When a listener asked for suggestions on how to fit exercise into an already jam-packed life, The Productive Woman community came through in a big way.
Exercise matters — so how do we fit it in?
Today’s podcast was inspired by a question that Chrissie recently posted in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, asking for insight and ideas on how to fit exercise into a busy life. Several community members jumped in to share what works for them. The conversation was so good, I decided to share it with you.
The question that started a conversation–and inspired this episode
“Ladies, moms, full time employees, wives. HOW do you find the time to fit in exercise? I can go stretches doing well. And then, bam, no exercise at all for a while. When I'm working out it's because I'm putting in a real concerted effort to find the time for it. Some things are sacrificed for it. And sometimes I just can't or don't want to make those sacrifices. Is this normal? Or, if you have found a way to do it all, please fill me in! I've read a million blogs and heard a thousand podcasts and have convinced myself that it's “just not a priority.” Which may be true. But I can only have so many “priorities” at once!”
Why Does it Matter?
Before we talk about how to make exercise happen, we need to ask ourselves: Why does it matter whether we fit exercise into an already packed schedule?
Some of the ways exercise benefits us:
- Physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. We know it can help manage weight, and some doctors say it can help prevent certain cancers (see “The Exercise Trap“).
- Psychological benefits, such as improving mood, concentration, creativity; it can reduce depression and insomnia.
- Confidence that comes from being fit.
- Stress relief from working out.
- Creative thinking that occurs when you are working your body.
- Look at “7 Ways Fitness Empowers Women“
- See “Why is Exercise So Important for Women?”
- Weight management
- Heart health
- Stress relief
- Setting an example for our children
- Preventing osteoporosis
- Mood management — the release of endorphins helps you feel better and more energized
- Longer life
Keys to Making it Happen
In the episode I shared the suggestions and ideas offered by the Community in response to Chrissie's question, and I've included excerpts of those suggestions below, along with links to a couple of really useful articles on the topic of fitting exercise into a busy life. Enjoy browsing through the info below, but if you are short on time, here is a summary of the main keys to making it happen:
Make it easy.
If you work at home, put your workout clothes on first thing (including your shoes), or if you workout after you get off of work, have your clothes laid out or hanging up ready to go. If you like yoga, keep your yoga mat rolled up next to your desk or bed or wherever you’ll use it. Keep running shoes, etc., in your car. The point is to make it easy. Figure out where your friction points are and plan for it.
Plan for it.
Look at your calendar, decide where there’s reasonable space, and put that appointment there. Even if it’s just two or three days in a week.
Remember that a little bit is better than nothing.
You might not have an hour for a run, but you can probably take a 15-minute walk on your lunch hour. Spending ten minutes with free weights or body-weight exercises is better than spending that ten minutes on social media. You can try HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which is short sprints of all-out exercise, followed by short breaks. Twenty minutes of HIIT can be very effective. One example of an HIIT workout can be found here: “5 Fitness Tips for Busy Women.”
Squeeze it in and “multitask.”
Schedule walking meetings when possible, or schedule a run with a friend instead of brunch. Play a quick game of basketball or tag with your kids. Go for a bike ride with your spouse, and always take the stairs if you can, or park at the far end of the parking lot when you shop. The idea is to fit it in where you can.
Ideas from The Productive Woman Community
Karen: You can only have so many priorities at once. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. Something has to give! Instead of focusing on what you “can't” do — focus on what you “can.”
Lara: I book it in my calendar. I have found that I am so much less productive if I skip more than 2 days of exercise. I get anxious, and the negative self-talk slips in. I pick one thing (work or life related) to focus on before my workout, and I let my mind wander. It IS a type of work. On me — and it serves all areas of my life.
Melissa: I have to do it first thing in the morning before my kids and husband are up. My struggle with this is getting to bed early enough. When my alarm goes off in the morning I just remind myself that I feel so much better when I get in a workout.
Kat: Can you squeeze these [exercises] in? “Top 6 Reasons to Workout in the Morning.” Also, everything in my local area I try to do on foot or bike if I can instead of taking the car. It is hard, because on foot I have the dog, but my husband and son are very good about coming and sitting with the dog and taking the groceries home for me. Back in the day, I used to take a wagon and leave my previous dog in a safe spot in front of the store with a water bowl and run in and out, but times have changed and so has the dog, and I can't risk having her taken so that isn't an option anymore, but I am grateful for the help my husband and son give me.
Shaunah: I have a former colleague who would go swimming early in the morning when he took his son to hockey practice. Can you do something like that? Also, what you de-prioritize so you could bump up exercise? A third option is do to some form of exercise as a family. Hike, bike, swim, walk.
My note on Shaunah's suggestion: This is the good kind of multitasking. Combine exercise with relationship-building, such as going for a bike ride with your spouse or playing a game of pickup basketball with your son or getting your workout in at the same time one of your children is taking a dance class or fitness event.
Laura [not me]: I do a couple rounds of sun salutations in the morning while the coffee brews. It helps set the tone for the day, and then I just try for stairs and walks around my building at lunch. Now that the time changed, I can go for an evening walk around my neighborhood or do 30 minutes of yoga with my Gaia app.
Valerie: I am a believer of two things: the 15-minute rule and giving myself permission to stop. Here is what I mean — On YouTube there is a channel called PopSugar Fitness — here they have exercises of many different types/times/intensities. I have saved around 5 that are between 10-15 minutes. I do two a day — and not always do I “feel it,” so what I learned from Chalene Johnson was just start — and tell yourself, if I do not feel like continuing after 5 minutes, then I give myself permission to stop and not feel guilty — but I will just start!
Coryne: Build it into a hundred different activities all day long. I park as far away in the parking lot on the other side of my building as I can. When I let the dog out, I do 30 crunches while I wait for him to come back in. While watching TV with my hubby, I stretch. Waiting for the microwave, do a few pushups against a wall. Take the stairs. If you only need to talk to a couple people at work, have a walking meeting (ask them ahead of time!). Do a few stretches in your desk chair (look them up online — desk yoga is a thing). It's tough to get a good cardio workout in, but I'm a believer in the little things that we do every day that add up to the big things later.
Leann: Can you combine something else that's higher-priority with movement/activity? (BTW, I've stopped calling it exercise and just gone to calling it movement or activity. Somehow it helped psychologically!) For example, you can go walking with a friend (counts as friend time and movement), help the kids practice their sports (counts as mom time, practice time, AND movement), work in the flower beds with husband and/or kids (we actually enjoyed accomplishing stuff together), etc.
Siu: Basically I prioritize it … and have scheduled specific days for different activities/classes. So no thinking required.
Lorna: Recently I got 4 minutes into tai chi and had to stop because my 13-month-old had moved the fire guard, crawled into the fireplace and was eating cinders (long gone stone cold I hasten to add!).
Sky: This year I've been using an app called Streaks. You can add up to 6 habits you’re trying to build, and compete against yourself. The habits I'm working on are: get 10,000 steps, walk the dog, eat 3 different veggies, and do toning exercises for at least the length of two songs. I don't want to break my streaks! I've done all of the above every day this year.
Jenn: I needed this today — I scheduled my afternoon workout, got home, changed into gym clothes and vowed to just send “the one email” I needed to. Then technology failed me [again] and that one email turned into an hour and a FIOS tech call. 4 hours later I was still at my desk when the kids and husband walked in, and it was definitely time for family Friday night.
Sara: I am a stay-at-home-mom with two toddlers. I have started waking up early to exercise before my boys wake up. I hate when my alarm goes off at 5:30 but I've come to cherish this time when the house is quiet. I lay out my workout clothes the night before and put them on immediately when I get up. I have been using streaming video services like Beachbody on Demand (Fitness Blender on YouTube is a great free option!) and limit my workout time to 30 minutes. I love the above ideas about working movement into your day. Little changes lead to huge results!
“Little changes lead to huge results!”
~ Sara, in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group
Dinah: I'm going to put this a little bluntly. What is your main focus at this time in your life? Based on your answer, what is the main thing you spend your time on? Do they align? Maybe, just maybe, you are struggling to fit in exercise because it isn't actually the priority you think you want it to be. There are lots of strategies to make it easier to exercise, as previously suggested but until your desires and actions align you'll struggle to make it all happen. Just remember what Laura recommends, extend grace to yourself and go make your life matter.
Christiane: I do a 30-minute 21-day fix video every weekday at 6:00 am. When I finish, I get my daughter up and hit the shower, and we start the day. If I don't do it then, it never happens.
Layla: I recently heard an episode of the Model Health Show (EP 208) on the one minute workout. The title is gimmicky — it's not really a minute — but the author's point is that you need short intense periods of exercise. People who do this type of workout benefit more from it than those who do 45 minutes of aerobics exercise. His principle is that you can apply it as intense intervals (bursts) in your routine, whatever it is (walking, cycling, running, etc.), and you burn more than working out at a steady pace.
Shannon: I am NOT a morning person by any stretch, but I find that if I can get up early and exercise then, it's better than letting the day get away from me. That, and signing up for a class that makes me attend it like an “appointment,” work for me.
Brandi: I'm not sure if you have anyone else to watch your kids while you are gone, but I know that some people wear their workout clothes to sleep in so they will work out soon after they wake up. Or you could at least have them out and prepped the night before. I sometimes lay out my clothes on my bed before work so I will immediately change to work out when I get home.
Irina: For me, it's a question of priorities. Until last year it was “one of…” the priorities on my list, and I hardly ever got to it. This year I promised myself that I will exercise at least 3 times a week, and I do it either first thing in the morning before everyone is awake or immediately after I drop my kids at school. From April on, my intention is to exercise 4 or 5 times a week, because I already established a routine, and it really changes my day. So, I say, for me, it boils down to making exercise a top priority.
Wendy: I fight the same battle, Chrissie. First, I have my own treadmill, so I don't have to go anywhere to work out. That is essential for me! I also have to do it first thing in the morning, or something will get in my way. I am tracking my treadmill time in my journal, and that helps a bit. Also, I only let myself listen to podcasts like The Productive Woman while I'm on the treadmill. That helps because I really, really enjoy them. But it's still a battle. This is so critical to my well-being that it drives me crazy that I can't be consistent!
Meg: I get up early before my family and do a 30-minute workout. I've been doing BeachBody's P90X3, and they have more 30-minute-type videos. I also do a habit group, which is 4 weeks long, with Dan and Laura Suedbeck (The Cook & The Coach). You set goals for eating and exercise, and they encourage you and offer suggestions — you just have to do a BeachBody workout and it is free! Check it out — it's changed my life.
More Inspiration and Ideas
An article from Shape.com called “Workouts of the World’s Busiest Women” shares brief snippets of what a workout might look like for some names you might recognize. I also spotted an article in Women’s Running called “The Busy Girl’s Guide to Working Out” and some time-saving workout tips in Fitness Magazine’s article, “The Busy Woman’s Guide to a Great Body.”
Thank you to the members of The Productive Woman Community for all these great ideas. It boils down to this: Like everything else, we can find ways to take care of our physical and emotional well-being if it’s important enough to us, and if we’re willing to be creative.
What do you think?
Is exercise a priority for you? How do you fit it into your life? Share your questions, suggestions, and ideas in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Announcements & Reminders
- Spend time this spring with a group of motivated women like you, in one of my paid The Productive Woman Mastermind groups. If you’re looking for encouragement, motivation, and accountability in achieving your goals and moving forward in a life that matters, you'll find it there. TPW Mastermind groups are small, to allow maximum participation and benefit. New groups will start in early May, but the groups are being formed NOW, and spaces are limited, so don't wait–visit the Work with Me page on the website for information and a link to the short online application. Questions? Email me!
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