By Caroline Smith and the Mind Tools Team
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Getting More Exercise

Fitting Exercise Into a Busy Schedule

Getting More Exercise

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Reap the benefits of regular exercise.

We all know that exercise is good for us. But many of us don't realize just how good it is.

For instance, did you know that spending just 30 minutes exercising every other day can raise your IQ, relieve stress, make you happier and more productive, and boost your energy levels?

These are only some of the benefits you can get from regular exercise. The positive effects on your career and personal life can be dramatic!

In this article we'll look at why exercise is so beneficial, and we'll discuss how you can fit regular exercise into an already busy schedule.

Benefits of Exercise

There are many physical and psychological benefits of getting regular exercise:

Reduced Stress

People who are physically active are less likely to experience depression and anxiety, compared with people who are more sedentary.

When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These chemicals make you feel relaxed and happy, which is why exercise has been shown in study after study to relieve stress.

Increased Ability to Learn

Studies conducted by the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia show that exercise not only helps your body, but has even greater benefits for your brain. Their research shows that exercise can increase your brain's growth, and improves learning capabilities and mental performance.

Other studies have shown similar results: the more active you are, the better your brain performs. The main reason for this is that, when you exercise, your brain increases production of growth hormones. Among other effects, this helps make new connections between cells, which, in turn, helps you focus, learn new information, and switch more easily between tasks.

More Energy

Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular health and strengthens your bones and muscles. As your body gets stronger, it becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients to your body and brain. This, in turn, means that you have more energy to think and accomplish tasks.

Some people think that exercise will make them more tired. However, many find that they have more energy after exercise. What's more, this energy continues to flow throughout the day!

Increased Confidence

Regular exercise can also have a dramatic impact on your self-confidence.

When you take regular exercise, your body feels strong and good, and you feel good about yourself. This provides a boost to your self-confidence, which, in turn, can have a positive impact on your professional and personal life.

Greater Health

According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), people who do regular physical activity have:

  • A 35 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • Up to 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Up to a 50 percent lower risk of colon cancer.
  • Up to a 20 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
  • A 30 percent lower risk of early death.
  • Up to a 30 percent lower risk of dementia.

The Mayo Clinic says that exercise also cuts your risk of developing high blood pressure and arthritis.

Better Sleep

Regular exercise can help you get a good night's sleep , and helps you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Stronger Immune System

Regular, moderate exercise can also help boost your immune system, making you more resistant to viruses like the flu. This means fewer sick days, and less absenteeism.

Note:

Bear in mind, however, that research has shown that too much exercise, especially prolonged intense exercise, can actually weaken your immune system. Don't overdo it!

How to Get More Exercise

It's all very well being aware of the benefits of taking exercise. Fitting it into a busy schedule, however, is another challenge! Nevertheless, exercise pays back many times over, once you get started.

The good news is that you might need less exercise than you think to reap all of the benefits. A recent study found that if you're already at a decent level of fitness, hitting the gym just once per week improves muscle mass and overall health. However, most experts agree that you'll see the best results by getting at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week.

Here are some ideas that you can use to fit more exercise into a busy schedule:

Get up Earlier!

If you can, get up an hour earlier than you do now, and go for a walk or run, do yoga, or go to the gym.

Studies have shown that people who get up and exercise first thing in the morning are more likely to stick with the activity and achieve their fitness goals.

Another benefit to exercising early is that the activity boosts your metabolism for the next few hours, allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day.

Exercise at Lunch

One of the best ways to slip exercise into your day is to spend a portion of your lunch break exercising. You could go for a quick walk around the park, or even around the building you work in.

Mid-day walks can help boost your metabolism, relieve stress, and allow you to focus more when you return to work.

Take the Stairs

Add more steps to your day by avoiding the elevator and escalator, and by taking the stairs instead. If you work in a high-rise, climb a few flights up, then take the elevator the rest of the way.

Park Further Away

When you pull in to your organization's parking lot, don't look for a spot closest to the door. Instead, choose a spot at the opposite end of the parking lot, and walk. These additional short walks can really add up over time.

Consider Your Commute

If you live close enough, consider walking or cycling to work.

If you commute using public transportation, get off one or two stops away from your office, and walk the rest of the way in.

Stand When You Can

Standing burns more calories than sitting.

So, whenever you can, stand up to talk to colleagues or clients. Or, walk to your boss's office for a chat, instead of using the phone.

If practical, consider using a standing desk (which allows you to stand while you're at your workstation), instead of your traditional desk.

Schedule Walking Meetings

Consider having "walking meetings." These meetings take place outside, with everyone walking as a group and talking on the go.

Not only do walking meetings allow everyone to get exercise and fresh air, they're also a lot more fun than sitting in a conference room.

Be "Less Easy"

Many of our gadgets, from the escalator to the vacuum cleaner, were created to make life easier. However, this just means that we're eliminating exercise from our life!

Whenever you can, allow yourself to be less efficient with physical tasks. This could mean bringing in groceries one bag at a time, or sweeping the driveway rather than using a leaf blower. Any activity, including regular tasks and chores, is exercise, as long as we're moving.

Set Goals

Personal goal setting works especially well with fitness and exercise.

Find a goal that gets you excited, such as being able to run a specific distance, and work on achieving that goal each week.

You'll also be more motivated to exercise if you add exercise to your calendar or Action Program .

Keep Fitness Equipment On-Hand

You can keep resistance bands and weights at your desk, both which can help you build strength easily.

You can do arm curls or tug on the resistance bands while you're on the phone or sitting at your computer. (Of course, this won't appeal to everyone!)

Sit on an Exercise Ball

If practical, consider sitting on an exercise ball (also called fitness balls or stability balls) at your desk for a portion of the day. Exercise balls can help you burn hundreds of additional calories each day, because they force you to make tiny movements to keep your balance.

Although all these tiny movements and adjustments may not seem like much, they do add up. Your back and core muscles get a constant workout, and your posture improves.

Tip:

Don't get too down if there are times when you can't do any exercise due to a heavy workload or other priorities. Just aim to get as much exercise as is practical. Every little bit helps!

Key Points

Exercise has been proven to help reduce stress and depression, increase energy levels, improve overall health, promote better sleep, and boost the immune system. This, in turn, means that we can focus better on our work, we have more energy to achieve our goals, and we take fewer days off sick.

To fit exercise into your schedule, focus on finding small ways to be more active. Park further away from your office and walk in. Bike or walk to work. Use an exercise ball as your desk chair. Keep fitness equipment at your desk to use during the day. Or, of course, get up early to run or work out.

Exercise doesn't have to be intense or prolonged to have a positive effect on your life!

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Comment (1)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Once you have experienced what it feels like to be fit and active, I don't think you can ever go back to being sedentary and unfit...just my opinion. Getting more exercise really makes one feel good about yourself. Learning the discipline to train on a regular basis often spills over into other areas of your life as well, helping you to become more disciplined in other things too. We'd love to hear about your experience in this.

    Regards
    Yolandé