exercise for the time-challenged
August 30, 2018 4:14 AM   Subscribe

I have a very busy and overly scheduled life - how to fit more exercise in, or is what I'm doing enough?

I have a long commute. I'm travelling for 3 hours everyday, except on days that I work from home, which currently stands as twice a month.

I am overweight and working to become fitter than before. I am not exercising for weight loss.

I feel I have really worked at cutting away the dross from my daily life so that every hour has a function and I've also found exercise classes close to work 3 days a week (yogax 2, pilatesx 1). These are hard and fast commitments - I never skip them. These really only work because they're close to my office and so don't add anything extra to my travel-time. If I could replace one session with a cardio session I would but there are no gyms close to work and I can't run (knee issues). I'm usually too exhausted by the time I get home to attempt any exercise at any of the gyms close to my home. The other two days of the week, I socialise after work, or just go home and get some rest. I figure these to be needs, the way that exercise is also a need, and am reluctant to allocate another weekday evening to exercise.

I'd like to add more exercise (another hour of yoga, or some cardio) to my day without necessarily sacrificing a weekday evening to it, but I am finding this really hard to do because every hour of my workday already has a purpose attached to it, and waking up an hour early simply is not an option for me. I'm tired most of the time already. But there are people with commutes, jobs, houses and even children who manage to exercise so it just makes me feel so inadequate that I can't seem to fit anymore exercise in my life.

So does anyone have any ideas for how to carve out more time for exercise on weekdays, or exercise routines that don't take a whole lot of time? Alternately, those of you who have extremely busy and overly scheduled lives, how do you fit exercise in? Can you share your routines with me?

Alternately, am I fretting about nothing - is 3 days of exercise 'enough' for some level of fitness, esp. when I am not actively exercising for weight loss purposes?

For the purpose of this question please pretend that weekends don't exist. They're not a good option to get extra exercise in, for reasons beyond the bounds of this question.

Yes my commute is terrible. I'm looking to move, but as I own my house, the move isn't going to be immediate.

I found the answers to this question really interesting, but there seemed a fair few Mefites who woke up at 5am in order to fit everything in, and that isn't going to be me anytime soon. I know my limitations.
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I have a child and a busy work schedule, but with a small commute so it helps! What I find helpful is to combine exercise with other tasks. I run with my child in a running buggy for nursery drop offs. I used to have a longer commute to work -- but instead of spending that time inactive, I would run half-way and catch the train half way. When I can swing it, I run at lunch. Running is by far the best exercise for a busy person.

You say that your knees give you issues. That may be so, but to be honest, most people I see having issues with their knees are people with poor proper running form, which can be fixed. It's not some innate unchangeable hurdle. I gently encourage you to see a physio who has experience with runners. If not, then how about cycling to and from work, even half way to the nearest train station? Or at lunch?
posted by moiraine at 4:27 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well I'm here to tell you that you exercise at a level I wish I could attain. I think barring any other health goals this sounds pretty good?

I don't know what time you go to work, but I used to go for a run in the mornings, 30 minutes out the door and back in the door. I am NOT a morning person, really terrible at it honestly. So I had to also add another 15 minutes to my morning to accommodate a shower. So I basically had to get up 45 minutes earlier, which was 6:30 am. I would not have been able to do it if it was 5am. I was able to keep this up for about 3 months. Then I would lapse for about 3 months and then I pick it up again. I told myself it was better than nothing.

But without it, I think going to Yoga/Pilates 3x a week is good! Make sure you're progressing (ie adding resistance, more challenging poses) so that they do feel like workouts.
posted by like_neon at 4:35 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think it's important to have some kind of exercise each week that raises your heart rate. Is there any way you could just go for a brisk walk at lunch time? I find that even a 30 minute walk at lunch gives me more energy for the afternoon, and helps my mental health.
posted by barnoley at 5:14 AM on August 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Like everyone else, I think 3 times a week is pretty great. Things you could do... step-counter? I could see how scheduling in a specific walk for exercise might be hard for time reasons, but if you’re tracking steps you might be able to build a habit of fitting in short walks here and there that add up to a significant amount of activity. (Anecdotally, I’ve done this off and on, and found periods when I was consistently hitting 10K steps (a completely arbitrary number, of course) meant I felt much healthier and more energetic.)
posted by LizardBreath at 5:21 AM on August 30, 2018

What is the layout of your office / office bathrooms? At my most stressed-and-commutingest, my sole form of exercise was to throw down a towel in the shower-bathroom and do a one minute plank whenever I got up from my chair (to get copies, to make coffee, whatever). Sometimes would do 30 squats. The main thing was to be ok thinking of it as "booster exercise for mood and energy" not "sustained workout sesh requiring a shower".

Alternatively, you could do the seven minute workout (sub jumping for something else) in your PJs as soon as you wake up, then get on with your day. Please don't get up at 5, your life sounds v full already.
posted by athirstforsalt at 5:33 AM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think you're doing great, especially given your time limitations! But if you want to add more, possibilities might be:

Changing part of your commute to an active commute (i.e. biking, jogging, or walking to and from a further-away transit stop or parking your car further away). This works especially well if part of your commute is slow due to traffic, because if you can cut out that part it may take the same amount of time. (Example: my car commute is 15-20 minutes and my bike commute is 25.)

Exercising intermittently for very small periods of time. This can be as minor as doing squats for the minute you're waiting for the microwave, but can make a big difference if you can do it several times a day.

Move more while at work. It sounds like you don't have a lunch hour to be active during, but if you can ever walk while taking phone calls or in meetings, that would be great. (I assume a treadmill desk is out?)

You may be able to find some forms of exercise that are pleasurable/ relaxing for you that you don't mind doing on your "rest" days. Socializing while doing active things (even going for a walk or bowling), stretches while watching TV, etc.
posted by metasarah at 5:45 AM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you want to add something short and somewhat aerobic, try this video: 4-Minute Workout That Replaces 1 Hour in the Gym. While there are several things I dislike about it, the actual exercise routine seems a very efficient use of time. If you don't care for the exercises, you might try searching for similar types of videos.
posted by dancing leaves at 6:03 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Walking or climbing stairs at lunch and even on breaks, assuming your workplace isn’t a single storey.
posted by nathaole at 6:04 AM on August 30, 2018

Three days a week is really great. And if you started that fairly recently I'd just stick with it for a while and let those habits really settle before adding on more stuff.

That said ...

As far as exercising after work, does this seem like too much because you are thinking of doing an hour of strenuous exercise? What if it was 5 minutes of pushups and hollow holds (two random exercises, you could do whatever), or a mild walk with an audio book? I find it useful to give myself permission to do something small - 5 minutes, or just around the block - and then if I want to stop I can (but I often find I want to do more).

At work, some of your colleagues might be willing to do "walk and talks" for informal meetings instead of sitting down at a desk. Stairs instead of elevator, but only if it doesn't hurt your knees. If you need to make calls for work and can make them from a mobile, you could walk while making calls. Some people pace while on calls (I find it distracting when they do it near me but YMMV).

Also - if you have access to a pool, swimming is a way to get in some cardio that's easier on your knees. And it's probably a good idea to see a doc for a referral to PT, if you haven't already.
posted by bunderful at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2018

Do you work in a highrise? Some people at work do some stair flights over lunch.
posted by typecloud at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2018

Three days a week is wonderful, I want to be you! If your concern is not enough cardio, maybe you could swap one of the yoga sessions with a brisk-as-you-are-able walk during that time (and make it progressively brisker, maybe even with bursts of jogging eventually if your dr. clears you.)

That way, you have a mix of yoga, pilates, and cardio walking, and you can keep your schedule. If you miss the second yoga session, find a video series that reinforces what you're learning in class and do it when you can on the weekends, like the morning, or before going out.
posted by kapers at 6:56 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Add walking to some of your socializing in the evening? Take a walk with someone, or walk to somewhere a little further away for dinner/drinks/whatever you would usually be doing.
posted by cushie at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Power/flow yoga often is cardio-intense- maybe you can find a class like that? I practice that kind of yoga, and it definitely gets my heart rate going (even after practicing for several years).

Yoga videos at home on youtube save time. Since you take classes you probably know all the basic poses and could work with videos some of the time. There are videos of all different lengths and styles on youtube. Lesley Fightmaster is one that has intensive, cardio-style yoga.
posted by bearette at 7:38 AM on August 30, 2018

I got a fitbit, and it encourages me to build in small elements of exercise that add up. Park farther from the store and jog to the door. Take the stairs. Put on some great music and dance for 10 minutes. Being hyper-scheduled is stressful; take 10 minute morning and afternoon breaks and take a short, fast walk outside. This genuinely improves productivity, as well. At one point, I worked part of the time in a big old building that had many renovations, and I learned where most of the stairs were, which provided exercise, and I found places to sit and meditate when I needed a break.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

In many of the other "how to fit in exercise when I'm busy" I've consistently recommended getting up early to get the exercise in before there can be any excuses for the day ("I'm tired."). You've just woken up; going back to bed will not get you reasonable quality sleep so you might as well get the exercise done with. This also won't directly affect week night socializing (albeit you might start wanting to get to bed earlier).

However, with 3 hours of commuting every day, that puts a serious hit to your day. I see you mention that you're looking to move, but as you're not a renter, that might be harder and/or less time specific.

How do you commute? If it's not by car, then there's the potential of doing some body work if you're OK with getting strange looks from strangers. Possibly some body weight strength work, but isometric work/exercises might be more feasible.

Depending on your work location, you might be able to do some limited body weight strength work throughout the day. I'm "that guy" who's seen doing calf extensions / stretches / squats in the stairwell throughout the day. I also get outside the building to take even a minimal 3-5 minute walk as an actual "fresh air" break similar to the smokers/vapers.
posted by nobeagle at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2018

You could go for a short walk each night after dinner. I like this because it helps me stay caught up on podcasts, which I am eternally behind on, and combining a walk with podcasts (or an audiobook) makes me feel like I'm multitasking. Even 20 minutes a day is way better than nothing at all.
posted by something something at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2018

Is there a chance of you biking to work? If those 90 minutes each way are via transit, you might find it takes about the same amount of time.
posted by slidell at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2018

The burpee is the most effective exercise you can do in terms of cardiovascular stress. Do a few of those a day and you will see improvement.
posted by domo at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2018

For general fitness, all you need is a clear space of about 8 feet by 4 feet and a body. Everything else is optional.

I'd start with the seven-minute workout, although you may need to adapt some of the exercises because of your knee issues. You can also choose to follow a video routine, from Fitness Blender for example.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2018

I go for a walk after dinner most nights. It has the added benefit of making me stop eating and putting the food away. Some days I walk to the store to buy groceries or what have you and some days I just walk around the neighborhood. In the summer I go down to the lake and walk along the shore and take a camera. 2-4 nights I go with someone else and we chat which is lovely.
posted by fshgrl at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2018

I commute 3-4 hours/day, socialize one weekday/week, work from home one day/week, and I exercise 5-6 days/week. There's a gym in my office building that offers classes, so I'll work out before/during/after work. I also have a stationary bike at home and belong to a gym close to my house (5 minute drive/15 minute walk). One of the legs of my commute is 20-25 minutes by subway and 45 minutes walking, so I walk it once or twice a week. I don't really count walking as exercise, but any time I spend walking I consider a bonus (it helps that I like walking).

This week I did yoga in my building on Monday, ran on the treadmill in my office building during lunch on Tuesday and met friends after work, walked the last leg of my am commute and lifted at the gym after work Wednesday, ran outside before work today (my wfh day), and plan to lift at the gym after work tomorrow. Basically it's nonnegotiable, even though it looks different every week. I view it almost as necessary BECAUSE of the commute if that makes any sense.
posted by mchorn at 5:37 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Stand up right now and do 100 jumping jacks (or as many as you can muster). Do that during your work day at the top of each hour.

Can you stand during your commute (private or public conveyance)? Alternate standing on one leg.
Leg raises, mini-squats.

If you must remain seated, you could do shadow boxing or arm lifts. Clench your abs.
posted by at at 9:34 PM on August 30, 2018

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