As you probably know, trying to shoehorn exercise into an already packed schedule only ends in I’ll-do-it-tomorrow pledges and missed workouts. The secret to fitting in exercise — and sticking with it — is to make it work for you and your life instead of feeling like it’s one more item tacked onto your to-do list.
First, you need to change how you think about exercise, says Amanda Visek, a professor of exercise science at George Washington University. Working out doesn’t have to mean monotonous treks on a treadmill or trying to somehow conjure up an extra hour for a gym visit. Check out these strategies for how to fit in exercise and feel motivated to keep up a routine:
1. Make exercise fun.
If your idea of working out is doing an activity you don’t like (jogging, anyone?), it’s guaranteed to feel like a chore. To get motivated and keep coming back for more, you must find something you enjoy, says Visek. Think about what you like. Did you love bike riding as a kid? Dust off your old 10-speed! Even dancing — like salsa or swing lessons — gets your heart pumping and counts toward the recommended 30 minutes of exercise women should aim for per day.
If you aren’t sure what will float your fitness boat, test-drive one or two activities a week (such as Pilates, a Zumba class or water aerobics) until you find one you love. Most gyms and studios allow you to pay per class, usually for about $10 to $15 a pop.
2. Enlist a workout buddy.
Misery may love company, but exercise is anything but miserable when you turn it into a social activity. Fitness dates are more fun, plus they help you maximize your free time and make workouts speed by, says Visek. Even better, your pal will keep you on course. “It’s harder to talk yourself out of a workout if your friend is counting on you to show up,” she says.
Talk to your friends about what activities they’re interested in and sign up together. Or suggest walking and talking instead of a weekly coffee date, or even walking to a restaurant instead of driving.
3. Think quick.
“For years [experts] thought that in order to benefit from exercise you had to do long bouts — say, an hour at the gym — but that’s not true,” says Visek. You can increase your fitness level and positively impact your health by doing short bouts throughout the day. That’s good news since it’s often easier to find a few five- or 10-minute windows than a big chunk of time.
These short bouts don’t have to include gym clothes or even sneakers. Any activity that gets your heart pumping counts: brisk walking around the office, climbing the stairs, playing tag with your kids. As long as they all add up to 30 minutes at the end of the day, you’re set.
4. Set a reachable goal.
Goals don’t work if they’re unrealistic. “Setting an attainable goal fuels your self-confidence and self-esteem,” says Visek. “You’re more motivated when you believe in your ability.” Also key: Aim for something specific, like running a 5K race in two months or walking three times a week. Then, create a detailed game plan to reach that milestone — schedule the time, recruit a friend and keep yourself on track.
Fitting in exercise may take some effort at first, but if you experiment with these strategies, you’ll find a routine that works so seamlessly with your schedule and lifestyle, you won’t be able to remember what life was like before.