by Ronald W. Torrance II, DO, FACOFP, Chair, Health and Wellness Committee
Modern families have a lot on their plates. Imagine this common scenario: two working parents, two kids with three extracurriculars each, a family pet, meetings outside of work hours, work commutes, drives to club sports and weekend tournaments, and social responsibilities. In fact, these families “say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies,” according to a new Pew Research Center survey (1,2).
If these families are so busy and stressed that just 43% of them find the time to share dinner together, and they report an average of 37 minutes of family quality time daily (3), where would these families find the time to exercise?
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults spend at least 150 minutes per week—roughly 20 minutes a day—doing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and at least two days per week doing muscle-strengthening activities” (4). However, less than one-third of adults in the U.S. are meeting this minimum. The minimum recommended movement and exercise requirement is strongly correlated to the prevention of diseases and illnesses that plague our country, with heart disease and diabetes topping that list. Considering all these statistics together, it is as if our culture has embraced a “norm” of accepting hyper-busyness in exchange for their health.
And let me tell you, I can relate: as a father of three young children, an attentive husband, a busy physician with an hour commute each way, a partner and Chief Marketing Officer in my practice, weekly meetings outside of work hours, and monthly travel to different clinics or medical society events, I am busy, to say the least. However, it is a major priority for me to find a way to fit at least an hour of exercise into my day. My non-negotiable for my day.
When it seems impossible to fit exercise into your day edgewise, comparing your situation to those posting on social media about their Peloton rides, f45 classes, or hours at the gym only makes your jam-packed schedule weigh heavier. So, here are some tips on how to “sneak” some exercise into your day when you can’t find that dedicated 30-60 minutes to do a formal workout.
Walking is one of the most supreme forms of exercise, lending health benefits like increased heart and lung health, improved circulation, decreased mental stress, stronger bones, and improved balance. When can you walk? Get up 20 minutes earlier and hit the pavement, or take a post-dinner stroll with the whole family. Or, if at lunch you find yourself jumping in the car to go run an errand or to get lunch, consider whether the destination for lunch is within walking distance, and take a walk there. An added post-meal benefit of walking is that walking has been shown to help your metabolism by decreasing blood sugar spikes (5).
2. Pop a Squat
Throughout the day, we take several breaks to go grab a snack, go to the bathroom, or refill our water. How about if every time you get up, you do a few repetitions of movements that can activate some muscles and increase your heart rate? Some ideas are 20 squats, 20 alternating lunges, or 20 wall push-ups. Pick one every time you take a minibreak, and that will add up to a significant amount of movement throughout the day.
3. Do A Tabata
Do a Tabata. A Tabata is defined as 8 rounds of 20 seconds of a movement and then 10 seconds of rest, on a running clock. This is just four minutes of work! This super-fast solution is an easy way to get some good exercise in with push-ups, sit-ups, sit-to-stands, etc. So, to start, shoot for one Tabata a day, where you do as many air squats as possible for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat that squat/rest formula for the four minutes of the Tabata drill. Then, when you feel like you’ve mastered one Tabata a day, add one or two more sets at lunchtime or in the evening.
The goal is to find a quick, simple solution to work with the time you have available in your day. If exercising is a limitation because of your busy schedule, these three ideas can be a gateway into finding a rhythm for more movement. Remember, the goal set by the U.S. Department of Health is 20 minutes a day. Start there, and maybe that time will expand for you over time. A friend once said to me, and it has become a mantra of sorts, “Consistency beats motivation.” If you’re feeling like your day is too busy to be motivated, remind yourself that you can do anything for four minutes (in the case of a Tabata), and be consistent. After all, applying small changes over time yields tremendous results. Now, go enjoy that walk, water break squats, or Tabatas!