Twenty to thirty minutes per day. Or 150 minutes per week. That’s the minimum amount of exercise recommended. It’s less time than a TV sitcom. Or less than most people spend commuting to work. Yet only 1 in 5 of us meet that target with many people saying they have no time to exercise.

It’s true, our days are busy. With work, school, caring for others, plus all the distractions from screens, our days just fly by. And with most of us doing jobs that require us to sit down all day, it can be hard to find the time.

Exercise Decreases When We Have More Time

Now here we are in a pandemic. Most of us are spending more time at home. No more commuting. Shopping and going to restaurants have been limited. Things you were used to doing are no longer available or only on a limited basis. As a result, many of us have more time on our hands than before. You would think then people’s activity levels would be higher. Indeed, plenty of people thought they would finally meet their exercise goals with all the time on their hands. And for some few people, they did just that. But for a lot of us, activity levels went down.

But it’s not just in a pandemic we see activity go down even when we have more time. After retirement, when we no longer have to work, most people end up being less active. Some may say this is due to age, during which our body becomes weaker. But as I’ve written before, the decline in exercise and fitness has less to do with age or biology, and more to do with voluntary reductions in activity.

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Make the Time to Exercise

Now a lot of people will say I just need to find the time to exercise. Unfortunately, that rarely works. If you wait until you have spare time, you’ll probably never get around to it. Think of time like money. You only have a certain amount. As much as we’d like to increase how much money we have, we generally can’t. If you want to buy something, it means less money for something else. If that something is expensive, you’ll need to plan to save your money. And if you wait until you have some spare cash, you probably won’t get around to making that purchase.

The same is true for time. Except with time, we all have the same amount. No matter what, you’ll always be limited to 24 hours in a day. And it doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re actively working, caring for others or sitting watching TV. At the end of the day, you’ll have used up our 24 hours. So in order to exercise more, it means making time, not finding time.

In some cases, that may require taking time away from something else. Where will that come from? To help you find out, keep a time diary for one week. Write down everything you do during that week that’s 30 minutes or more. At the end of the week take a look at it. A number of things may be non-negotiable. Things you have to do, such as work, taking care of kids and eating. But you’ll be surprised at some of the things you do spend time doing which may not be important to you. These things are perfect to replace with some exercise.

Do More in Less Time

What if, on the odd chance, you can’t find anything to give up or devote less time to. No problem. It’s a big misconception that exercise has to take time. Here are a few ways to increase to be active without taking more up more time:

  • Take the stairs. If you’re only going up (or down) two to three floors, chances are it’ll be faster to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. And climbing stairs is as intense as a slow run and more work than golfing.
  • Park at the first spot you find. That circling through a parking lot or neighbourhood trying to find the closest spot takes time. Instead, park at the first spot you see. Even if you have to walk a bit more, this will likely be faster than continuing to look for that close spot.
  • Spring cleaning. House chores get a bad rap but they need to be done, and they can provide a boost in your exercise routine. Washing windows or mopping the floor provides the same amount of exercise as a leisure walk. Cutting the grass is similar to an easy run.
  • Walking meetings and phone calls. Meetings, meetings and phone calls. They’re hard to avoid but they don’t have to be taken sitting down. Small meetings of two or three can be done on the move. Likewise, phone calls can be taken standing up or even outside for a walk.
  • Exercise while watching TV. It can be as simple as walking in place or doing calisthenics during commercials. If you’re into equipment, place a treadmill by the TV or an elliptical machine that allows you to pedal while sitting at a desk or your couch.
  • Play with friends and family. Like the walking meetings, build your social routines around exercise. If you have kids, join them during play time or go for discovery hikes in the forest or just the neighbourhood.
  • Walk during work/lunch breaks. Getting outside for some fresh air and exercise is a great way to refresh your body and mind for the rest of the day.
  • Ditch the car. For running errands close to the home, do just that, run, walk or cycle. If you live close to work, try active commuting some days. Ease into it by doing a mix of taking the bus and walking. It might not exactly save time, but it’s an efficient use of time and gets your exercise in.

And for the very time conscious, be satisfied knowing that regular exercise will help prevent disease and add years to your life. It’s estimated every one minute of exercise adds six minutes to your life, giving you the time back and then some.

The good thing with activity is, any and every little bit helps. So even though the guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week, if you’re not doing anything now and start walking 20 minutes three times per week (60 minutes), that’s still good. Whether it’s the improvement in mental well-being or reducing your chances of getting disease, even as little as 10 minutes can make a difference. Of course, the more you do the better. Up until about 10 hours per week, improvements in health still keep coming. And after a few weeks you’ll find you can’t afford not to spend the time exercising.

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