Creative Ways to Fit Quick Bursts of Movement Into a Busy Day

Try these tips to stay active on the days you don’t have time for a full workout.

StratfordProductions/ Shutterstock
StratfordProductions/ Shutterstock

We know it’s important to stay active, but between our back-to-back meetings, our kids’ virtual schooling schedules, and other tasks that keep us busy, it’s not easy to carve out time for movement, even (or especially) when we’re at home more than we used to be. Luckily for us, research shows that even four seconds of physical activity can positively impact our well-being. Super-abbreviated workouts are a beneficial alternative if you can’t carve out time for a longer session, and when it comes to these quick bursts of exercise, creativity is key.

We asked our Thrive community to share how they make time for quick bursts of exercise during the day. Here are the tips they shared with us:

Do push-ups while the shower warms up

“I have conditioned myself to do push-ups while the water is heating up for my shower. Whenever the water starts, I drop to the floor and bang out as many push-ups as possible.  I am up to 30 per day!”

—Nicole Kolenda, pediatric speech language pathologist, New York, N.Y.

Stretch in between meetings

“I try to get up in between my meetings and do a simple stretch. I extend my arms up and down, reaching for the ceiling and then the floor. It reminds me of grade school gym class and feels very basic, but the simplicity doesn’t take away from the effectiveness. This quick pause allows me to regroup, refocus, and incorporate some physical movement into my day. The 30-second stretch is a tool that I can consistently count on.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, management and change consultant, France  

Start a dance party with your kids

“For me, my go-to burst of movement involves a disco light, my two daughters, and some Taylor Swift music. Every single day, we make sure to have a kitchen disco, a bedroom disco or a living room disco and we simply move freely. Music plays such a part in our well-being that when energy is low or sluggish, this is exactly what we need to pick us up in. A few minutes always does the trick!”

—Sarah Lennon, career coach, Dublin, Ireland

Create “stand up” reminders on your watch

“I love setting reminders to stand up on my watch. Every hour, it will tell me if I haven’t moved for a minute, which happens often when I am focused on a project or reading a good book. I will get up and run in place for a minute. I also like to do stretches and yoga poses while I am waiting for my meals to cook. Bursts of movement are good for my circulation and it helps me refocus.”

—Laurie Jonas, blogger and author, Red Wing, MN

Try habit-stacking your exercises

“I sneak in fitness bursts throughout the day by stacking them with other habits. Let’s start with the mundane task of brushing your teeth for two minutes, twice a day. That’s underutilized time that you could also be holding a wall sit. Or if you’re standing in front of the toaster, waiting for the bagel to turn golden brown, you can do squats while watching the timer tick away. The main idea is to change nothing, but tweak everything. It all eventually adds up!”

—Jillian Potashnick, fitness instructor, Las Vegas, NV

Keep a hula hoop near your desk

“If I am having a super stressful day, there is a weighted hula hoop in a closet near my desk. Hula hooping is a major mood-booster and a great way to fit in a quick workout. It’s hard to be grumpy after a few minutes of hula hooping, and it reframes my mindset so I return to work in a better space.”

—Cindy J., executive search and human resources consultant to nonprofit organizations, Boston, MA

Do leg lifts on conference calls

“During my conference calls, I increase my physical activity by doing leg lifts from side to side, jumping on the spot, or stretching my legs. I also walk around my office every couple hours. Breaking down my exercise into small bites helps me stay active and feel accomplished when I can’t carve out an hour for a workout.”

—Lory Vincenzi, senior area sales manager, Toronto, ON, Canada

Play with your pet while tidying up

“There’s something joyful about the way my dog has so much fun from chasing a ball or playing with a tug toy. It energizes me to step away from my laptop every few hours and play with him. I can even combine vacuuming the floor with throwing a ball, as he loves following me around as I tidy up. He’s even learned to fetch his favorite ball when he sees me reaching for the vacuum cleaner. Our playtime has become a great way to fit in a quick workout and lift my mood.”

—Beverly Landais, certified coach, Tunbridge Wells, U.K.

Join your kids’ virtual gym class

“For a quick burst of movement, I love to stop what I’m doing and join the virtual PE class with my second grader. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of an embarrassing mom to get kids to have fun while moving around!”

—Lakshmi Jayanthi, founder of Pickup Sports, Atlanta, GA

Run outside during your breaks

“Sometimes in between Zoom calls, I run outside, take off my shoes, stand in the grass and look up at the sky. If I have more time, then I’ll even put my hands on a tree or give it a hug. The grounding energy of the earth really centers me and helps me put things into perspective. And it’s a great way to fit in some quick movement!”

—Karen Siff Exkorn, executive and media coach, author, playwright, New York, N.Y.

How do you carve out time for quick bursts of exercise during your day? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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