8 Expert-Backed Tips On How To Sneak Exercise Into Your Life

Can't make it to the gym? Try the "short burst" method.
Sylvain Sonnet via Getty Images

We all need to be exercising.

Most adults should exercise at moderate intensity for about 150 minutes per week -- or about 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times per week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. But that doesn't mean you have to go to a dedicated gym or pricey boutique studio to get fit.

There are many ways to be physically active outside of officially recognized forms of exercise. And the good news is that you don't need to do it all at once. Activity can be done in bursts of as little as ten minutes, according to Michael Jonesco, an assistant clinical professor of internal and sports medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

"This is good news for those adults-on-the-go who are lucky to get 20 or 30 minutes to themselves, let alone the time it takes to get to the gym and complete a dedicated workout,” Jonesco told HuffPost. "These shorter bursts of activity are much easier to come by and can be worked into our day at times that work for all of us."

With that in mind, here are eight ways to sneak 10 minutes worth of physical activity into your day, several times a day, courtesy of Jonesco and Dr. Paul D. Thompson, Chief of Cardiology at Hartford Hospital. Jonesco is a fan of finding dead zones in the day to squeeze in a quick workout whereas Thompson's strategy is to think of things you're already doing and see how to transform them into exercise. How many of these can you fit into your schedule?

1. ‘Earn’ your shower

One of the best ways to wake up in the morning is with a little physical activity -- it can even be more effective than coffee. Jonesco does a ten minute workout made up of stretches, planks, push ups, sit-ups, squats and "wall sits" every morning before he hits the shower.

His routine:

1. Stretch for one minute

2. Planks for two minutes

3. Pushups and sit-ups for five minutes

4. Pull ups for two minutes

5. Wall sits for one minute

6. Lunge squats for two minutes

In all, it takes him less than 15 minutes from start to finish, and he’s already about one-third of the way done with his vigorous exercise goal for the day. Go to sleep ten minutes earlier than you normally would to make sure you can get up on time, he advised.

2. Play with your kids

If you can’t get away from your kids for a few minutes, find ways to involve them in your workouts. Jonesco, for instance, uses his toddler daughter as his “own personal kettle bell."

“I lift her overhead, let her ride my back as I do push ups, or add some knee bends when I’m rocking her to sleep,” he said. “She sleeps, I sweat -- it’s a win-win."

Or you could take things a step further, like fitness Instagram star Kristy Ardo, a pregnant mom who uses her toddler's weight to make her exercises more challenging.

3. Turn wait times into flex times

Waiting in traffic or long lines is the perfect opportunity for a few targeted muscle exercises. If you’re stuck behind the wheel and cars aren’t moving, contract your core muscles and try to hold it for 30 seconds at a time, says Jonesco. If you’re standing in line, do some calf raises or flex your gluteal muscles (your butt!) for similar periods of time before releasing them.

4. Take the long route

Put more distance between you and your destination, even if you’re driving, Jonesco advises. That could mean parking at the furthest spot in the office parking lot, walking a round-about way to your desk or getting off the bus or train a little earlier than you normally would. Those extra steps can really add up if you start doing them regularly.

"Whether you are taking the stairs, parking further, walking to the next bus/subway stop, or using your desk to perform dips, as long as the activity intensity is moderate (think: working harder to talk while walking, but not gasping for air) then you are working towards your goal,” Jonesco writes.

5. Use shortcuts

Research suggests that people who exercise at maximum capacity for about ten minutes can have similar health gains as those who do moderate exercise for longer periods of time. A recent study found that participants who did what amounted to one minute of sprints and nine minutes of light exercise had similar gains in VO2 peak (a measure of how much oxygen your body uses), insulin sensitivity and muscle function as participants who did moderate exercise for 50 minutes at a time.

But be warned: this kind of interval training is intense, and during sprint times, study participants went “all out.” For this study specifically, the interval training took place on a stationary bike and consisted of two minutes of warming up before a repeating section of all-out sprints for 20 seconds and recovery pace for two minutes. This sprint-recovery section repeated two more times before a three-minute cool down.

6. Make your commute your exercise

If you walk, bike or even run to your job, you won’t have to worry about trying to squeeze in "real exercise” the rest of the day, says Thompson.

“A lot of people are busy, so what are the things you have to do anyway that you can make more time efficient?” Thompson asks.

Thompson is a personal fan of the exercise commute. He placed 16th in the 1976 Boston marathon, and he credits his performance to his 12 mile-roundtrip work commute, which he ran every weekday.

If your workplace is too far to walk or bike, you could also consider walking up and down steps as part of your commute. Thompson now
works on the seventh floor of a hospital and tries as much as possible to avoid using elevators.

“Walking up to the seventh floor and walking down as much as I can is a way I squeeze exercise into my day as much as I can,” he said. “In a hospital, you spend an enormous amount of time waiting for elevators, so it’s actually quite efficient."

7. Don’t just watch your kids play sports -- get involved

Soccer parents who are trapped at the edge of a field all Saturday would do better to walk around the field than sit in a foldout chair. It gives you different angles to watch the game, and you’ll also get some physical activity in as well, said Thompson. If there’s no space to walk around, even standing provides a measure of physical activity that’s better than sitting. And for those who are truly dedicated to exercise and youth sports, you could always learn how to referee your kid’s games.

“Standing is better for your cardiovascular system than sitting, and any type of movement only adds to that,” said Thompson. “Probably the best thing you can do is learn to be a referee, because you get to run.” Of course, the same advice applies for whatever sport your children are involved in.

8. Clean the house

In the same vein as commuting for exercise, take a look at all the chores that have to be done in and around your home. Are you paying someone to landscape your yard or vacuum your carpets? Taking back these chores is more opportunity for physical activity, and you’ll save money, too.

"It’s amazing the number of my neighbors who have health club memberships but have somebody do their lawn," said Thompson. “Little household chores, such as doing your own lawn or raking can add a lot of physical activity to your day.” Thompson advocates buying a push lawnmower to cut your grass, as the lack of motor means you’re working extra hard to push it across your grass.

While Thompson thinks that outdoor, physically demanding chores are the best exercise opportunities, he also noted that indoor cleaning and vacuuming also generate a fair amount of body heat, which means it also counts as physical activity.

“There are a lot of chores in our lives that are a way to obtain exercise if you want to do it,” Thompson said. The only caveat for this tip is that you have enjoy these chores to at least some degree, or else you’ll never do them, he says.

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Before You Go

Improved Attention And Focus

Benefits Of Outdoor Exercise


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