The concept that you have to be perfect certainly keeps a lot of folks from succeeding with an exercise program.
Somehow, most people have gotten the idea that to do any good a workout needs to be to be at least 20 – 30 minutes long, preferably 45 – 90 minutes.
If they can’t get that much time in, they don’t bother at all.
That’s a big mistake. Instead of a perfect workout, the result is no workout.
Actually, short intense workouts are more effective that longer, slower ones in reaching most fitness goals. That’s an important subject for another article.
Leaving that point aside, lots of studies show that 10 or even 5 minutes of any exercise do a lot of good.
Moreover, the effects are cumulative. Several five or 10 minute periods of activity throughout the day can be as least as beneficial as one long workout.
Here are some ways you can include exercise in your day.
You might do a few calisthenics first thing in the morning. That’s the old “daily dozen” – classics are classics because they work.
If calisthenics are too jarring first thing (they are for me), very gentle movements and stretching are a good alternative.
In fact, Ayurveda recommends beginning and ending your day with periods of yoga and meditation.
When you drive somewhere, you can park farther away from your destination than you have to and enjoy the walk. Or take the stairs instead of an elevator.
That last idea worked well for me. For years I worked at a hospital with 4 floors and almost never took the elevator. The operating rooms were on the first floor and the surgical ward and the ICU were on the fourth floor.
I was doing a stair climber routine every day without ever making a trip to the gym.
It also served as a fitness monitor. If I was slacking off on my overall exercise routine, I’d find myself huffing and puffing more than usual after I did 4 flights of stairs 2 steps at a time.
I remember times when I had to wait a minute or two before opening the door from the stairwell to walk out onto the surgical floor so I wouldn’t be gasping for breath as I made my entrance onto the ward.
That was motivation enough to pay more attention to my exercise habits.
Another time I fit in a little exercise in was when I came home from work. I often did my full workouts then, but even if I was late or pressed for time, I could quickly do a little warm up and some form of exercise.
I had to change out the clothes I wore to work anyway, so it was easy to put on some shorts and go the few steps to my home gym. Even without the gym, I could do some sets of calisthenics – say, squats, push-ups and sit ups – right in my bedroom.
In many ways, it’s actually better to engage in frequent small movement activities throughout the day rather than confining your exercise to defined workout periods three or four or five days a week.
You may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. This refers to studies that show prolonged periods of sitting increase all-cause mortality almost as much as smoking.
What I find most disturbing about the studies is that the usual recommendations for exercise, say 30 minute workouts several days a week, don’t reduce the risk caused by sitting most of the day every day.
This has led to a lot of people using standup desks. That’s fine, but I think it misses the point. Standing in one place all day likely isn’t much better than sitting all day.
I think the better approach is to move around, change position and engage in little periods of activity as often as you can throughout the day. It may take a little creativity, but it’s well worth it.
Right now, imagine one simple, easy way to be a little bit more active every day. Then make it a practice.
After that becomes comfortable, think of another way and add that in.
As I often say, small changes over time are incredibly powerful. This is one example.
There’s a lot more to be said about the length of workouts and their effectiveness, but that’s not the point here. The point here is that any exercise is better than no exercise.
Just because you can’t do (or just don’t feel like doing) your full routine, don’t let that keep you from doing something.