It's easy to feel motivated about the idea of exercising. Let's all run marathons! And do a push-up challenge! But somehow, a lot of our plans never leave the "idea" stage. We're all busy people, right? And it's so hard to find the time.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona. Photos from Pexels.
'Finding Time' Really Means Making Time
When something really important comes up in our lives, we find a way to fit it in to our schedule -- whether that's a new video game we're excited to play, or a doctor's appointment about something that's really bugging us.
Regular exercise might not be as compelling as those things, but each of us has ultimate control over what goes on our calendar. It's the rare human being who literally cannot make the time to exercise.
If it's hard to figure out when you could possibly schedule a sweat session, track your time in a planner or in an app like RescueTime. You may be struggling to fit in a 30-minute workout but find that you easily spend that much time either goofing off or doing tasks that you could easily rearrange.
Some types of exercise can be combined with other tasks you already need to do. For example, you can commute by bike or literally run your errands. If you need to watch video lectures or listen to an audiobook, you can do that during a workout. And I've met people who swear by a routine of returning phone calls while they take a midday walk.
Keep an Appointment
Once you find a good time to exercise, mark it on your calendar and keep it like you would any appointment.
To stay consistent, carve that time out in your routine every day. Even if you only want to lift heavy three times a week, keep your workout on your schedule every day, and use the off-days for a different activity: maybe go for a walk, do a yoga video, or work on stretching or meditation.
That kind of consistency keeps you from questioning whether or not today is a good day to work out. If 8am is always workout time, then you have one less thing to think about, and can just let your routine guide you to do the right thing.
Reduce the Time You Spend Not Exercising
Even if it's easy to find a 30-minute block of time, that's not the same as fitting in a 30-minute workout. When I decided to make a habit of running at lunch time, my lunch breaks got really long: I had to change into running clothes, drive to my favourite park, then after the run drive back and take a shower.
I made it work by reducing the overhead of working out. I work at home, so I just started my day in workout clothes. I also saved the favourite park for days when I had extra time to burn, and otherwise I just ran in my neighbourhood instead.
Think about how you spend your time before and after a workout, and see if there are similar ways you can reduce that time. One huge perk of cold weather, if you live in a place that has any, is that you may be able to exercise outdoors without working up a sweat. That means you can safely skip the post-workout shower.
Another way to avoid wardrobe changes is to work out in short bursts throughout the day. You don't need a whole new outfit just to bang out a few push-ups and squats -- but if you do those exercises several times a day, they can add up to a significant workout.
Keep the Kids Busy
For those of us with kids, finding child care is a huge part of making time to exercise. (That's why I try to do most of my exercise during the workday when my kids are at school and day care.) Your solution to this will depend on your children's ages, but here are a few things that have worked for me:
- Use a gym with a kids' room. This is probably already on your radar if you like to do gym workouts, but it's a great option even if you would rather be running or biking on the open road. Replace one or two of your weekly runs with a treadmill run, or even a strength session, at the gym. Then you only have a few non-gym sessions to schedule.
- Work out where the kids are. Do a workout video in the living room while they play in their bedrooms. Or take them to the backyard or the park. There you can do some playground strength moves or just find a spot on the lawn to do a bodyweight routine.
- Put tiny ones in a stroller. Walk them around the park. You can even stop here and there to do strength exercises. Want to do more than walk? Consider investing in a jogging stroller.
Mix up these strategies to cobble together a full week's worth of workout sessions. If you have a partner, or a friend who is also a time-strapped parent, consider trading off childcare so the two of you can take turns exercising and watching the kids.
Make Your Workout Fun So You Keep It High Priority
All of this assumes that working out is something you want to do. If you dread your exercise sessions, you'll do anything to let them fall off your schedule. To keep those appointments with yourself, make sure you keep up your motivation for exercise.
That can include adjusting your exercises and your mindset so you don't get discouraged or burned out by workouts that are too hard. Pat yourself on the back for any workout you do, even if it's small or doesn't seem impressive. Ten squats in your cubicle is a lot better than zero.
But it's best of all if you can make your workout experience a reward in itself. Maybe working out is where you meet your favourite gym buddy, or listen to your favourite podcasts. Maybe you love sharing your sweaty selfies with a note about what you accomplished that day. Maybe instead of churning away on gym machines you dislike, you join a team and play a sport you love.
Ultimately, because you make time for exercise, you're only going to keep up with exercise that's worth it for you. Either it's enjoyable, or you value the results you get out of it, or both. When a workout has a place in your schedule and a reason to keep coming back, then you've got a habit you can be proud of.