No Time for the Gym? Here’s How to Sneak a Workout into Your Day

Experts share tips for making time for a meaningful workout.

Carol Yepes/Getty Images
Carol Yepes/Getty Images

When it comes to exercise, a lot of us have the best of intentions, but it can be tough to find the time to make a dedicated trip to the gym.

But the truth is, it’s more than that. We know that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and something we should be prioritizing. But with Instagram fitspo as a constant reminder, the feeling of knowing you should be working out but having trouble finding the time can be a source of stress.

The good news is that you don’t have to be wearing workout gear and sweating in a gym to get some exercise: A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that so-called “incidental physical activity” — like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, or running for the bus — all can have a significant impact on your health.

Here are a few ways to sneak a bit of movement (that’s a microstep, by the way) into your day, straight from experts.

Make the world your gym.

It can be tempting — and, let’s face it, a convenient excuse — to think you can only get a real workout at the gym. Of course, that’s not true.

Simple things like walking the dog, raking leaves, lifting grocery bags, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator all count as exercise, Bert Mandelbaum, M.D., a sports medicine specialist, co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and author of The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit tells Thrive Global.

“If you just don’t have the time for 30 minutes all together, break it up into two 15 minute sets a day,” he explains.

Don’t leave it all for the weekend.

Although it’s tempting to put off exercising until you get two whole days off in a row, Mandelbaum says that’s not a good idea.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘consistency is key?’ That definitely rings true for physical activity,” he explains. “It is much more beneficial on your body to exercise for 30 minutes daily than to cram it all in over the weekend.”

Getting some sort of daily exercise is healthier for your body than trying to be a “weekend warrior,” Mandelbaum says. Breaking up your exercise time into shorter chunks not only reduces your risk of injury, it will also make it possible to actually improve your fitness level as you build it up more every day, he adds.

Your brain needs exercise, too.

Much like the muscles in our bodies, our mental capacity is also subject to a type of “use it or lose it” effect, Vernon Williams, M.D., a sports neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles tells Thrive. Research has found that the most effective brain exercises break up your regular routine and challenge you enough to develop new pathways in the brain, he adds.

And Williams notes that physical exercise also comes with major benefits for your brain. “Physical exertion helps the brain remain sharp — honing reaction times and ability to focus,” he explains.

So each bit of movement isn’t just helping your body stay strong and sharp — it’s doing double duty and helping your mind (and thus your productivity at work), too.

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