Whether it’s because you’re short on time, feeling lethargic or you simply don’t enjoy it, fitting exercise into your day can be trickier than Tetris. But we all know it plays an important role in keeping our health – both mental and physical – in check. So, how to incorporate easy exercise into your day, without it being a chore?
First, the good news: “The most important part of a healthy fitness programme is consistency and adherence – so someone following a less intense routine consistently, all year round, will achieve better results than someone following a scientifically perfect regime some of the time, and then giving it up altogether because it doesn’t fit into their life,” explains personal trainer Luke Worthington. “One of the most important things is to find a routine, however small, that you can be consistent with.”
One thing Worthington does with a lot of his busy clients is take the overall amount of work – typically undertaken during the course of a week in their regular exercise programme – and divide it up into several smaller, more digestible chunks of activity. “If we can’t find a full hour, then we’ll do our best to find three lots of 20 minutes, for example,” he says.
A good workout doesn’t need to be an hour-long in order to be effective, he points out. “If we view our workouts as always having to be an hour, when life gets in the way and schedules start to fill up, finding that time is difficult, and means we’re left with ‘nothing’ as the only other choice,” says Worthington. All that really matters is that you move your body each day, even if you only set aside a brief amount of time to do it in.
When it comes to cardio, it’s as simple as getting moving and elevating your heart rate. That could be walking up and down the stairs or it could be a jog around the block, but the trick is to view your cardiovascular exertions as a whole throughout the week, rather than ensuring each single workout is a specific duration. In fact, if you enjoy walking and can easily incorporate it into your day, let that be your workout of choice – a recent study showed that if we all walked a mere 10 minutes a day, it could prevent more than 110,000 premature deaths, globally.
Getting up slightly earlier and starting the day with some movement is another simple way to ensure you get your fix, whether that’s for 10 minutes or half an hour; a core workout or some squats and lunges. Instead of feeling tired after an earlier wake-up time, it’s actually more common to feel a boost in energy post-exercise, which can set you up for a more positive and productive day ahead.
There are certain forms of training that lend themselves to small time gaps, and are over before you know it, too. Tabata training quickly pushes the heart rate up, incorporating 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated as many times as you can (using a combination of different exercises, both cardio and/or weights). Meanwhile, we’ve all heard about high intensity interval training (or HIIT), which incorporates bursts of high impact movement, with short rests in between.
A 2021 study which collated a decade’s worth of research into the effects of HIIT on our health found that around 20 minutes of low-volume HIIT (less than 15 minutes of high intensity exercise – the rest used for warming up and cooling down), yielded results similar to that achieved by taking 150-300 minutes of moderate activity each week, as is recommended for adults by the World Health Organisation. On top of that, another study showed that as little as four minutes of HIIT, three times a week, for 12 weeks significantly improved blood sugar levels, fat in the liver and cardiorespiratory fitness in adults with type 2 diabetes. Compelling stuff, and it goes to show the power of consistency, even if your workouts are short.
With a wealth of HIIT and high intensity workouts on YouTube (Joe Wicks’s sessions being just one example), and apps like Nike Training Club and Apple Fitness+ offering routines that are affordable, easy to do anywhere, and categorised by how long they take, fitting it all in has never been easier. And if not? Just get a few more steps in each day.