Most of the organisations giving out exercise guidelines for adults recommend that they do a minimum of 30-40 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.
30 minutes doesn’t look like much on paper but once it’s translated into the real world I can understand how some people struggle to reach that number. If you work 8 hours per day, travel for 1.5 hours to get to work and home, add in the time you spend getting ready, cooking, sleeping, eating and looking after others you’re not left with very much ‘free time’ in which to exercise. Likewise, if you’re a full time student and part time worker, when exam time comes around and stress levels rise, it can be difficult to find time in which to exercise.
I don’t work full time but I am a full time 4th year law student juggling university and two jobs and I completely understand how life can often get in the way of your ‘30-minutes’. I also know how important it is to be active for both physical and mental health so here are the tips and tricks I use to make sure I meet the minimum exercise recommendations on even the busiest of days:
Walk whenever you can.
If you’re catching a bus to work, why not get off one stop earlier, put on some joggers and power walk the rest of the way to the office? If you do that on the way to and from work, you may even reach your 30 minutes and save a bit of money in the meantime. It won’t be much but it will add up over time. You might look funny in your work uniform and joggers but at least you’re doing something that will benefit you for a longer time than you will spend in the mismatched outfit.
If you’re driving somewhere, park in the furthest spot away and make yourself walk. Whenever I go to uni (I drive to uni as I live rurally and don’t have access to a bus/train), I park in the furthest carpark away from all my classrooms and have to walk up a hill to get to them. It’s a little measure that, if repeated a few days per week, can really add up to a lot. And, if I don’t get time to go to the gym, I know I’ve at least walked a few kilometres which counts more than not walking any at all.
Choose the stairs over elevators and escalators. Understandably, if you work on the 20th floor of a building, you’re probably not going to walk up all flights of stairs (kudos to you if you do though), but you can still in some instances swap the easy route for the one that requires more effort. If you do this enough it will become a habit and you’ll no longer head straight to the elevator but to the staircase instead. A few minutes of stair-walking every day will add up eventually!
Make your workouts fit your free time.
If you have limited free time in which to workout, make your workouts fit into that time. There are plenty of ways to make a short workout intense and effective; try super-setting your exercises or mixing cardio with weights throughout your training session.
Choose HIIT over steady state cardio. Not only is HIIT proven to be more effective at burning fat, preserving muscle and increasing your metabolic rate, it is also less time-consuming than low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio.
Join a gym that isn’t out of your way. I’m a member of Anytime Fitness which really helps my busy schedule because they have gyms close to my house, my workplaces and my uni and I can use any of their gyms. I know people who drive over 30 minutes to go to their gym; if you’re already short on time, compromising workout time for travelling time may not be the best option.
Currently, my favourite “quick exercise” is skipping because it’s great for cardiovascular health and even the shortest skipping sessions leave me exhausted (but feeling great) afterwards. I also love doing weighted lunges because, as well as helping to build muscle, they can make your heart rate sky-rocket.
Wake up earlier.
This isn’t an option for everyone but if you can afford to get up 30 minutes earlier and exercise outside, you’ll reap many health and fitness benefits.
Provided that it’s not completely dark outside, choose to go for a walk, jog, bicycle ride or spend some time doing more relaxed indoor activities such as yoga. You could also do some cardio that involves things like skipping and plyometric exercise or if you have weights available to you, spend some time working out using them.
Handy hint: keep your workout clothes and a cup of coffee/preworkout/water next to your bed. As soon as your alarm goes off, drink the coffee/preworkout/water, put the workout clothes on and then you’ll have no excuse to go back to sleep.
Track your activities levels.
If you are really busy, your exercise motivation levels may be low because you use so much energy during the day. I’ve found that wearing a Fitbit to track my activity gives me the motivation I need to exercise because I can see the amount of steps (or lack thereof) that I’ve done in a day and I have a goal that I would like to achieve.
You don’t need a Fitbit to use exercise tracking as motivation. You could also set a weekly workout goal of, for example, 3 training sessions of 30 minutes per week. Write it down, keep track of what you’ve done and use it to remind yourself of what you’ve got left to do.
Remember that anything is better than nothing
Even if you’ve only got twenty free minutes in which to exercise, know that those 20 minutes are better than 0 minutes. You don’t need an hour or two in order to train. Anything and everything counts! If you’ve only got a few minutes, there are many short, intense workouts available on the internet that you can follow. I’ll be sharing up a few of my favourite quick workouts soon so stay tuned.