When you have a bazillion things on your to-do list, it's easy to write off your workout. And while you might not sweat it, you should. Research shows that exercise can boost your productivity, fend off weight gain, and alleviate stress when life gets particularly frantic. Use these tricks to move more when your regularly scheduled workout really isn't in the cards.
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If you honest to god have zero time:
1. Stand up. Here's a shocker: Simply standing up throughout the day can be more beneficial for your body than squeezing in a short workout and sitting the rest of the day, says Jacque Ratliff, M.S., an exercise physiologist associated with the American Council on Exercise and a certified strength and conditioning coach. So if you can't make time for a legit workout, tackle your duties while you're on your feet (Oh hey, standing desk!), and cross exercise off your list.
2. Carry your handbag. And fill it to the brim as per usual. Wherever you carry it, grasp the handle with your palm facing up. Bend your elbow 90 degrees and keep it close to your side as you engage your bicep and pulse up and down a few inches. When your arm gets tired, switch hands and repeat. Try it with your palm facing down to give your forearms extra TLC. Either way, you'll work your arms and feel better about carrying around all the useless crap you should have emptied from your bag months ago.
3. Chug water. Because science says that even mild dehydration (i.e., feeling thirsty) can mess with your mood, affect your ability to concentrate, and make tasks seem more difficult, it's smart to keep a beverage on hand any time you feel frazzled. So drink up. After all, the more you drink, the more you move to and from the bathroom — every step counts!
If you have two minutes or less:
4. Set a standing alarm. OK, so not everyone can realistically stand all day. If you're mostly deskbound most of the day, set your phone alarm to ring once an hour with a song like "Stand Up" by Ludacris (or "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley, if that's more your thing), and get to it. Refill your cup of water or hit the restroom before you plop back down.
5. Walk while you wait. Idle time is wasted time. If you're waiting for the subway or crossing signal, or for your barista to serve your drink, do calf raises (come up onto your toes, pause, then slowly come back down) or move your feet. Then pat yourself on the back because guess what? You just found time to work out.
6. Work your abs while you sit, stand, or walk. As often as possible, imagine you're trying to get your bellybutton and backbone to touch. Holding everything in is a subtle way to work otherwise idle muscles.
7. Put a real workout on your calendar. "In order to be healthy, you have to plan for it," Ratliff says. If you can't make it to the gym today, call it a rest day, look up the class schedule, and book a sweat session for tomorrow. Then treat it like any other plans on your Google Calendar (like dinner with your best friend) so you're less likely to cancel.
If you have five to 10 minutes:
8. Reject common conveniences. Good-bye, perfect parking spot. Good-bye, closest bathroom. Good-bye, shortcut through the park. Many inconveniences are a hassle precisely because they require more effort. Remember: That's actually a good thing if your goal is to move more.
9. Call instead of texting or emailing. Oftentimes, the most annoying tasks (like contacting your cable company or confirming a dinner reservation) can be done by phone, which is mobile for good reason. So plug in your ear buds, dial away, and take a stroll around the block while you conquer the world. (Of course you can also walk while you text or email from your phone, but that will make people hate you. Which is not on your to-do list.)
10. Pace while you answer emails. Since you will obviously text and email from your phone: Grab it and hop into an empty conference room (or another uninhabited space) while you read and respond to work stuff and friends. Besides the rogue rolling chair, it should be a safe space.
11. Break a sweat in the bathroom right before you shower. If it takes a few minutes for the water to warm up, that's even better. Otherwise, try some of these moves until you perspire enough to need that shower: Use the edge of the tub or toilet to do triceps dips; put your hands on the floor and elevate your feet for incline push-ups; grab a full shampoo or conditioner in each hand and do bicep curls while you do squats and alternating lunges; or hold the bottles while you do alternating uppercuts and cross-body jabs.
12. Get off the subway/train/bus one stop early. You'll (1) clock extra steps; (2) cross off errands that entail places you pass along the way, like a coffee shop or drug store; and (3) score some quiet time to handle obligations that didn't make your Official To-Do List (like calling your mom). And if you drive? Park a few blocks away from home.
If you have 15 to 20 minutes:
13. Sleep in. Really. "Living a healthy life is all about time management, so if you are able to go to bed early to catch up on sleep, you may be more productive, which could allow you a bit of extra time to squeeze in a workout the following day," Ratliff says. And lazies will especially like this: "If you are trying to exercise on very little sleep, you might be doing more harm than good," she says.
14. Do a combo workout. Use the time you have (ideally, at least 20 minutes) to perform a strength-training circuit that alternates between intervals of intense activity (like jump squats or kettlebell swings for 15 to 30 seconds at a pace that makes it tough to talk) and active recovery (walking or light jogging for 30 to 60 seconds). "You'll burn more calories in a shorter period of time, get the muscle-building effects of the circuit training, and may burn more calories after your workout is over," Ratliff says.
If you have 30 minutes:
15. Read on the run. You can't live under a rock. And you shouldn't live without exercise. Bring your iPad or phone or deck of statistics for work to the gym, and plop it on a cardio machine with a sturdy ledge (i.e., anything but a rower or barebones stationary bike). You might miss the Kardashians rerun that's playing on the gym's big screen, but that's what DVR is for. Reading while you walk/run/elliptical/pedal might take some getting used to, but you'll catch up on the day's news, break a sweat, and leave the gym feeling extra accomplished.
16. Recruit a friend. Common sense suggests that you need to carve out time for your friends if you want to keep them. (As if you need another thing on your to-do list.) And research suggests that exercising with friends makes you work out harder and longer (which you'll have time to do if you kill two birds — socializing and sweating — with one stone). Instead of meeting up for drinks, suggest window shopping. Bonus: Being outside will totally zen you out. If your friend likes to work out, pick a class you've both never tried before and do it together.
If you have 45 minutes:
17. Sign up for a fitness class — and actually show up for it. When you say you have "no time" to workout, you probably mean you don't have three hours to try on multiple pairs of workout pants, make a "pre-workout snack" that inevitably turns into a four-course meal, make your bed, feed your cat, and then hit the gym, where you'll flirt with the guy at the front desk and fiddle with your playlist and take an excessive number of water breaks between exercise sets. But you might have 45 minutes. So take a fitness class like indoor cycling. You have to arrive on time or else it's super awkward, you can bank on an efficient workout, and you'll want to get out of class ASAP to get your sweaty self to a shower.
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