No Time for Exercise?

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on April 11, 2012

Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I have ALWAYS been overweight and NEVER been active. Now I’m 43, work full time, have three kids and a heavy volunteer schedule at church and school. I am determined to lose the weight and have started eating better (ie., no soda or fast food, more veggies and whole grains). But between work, home, volunteering and all that, I have no time to exercise. Do you have any ideas for super-short workouts I can fit into my day?—Teresa

DEAR TERESA: It’s so great that you’re committed to making healthy changes, and switching from junk food to REAL food—one of the best things you can do for your body. But the other best thing is exercise. Allow me to climb aboard my soapbox for just a minute: Being active won’t just help you burn calories so you can lose weight. It benefits your body in SO many different ways. Research has established a powerful connection between regular exercise and a lower cancer, heart disease and diabetes risk—regardless of whether you’re at your ideal weight or not. In other words, the ACTIVITY itself brings you these benefits, not just the RESULT of the activity. Exercise is also good for the brain—it helps prevent the formation of plaques that contribute to memory and focus problems as we age. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get in that department.

The other thing exercise does is give you all kinds of positive messages to help you along the way to weight loss. Every workout you do is a goal met, a race won, a reason to pat yourself on the back. I feel that way as much now as I did 20-plus years ago, when I was in the process of becoming an FFG. It’s sort of like—if I can do THIS, I can do ANYTHING (even resist the cupcakes in the office breakroom!).

I’m happy to share my ideas for fitting in fitness, but one more thing: STOP telling yourself you don’t have time to exercise. Yes, you have commitments and responsibilities you can’t shirk, no doubt about it. But we all make choices about how we spend our spare time—sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that we can make a different choice, to reset our priorities so that fitness/exercise/health rises closer to the top. I would do this: For one week—a typical week—keep a detailed schedule of your time and how you spend it, from the moment you get up in the morning to when your head hits the pillow. Get really specific—what did you watch on television, what were you reading? Then, revisit your schedule to see how you can find 30 minutes or so, five days a week. You will likely find some time-wasters you can dispense with (junk TV?) and replace with something more active. You may also find that you need to scale back on your volunteer commitments a bit to make room in your schedule for YOU … because that’s what we’re talking about here. Fitness, activity, health, weight—they’re all about you, and when you give them short-shrift, you’re sacrificing your needs for the needs of others. Saying no to others may be difficult, but think of it this way—you’re saying “yes” to yourself. And, frankly, your value to others and their love for you is not going to diminish just because you take only ONE shift at the baseball concession stand this weekend, instead of two or three.

Whew. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, here are some ideas for fitting in fitness.

  • Break it up. Got 10 minutes—or even 5? Seize the opportunity to move. Walk up and down the stairs at home work, sneak outside for a lap or two around the parking lot or block, crank up the tunes at home and practice your Zumba moves. Research has shown that short stints of activity are as beneficial as longer stints when it comes to your health. And getting into the mindset to move however you can whenever you can will make activity part of your lifestyle, not just something you do at the healthy club.
  • Involve the kids. You don’t say how old your kids are, but regardless—you can dance/walk the dog/play Frisbee or badminton/Wii Fit games with the kids, no matter what their age. Stop thinking about play as something kids do—there’s no reason you can’t get out there too.
  • Take back your lunch hour. Too many of us spend our lunch hours at our desks, eating and working (or … checking Facebook?). Stop thinking that you HAVE to work through lunch, and break away for at least 30 minutes to walk (outside, ideally). If you have more flexibility, find a gym close to your office and make that your lunchtime routine at least a few times a week. As a working mom too, I find that it’s easier for me to fit fitness into my lifestyle if I do it at lunch—I can fit in a good 25-30 minute workout and get back to my desk in an hour, without taking any time away from my family.
  • Try intervals. When you are able to get in a 30-minute walk, try alternating short bursts of fast walking with slower-paced recovery periods to boost your calorie burn and make your workout more effective.
  • Be prepared.  Always have a pair of fitness shoes handy that you can slip on when the opportunity to move presents itself. Even better, keep a change of fitness clothes in your car in case your schedule opens up and you can run to the gym.
  • Take on Tabata. This hot workout method has you alternating 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise with 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes. You can run, walk, squat, cycle, lunge—anything, really, that gets your heart rate up. A complete workout involves 4 to 5 of these 4-minute sets—that’s a total of 16 to 20 minutes for a hard-core workout. Click here for more about Tabata.