For busy, stressed parents and working people, getting to the gym can sometimes be the last item on a long to-do list.
In fact, only one out of two adults manages to fit in 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise once or more a week, says Statistics Canada, while only one in 20 works out for at least half an hour five times a week.
“Fitting in fitness is definitely a challenging goal for a good percentage of the population,” says Michelle Cederberg, a Calgary-based health expert, certified exercise physiologist and author of Got to it! 365 day journal for getting to the good things. “I would say more people are having trouble fitting it in than not.”
But choosing to pass up physical activity in favour of other priorities can be hazardous to your health. Last fall, a Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada study of a group of apparently healthy 18 to 35 year-olds showed that many had risk factors for heart disease that could be managed early by following a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.
For fitness writer Samantha Speisman, finding time to fit in a spin class after a full day of work can sometimes be a challenge. But at the same time, she says, it is important to make fitness a priority.
“When it comes to family, work, other relationships and things like that, fitness sometimes takes the last spot on the list and it shouldn’t, because all those other things will suffer if you’re not healthy,” says Speisman.
One of the problems for many Canadians, explains Dara Duff-Bergeron, a Toronto-based certified personal trainer and founder of Fit Family, is the belief that exercise is something that has to be done every day for an hour or two, and perfectly, or it won’t work.
In reality, she says, consistency should be valued over quantity. “You really don’t need equipment and you really don’t need a lot of time or anything fancy,” says Duff-Bergeron. “You just need consistency, that’s all.”
While regular, longer workouts are ideal, here are five ways to sneak exercise into your lifestyle when it’s difficult to fit in a consistent gym routine:
1. Exercise isn’t all or nothing
The body responds to consistent stimuli, says Duff-Bergeron. Even if you have only 15 or 20 minutes, five days a week, rather than two hours at the gym twice a week, it’s important to show your body and your metabolism that they are going to have to exercise on a regular basis. “There’s definitely something to be said just for being active, playing with your kids, going to the park, taking a family walk or walking your dog,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be time spent in a gym.”
2. Look for opportunities to take small steps
While it might take a bit of planning, Speisman suggests thinking about where you could fit extra movement into your usual activities. Get creative: Consider parking farther away than usual from the mall entrance, for example, or walking to the grocery store.
3. Schedule your time at work wisely
While taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting off public transit one stop early are great options, Cederberg also suggests using your breaks at work to exercise. Take 10 minutes to climb the stairs at the office, or walk to a nearby park. You can also stretch and do strength training in the office, she says, such as push-ups against your desk or tricep dips using your office chair for balance.
4. Find a buddy
If you work in an office, partnering up with a colleague to start a walking program at lunch or on breaks can be a good way to sneak exercise into your day, says Cederberg. You’ll not only feel motivated, but also you won’t want to let the others down.
5. Mix it up
While you’re committing to taking small steps to exercise every day, try to keep things interesting. Walk the stairs at work two days a week and do strength exercises at your desk the other three days. Duff-Bergeron says working out for 15 minutes or half an hour most days of the week also lets you concentrate on your lower body one day and your upper body the next, or alternate cardio and strength training, for example.
You may not have time to hit the gym, but if you follow these tips, you could find yourself getting fitter before you know it.