inspire me with his own fitness journey.
Whatever you do get support.
Whether it is friends, family, your spouse, Facebook it doesn’t matter, what matters is that you have people on your side to encourage you and hold you accountable, people that you don’t want to disappoint.
During the year I really learnt what works best for me. I learnt that I prefer to exercise in the morning because in the afternoons I get caught up with work (as I work with the US so my afternoon is their morning), I am more tired, I am hungry and my back is sore. I always have more energy and positivity when I exercise in the morning. I love how accomplished it feels going to work knowing you have already exercised and achieved something before 8am. I really, really love the feeling of getting home after a long day and remembering that I already did my exercise so I can enjoy my evening without constantly thinking that I have to do it. I also learnt that I love to do longer workouts on the weekend when I have more time to fit them in. I learnt that when I have business dinners I can still quickly fit in 15 minutes of light stretching without getting hot or sweaty so I don’t have to waste time showering or reapplying makeup before I rush back out the door. I learnt that even when you are injured you can always find substitute exercises that you can do.
I learnt that I can do much more than I thought I was capable of.
8. Learn what works for you
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure it all out right away. These learnings came throughout the year through a lot of trial and error. I didn’t go in expecting to realise these things, but if you do something for long enough you find patterns and can identify feelings, so repetition and trial and error is the best way to find out what works for you.
9. Get momentum
All I ever did was focus on the goal for that day. Exercise no matter what. From there momentum built. At the beginning it was harder and I had to consciously make a huge effort to exercise, now it’s a habit and most of the time it just happens like brushing my teeth. The other interesting thing is that even on days when I felt crappy and was dragging myself out of bed to do a slow 10 minutes on the exercise bike all of a sudden I got more energy and that 10 minutes slow became 5 minutes slow and 25 minutes fast. I would do 5 more minutes on the treadmill, add an extra plank, do an extra round of the 7 Minute Workout etc. I really got momentum, each and every day, not just for the long haul but also in the short haul.
Once you get started you want to keep going, so the key is just start! Just start and your body will decide what it wants to do.
Think of it like jump-starting your engine. Once it gets started it keeps running, but it needs some help to get started in the beginning.
The habit will build over time and become second nature if you set yourself up for success doing all of the things I have mentioned above.
10. Don’t give up
So, in full transparency I missed a day. November 3, day 248. I had a hectic day at work and was leaving the next day to travel to the US for an extended period of time, so there was a lot of organising, packing etc. and I completely forgot. I remember with complete clarity sitting in the Gordon Ramsey Plane Food restaurant at Heathrow Airport with my husband, Michael (who was on his way to run the New York Marathon) and all of a sudden I remembered I didn’t exercise the day before. My heart started racing, I was replaying the day in my head hoping I was wrong and I had in fact done it, but I wasn’t wrong. I nearly started to cry and I am not a crier. As I fought back the lump in my throat, I started to calculate if there was any way I could still do it now and somehow it would still be yesterday somewhere in the world, surely that would count, but it wasn’t to be. In that moment I was ready to give up. In my mind I had failed.
The times I had exercised at 2:00am because I hadn’t had a chance to do it earlier in the day and had to do it before I went to bed, the times I exercised while in agony because I had dislocated my shoulder, the times I dragged myself out of bed when I didn’t feel like it, were all for nothing because I hadn’t achieved my goal. I remember my amazing and level headed husband looking panicked as he tried to find the right words to comfort me, but he found them. He said “are you going to throw away everything you have achieved because you missed one day? Are you really going to give up because of one lapse in memory? If you stop now because you missed one day you are only letting yourself down, look at all you have achieved and all you still have to achieve if you stick with it.” There was a lot more discussion because I felt I had broken the rules. I hadn’t exercised every day so the clock had to reset. In the end we agreed that if I worked out twice the next day I would continue on as if it never happened and I am so glad I did. It taught me resilience.
Sometimes you will “fail” but the key is picking yourself up, regrouping and continuing to push towards your goals.
You may not have met the perfect rules of how you thought it was going to go in your head, but if you have made progress you have had a win. Don’t sell yourself short by giving up prematurely if you encounter a little bump in the road. Find a way to reconcile it with yourself, don’t give up and stick with it. The gains are so much greater if you stick with it instead of giving up.
So, do I recommend setting the goal of exercising every day? Yes.
Honestly everything that came out of this experience was positive. The journey wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it. Just remember exercise doesn’t have to be intense long workouts. You get so much benefit from just moving every day.
The purpose of my life is to live vivaciously and to inspire others to do the same, so if I inspire just one person to believe that they can find time in their busy schedule to exercise and take action to do, it all the difficult times in the past year will be worth it.
Am I stopping now? No.
I intend on making this a lifelong habit. It has been a long journey and there has been and will be days when it is really tough. I know it won’t be easy and I may “fail” again, but over the last 365 days I gained so much more than the habit of exercising. I feel healthier, happier, I’m in less pain and I feel like I have really achieved something. I learnt so many lessons like the ten above that I can apply to other areas of my life. I don’t know what I will learn in the next 365 days or the many years after that, but I am excited to find out.
I would love to hear about your journey and support you! Please share your plans and progress.
The 30+ Challenge shows you the ultimate success formula to establish game-changing daily habit strategies, to improve your well-being every day. It’s designed for busy people who have had trouble sticking to a commitment in the past, and have started and stopped well-being habits before. Each day you’ll have a simple step-by-step format to focus you on small steps towards improving your well-being, creating daily habits that actually stick so you can live the life of your choosing.
Originally published at runningforplanes.com on February 28, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com