7 Fitness Hacks for Busy People
Most of us have great intentions to get in better shape. We just can’t seem to fit it into our schedules. Between long work hours and hectic home responsibilities, it can feel like your schedule is running you, not the other way around. How can I justify taking the extra time to go to that yoga class? you ask yourself. Is it worth it to buy a gym membership if I can’t go as often as I should?
This challenge is familiar to health-conscious, busy people everywhere. But the truth is that most of these obstacles are mental ones. You do control your own schedule, and you can make physical activity a regular part of your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be long blocks of time, it doesn’t have to happen in a gym, and it doesn’t have to happen every day.
All it takes is a little planning to simplify the process, and a few psychological tricks to keep you motivated. Here are some helpful tips to help you get rid of easy excuses and get your fitness routine back on track:
1. Set Smart Goals
When we think about our fitness goals, we tend to get ambitious. That’s because we usually have an end-goal in mind that is motivating us to get started. Maybe you’re picturing the body you want to have for a special event on the calendar, or you want to participate in a 5K run. You figure that if you start working out 5-10 hours a week, you can make it happen in a few months.
But if your goals are a big stretch for you, you are setting yourself up for failure. Big results take time, and it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t see rapid progress. It’s hard to change your habits dramatically, and seeing yourself fall short of your intentions might make you feel like giving up. You can also injure yourself if you try to do too much too fast.
There’s nothing wrong with having a challenging long-term goal, but you should start with a short-term, achievable one based on your current level of fitness. If you’re struggling just to make fitness a regular part of your life, consistency is the number one goal, so pick a target you can hit without too much stress. If that means exercising once a week, or ten minutes a day, that’s great; you can always work your way up from there.
Set small, measurable goals, like walking a certain number of steps per week, and track your progress. It will help build your confidence to see yourself hit your targets, and it’s easy to gradually increase your goals to give yourself more of a challenge. Remember: just by participating, you’ve already won.
2. Make it Social
A great way to make exercise more fun is to turn it into a social activity. Make a date with a group of friends to play volleyball once a week, or catch up with your bestie with a regularly scheduled walk-and-talk. Try taking a fun dance class or spin class to meet new people.
Many people also find it motivating to have a workout buddy. You’re less likely to bail on your run if you’ve got someone waiting for you, and the time will fly by faster as you keep each other company. Studies show that those with an exercise buddy tend to work out harder and longer, as buddies inspire each other to meet goals.
Exercise doesn’t always have to have its own dedicated slot on the daily calendar. There are plenty of ways to sneak more movement into your regular activities. The classic example is to take the stairs instead of the elevator, but there are other ways to multitask as well.
Pick something you already do, and figure out a way to do it while moving. If your job involves lots of phone calls, take them out for a walk. If you regularly check the news or scroll through social media, do it on a treadmill. If your office is nearby, try commuting by bike, even just a couple times a week. Every little bit counts, and these habits add up.
4. Become a Morning Person
Can’t figure out when to squeeze in your workout? Get up a little earlier and do it first thing, before you become preoccupied with other commitments. It might be hard at first, but it will feel super empowering to cross it off your list before your day has even begun. Mornings tend to be cooler, quieter, and free of distractions, making exercise easier for busy people.
Plus, there are some benefits to working out in the morning. Exercise boosts endorphins, alertness, and focus, so you’ll feel more optimistic and ready to take on the day. It also boosts your metabolism, helping you burn more calories throughout the day. Studies also show that morning exercisers sleep better at night.
5. Do it at Home
By the time you drive to your gym or yoga studio, change into your workout clothes, do your class or workout routine, shower and drive home again, hours may have passed. If that just doesn’t sound practical for your schedule, take the easy route and work out at home. You’ll save a chunk of cash in gym or studio memberships, there’s no commute, and you can squeeze it in whenever you have time.
Working out at home is easier than ever these days, thanks to a wide variety of online classes, apps, and simple at-home equipment. And since there’s no one watching you, it’s a great opportunity to branch out and try new things without feeling self-conscious. If you’ve always been curious about kickboxing or barre, now’s your chance. If you’re just looking for a half-hour full body workout you can do in your bedroom, there’s a program for that, too.
6. Try Interval Training
If you can’t manage to exercise for big chunks of time, you can do it in short bursts. Interval training is designed to give you a better workout in less time. It’s a series of brief, intense workouts followed by brief recovery periods. For instance, after warming up for about 15 minutes, try sprinting or cycling hard for a few minutes, then going easy for the next few minutes. Repeat this cycle several times, and you’ll end up getting the benefits of a much longer workout taken at a steadier pace.
One of the most accessible forms of interval training is interval walking. In one recent study, a group of middle aged adults practiced interval walking for 30 minutes a day over a five month period. Each 30 minute session consisted of five “sets” of fast walking for three minutes, followed by slow walking for three minutes. A control group simply walked at a steady, medium pace for 30 minutes. At the end of the study, the interval walkers showed significant improvements in their aerobic fitness, leg strength, and blood-pressure measurements, while the control group showed hardly any improvements.
7. Start a Rewards Program
If exercise feels like punishment, you may need to bribe yourself. The trick is to think of something you want to do that feels like a reward, and then make yourself earn it. For instance, if you’re craving a treat from the coffee shop across town, challenge yourself to walk there. If you’ve got a favorite show that you want to binge, set up an exercise bike in front of the TV, and make it a rule that you can only watch while pedaling. Since the benefits of exercise aren't immediate, it helps to have some instant gratification in the equation.
Once fitness becomes a normal part of your life, it’s easier to keep up the habit. Hopefully these hacks can help you get over the hump of starting a healthy new lifestyle.
1. Latona, Valerie. “The Big Benefits of Exercise Buddies.” AARP, May 2019.
2. Kirsten, Nunez. “13 Benefits of Working Out in the Morning.” Healthline, July 2019.
3. Fairbrother, Kimberly et al. “Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives.” Vascular health and risk management vol. 10 691-8. 12 Dec. 2014, doi:10.2147/VHRM.S73688
4. Reynolds, Gretchen. “Walk Hard. Walk Easy. Repeat.” The New York Times, Feb 2015.