Q: I’m not motivated to work out after two hours of commuting and nine hours at work. I wake up at 5 a.m., and by the time I get home, do household chores, cook dinner, clean the kitchen and take a bath, it’s bedtime. Do you have suggestions for squeezing in a workout? Any tips for motivation?
—Erica Smith, Houston
A: You get a high five just for asking! We won’t go into all the benefits of exercise, because it seems you get how important it is. But for the record, it keeps your brain, heart, immune system and repair systems young and vibrant. Exercise even helps the healthy bacteria in your gut thrive.
Let’s start with the motivation part to get you fired up. Motivation isn’t something you wait around for; it’s something you declare. We recommend the IBC strategy: I is for intention, B is for a buddy, and C is for creativity.
Intention: Make exercise a priority and schedule it.
Life will throw circumstances at you every day that require your attention, but remember: You determine where your attention goes. You have to treat workouts as important as getting to work on time. Intention is what makes the difference between wishing exercise would happen and making it happen.
Instead of waking up with a wait-and-see attitude (hoping you can find time to work out), create a game plan the night before. Sign up in advance for a lunchtime yoga class or put a 30-minute speed walk into your schedule when you get home—set the alarm as a reminder. If you aren’t proactive, life will get in the way and fill the time you wish you had to work out.
Buddy up: Find a partner or coach to keep you accountable and make it fun.
Your buddy could be a co-worker who takes walking meetings with you. Or ask your partner to dance with you, even for 10 minutes. Or have a friend remind you daily (via text, email, a phone call) to get up and move. It’s best if that person is active so you can “catch” whatever it is he or she has. Studies show that healthy living is contagious. Scheduling exercise with someone will also help keep you accountable: You don’t want to disappoint your buddy!
Creatively approach your fitness: Mix up your routine.
Like most of us, your days have an automatic rhythm—commuting, cooking, cleaning, bathing, lights out. The goal is to deviate from that rhythm so you can squeeze in exercise. It’s like shaking up and piecing back together a puzzle.
For example, instead of cooking for 30 minutes every night, prepare a couple of meals on the weekend that you can freeze and microwave during the week (veggie lasagna or turkey meatloaf). This will free up 30 minutes a few times a week that you can devote to sweating it out. Or a few nights each week, grab a ready-made healthful, no-cleanup dinner from the supermarket: salad and a rotisserie chicken.
Also re-evaluate the time spent on housework. Can you limit chores to every other day? Or challenge yourself to fit them into a time limit you set, instead of seeing how long it takes to finish the task. Be bold: Take a chore that usually lasts an hour and finish it in 30 minutes.
Finally, adopt the attitude that no window of time is too insignificant to exercise. Five minutes of ab work goes a long way toward a strong core and counts as part of the 30 minutes of weekly resistance activity you need (see the guidelines after this section). Walk and talk when you get a phone call; also stow walking shoes at your desk so you can sneak in a stroll if there’s downtime. During lunch, spend 10 minutes doing some toning moves.
And each Sunday, schedule your workouts for the upcoming week—remember your Intention!
Now that you’re pumped up to move, how much should you shoot for? The minimum activity for maximum health is 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles), 30 minutes of resistance exercise weekly and 20 to 25 minutes of vigorous cardio three times per week. This may sound like a lot, but soon it will become as second nature as doing dishes. Plus you can spread activities throughout the day.
10,000 daily steps:
This target fends off insulin resistance (it keeps blood sugar from spiking after meals) and lowers blood pressure. Buy a pedometer—or download an app—to log your steps. Monitoring yourself not only tracks progress, but it also motivates you to walk more. Research finds that people who wear pedometers walk an average of 2,000 more steps a day than those who don’t.
Getting a vigorous cardio workout three times a week for 20 to 25 minutes will keep your ticker in fighting condition. How do you know if it’s vigorous? It should feel like a 7 or 8 on the scale of exertion (1 is sitting on your couch, and 10 is feeling like you’re going to keel over). You can aim for moderate intensity—a 5 or 6—but you’ll have to do 150 minutes each week, which is more of a time suck.
We like low-impact workouts such as biking, elliptical or rowing. They improve endurance and muscle strength without placing stress on joints. The only catch is that you need sustained cardio work—at least 10 minutes at a time—to get a heart-healthy benefit.
One of our favorite quick methods of cardio is jumping rope. It’s portable, helps your bones (just 20 jumps a day boosts bone health), and improves balance. (This is assuming your joints are healthy; otherwise, don’t jump for more than 10 seconds at a time.) You can also add interval training to your walks by jumping rope for two minutes at a few spots along your route.
As for technique: Back straight, head up; turn the rope from your wrists.
You should work your muscles 30 minutes a week for tons of reasons, including building bone density, lowering blood pressure and injury-proofing muscles. And while you can lift dumbbells, kettlebells or another weightlifting tool, you’ll get an equally effective workout by using your own body weight. Break up strength sessions into two or more and do them on nonconsecutive days.
A quick session might be two to three sets of 10 repetitions of lunges, squats and modified pushups.
Above all, don’t give up if you miss a workout. Spoiler alert: It will happen. When it does, resolve to start over the next day and switch things up so exercise is a priority along with eating, working and sleeping. In fact, physical activity will help you sleep better and gain energy.
Now go IBC it!
This article appears in the September 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine. We gave you, the reader, the opportunity to ask the SUCCESS columnists anything—and these are some of your best questions answered.