Most of us have plans to work out more, get healthier, and maybe even drop a pound or 10. It’s on our to-do lists, and it tops our New Year’s Resolution lists. And for good reason: Exercise, even in short bouts, is the way to a happier, healthier, more productive life. It’s not only common sense, it’s been shown in study after study. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into exercise actually making it to the top of our priority lists.
Let’s be honest: Carving out an hour (or two hours, by the time you get to the gym, get changed, take a class, shower, change again and drive either home or to the office) isn’t always possible. Instead of going to bed feeling defeated about skipping yet another workout and promising yourself to “try again tomorrow,” why not start by using small pockets of time throughout the day to boost your daily dose of exercise? “We feel more comfortable when we move more, we feel better, our blood gets moving, and we really do start improving our fitness,” says kinesiologist and coach Peter Glassford. “All the little things — 10 pushups here, a short walk there — are much better than sitting all day and skipping a workout just because you can’t dedicate a full hour to it.”
Try a couple of these methods every day and you might find you get more done, and feel inspired to find even more time to work out. And bonus: These are so low-stress that you’ll barely even get sweaty, I promise. (That said, if you have a medical condition or are new to exercise it’s a good idea to consult your physician before starting any new routine.)
Walk during a phone call
Why it’s awesome: Walking may not seem like a major workout, but if you’re like most of us, you’ve started a “get fit” routine that involved going for a run on Day 1. And then quit on Day 2, because, let’s be honest, running is hard if you’re not used to it. Walking is a gentle way to get more movement in your day. And 20 minutes a day of brisk walking gets you close to meeting the US government’s recommendation for physical activity. So, the next time you pick up the phone for a work call that doesn’t require a computer, phone your daughter in college, or your father after work one day, start stepping. The 20 minutes you spend chatting turns into a workout, and it makes a slightly boring (sorry, Dad!) phone call useful, rather than a time-waster.
Bust through the excuse: If it’s hot out or you’re prone to sweat, you might be skeptical about a midday jaunt at the office. Solution: stash a pit kit in your desk so you can do a quick cleanup when you get back. Think deodorant, a facecloth, small towel, dry shampoo and any makeup refresher you need. If you typically wear dress shoes to work, stash a pair of sneakers under your desk for a quick swap.
Squat while coffee brews
Why it’s awesome: Ultrarunner Jax Mariash runs a coffee roasting business — including two roasteries and a thriving online store — and as an entrepreneur, she doesn’t always have time to sneak in strength training while also getting in her miles. You may not own a business or log 150 plus miles per week, but you can steal her best strength training tip. “Every morning, I do a series of squats while my French press brews for two minutes,” she says. Doing 120 seconds of air squats (squat down, jump straight up, repeat) will give you the same boost that cup of coffee will, get your heart pumping, and firm up almost every muscle in your legs and core.
Bust through the excuse: Not a morning person? Consider this a wake-up. Getting winded within seconds? Slow it down. Skip the jump, and just focus on smoothly going down into a squat, trying to keep your feet flat on the floor, and then coming back to standing. As you get more comfortable, slowly start increasing your speed.
One to 15 minutes of planks
Why it’s awesome: Chiropractor Greg Wright is a huge fan of planks for fast strength training that skips weights or any confusing moves that need a lot of explanation. “A plank helps create stability in your core and improves your lumbar spine,” he explains. Holding a plank for even a few seconds is challenging, so work your way from whatever your starting point is. That might mean holding a plank — think the top of your pushup position — for just 30 seconds or a minute if you’re just getting started. When you can’t hold it anymore, drop to your knees if you’re a beginner. Once you’re more advanced, try shifting your weight onto one hand and the corresponding foot for a side plank. Then, go back to the regular plank, hold for as long as you can, and shift to the other side. Aim for up to fifteen minutes, resting between planks as needed.
Bust through the excuse: You definitely have five minutes to spare in the office or during a commercial during your evening shows, so time isn’t an excuse. If you’re worried about looking goofy, think of it this way: You can do this behind your desk and no one will even see you! (Pro tip: take off your shoes before getting into plank. Heels and dress shoes will make it impossible to hold, while sneakers will make it too easy.)
Grocery farmer’s carry
Why it’s awesome: You’re already almost doing it anyway! "Farmer’s carry" is Glassford’s favorite functional movement and strength training exercise because it works as a core, arm, and leg toner, but it also is a movement that you actually do in everyday life, unlike a bench press. “It also improves your grip strength and posture — plus, you have to control your breathing, and this move forces you to practice belly breathing,” he adds. The premise is simple: load both hands with heavier weights (think a bag of groceries that’s full of heavy cans and produce, or an infant’s car carrier) and walk, trying to stay as tall and balanced as possible, avoiding shoulder hunching or chest caving in. If you already are carrying groceries or the car seat, do an extra rep or two of walking to and from the car, or an extra flight of stairs.
Bust through the excuse: If you haven’t had any built-in reason to do a "farmer’s carry" today, though, grab a couple of gallon jugs of water (preferably the 2.5 gallon jugs, but starting with one is fine if you’re new to lifting heavy things) and walk up and down the hallway or even take a flight of stairs a couple times. You can also do this with dumbbells if you want a more workout-esque workout.
Take the stairs… for 10 flights or 10 minutes
Why it’s awesome: Whether you go up stairs at a snail’s pace or bound right up, you’re going to get a calf burn after 10 flights. This quick-hit workout can leave you sweating and breathless, or just slightly winded, so it’s great whether you have time to change or you’re just doing it before heading out to lunch. We all have heard “take the stairs, not the elevator” before, but multiply that concept by 10 and actually do stair repeats instead of just taking the single flight. If you’re new to working out, this is especially great since it’s lower impact than running, you’re never far from the top, and you have a railing to grab onto if you need a break.
Bust through the excuse: You don’t live in a 10th floor walkup. But you almost certainly have access to stairs somewhere — just go up and down a set of stairs for 10 minutes instead — you’ll also get a bonus from a quick ‘rest’ between flights, and stretch your muscles a bit. If you really don’t have stair access, find a short hill and do the same thing.
Do this quick routine
Why it’s awesome: Ready? Set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes, and start blasting some of your favorite fast tunes. Now, do a set of 10 jumping jacks, 10 squats, 10 bird-dogs (start on your hands and knees, then slowly raise your left arm and right leg simultaneously. Do the same on the left side for one rep), and 10 pushups. Rest for 15 to 30 seconds, and do it again. Once 10 minutes is doable at a reasonable speed, add a five- to 10-minute jog or fast walk at the beginning or end of the session.
Bust through the excuse: Can’t do all of those moves? Rather than pushups, hold a plank for 10 seconds (or as close to that as you can get). Move through the exercises as slowly as you need to. This isn’t CrossFit, this is just daily movement, and we want to focus on doing the moves right, not fast.
Park really, really far away.
Why it’s awesome: The whole “park far away” suggestion is popular for a reason. It’s an easy way to up your steps. But that suggestion is almost too simple, since the farthest spot in most parking lots is still not that long a walk to the store. So for work, or errands, try parking in a spot that’s a 10-minute walk away. You’ll spend a bit more time on your commute, obviously, but getting 10 minutes of fresh air will boost your creativity at the office in those critical first hours at work, and a 10-minute walk after work will help you reset for the rest of your day.
Bust through the excuse: bad weather — the bane of exercisers everywhere. Start building your kit: a good rain jacket and umbrella, waterproof or winter-proof boots, a warm hat, good gloves. Once you have the right gear for all weathers, the excuse of “it’s raining out” doesn’t (ahem) hold water.
Ultra-quick AM yoga session
Why it’s awesome: Your morning coffee might seem like a necessity, but if you feel stressed from the minute you open your eyes, you might be better off starting the day with some gentle yoga instead. Dozens of studies have found that yoga may reduce stress. And sun salutations, at their most basic, are a way of waking up and greeting the sun. So instead of greeting the day with your coffee machine, take five (or preferably, 20) minutes and do a few stretches.
Bust through the excuse: Not sure what moves to do? There are tons of free, short yoga routines out there (this is a great sub-five minute easy wakeup one with yogi Tara Stiles, so do some searching to find a routine that feels right for you. But have it queued up before you go to bed, don’t spend 15 minutes in the morning frantically searching for one to turn on.
Post-dinner family dance party
Why it’s awesome: First of all, you get to play with your kids, or get your freak on with your spouse or partner. What’s more fun than that? But you’re also moving around a bit after dinner, which helps speed up digestion, tires out your kids before bath time, and hopefully also helps you skip dessert or that second glass of wine.
Bust through the excuse: It can be hard to be motivated after a heavy meal, so consider swapping out some of the heavy carbs on your plate, like pastas and breads, for more veggies. Eating slower, chewing more, and stopping when full instead of when the plate is clear can also help make you feel less sluggish after the dishes have been cleared.
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