How To Exercise If You Don’t Have The Time

Health and wellness has become a very important topic in these times of the Covid pandemic.  I have been thinking about wellness more and more these last 18 months.  I stopped going to the gym in March 2020 and started going for walks in my neighborhood at first.  I soon realized that a daily walk was no substitute for the one hour of intense exercise I used to do in the gym 3-5 times every week. 

I used to take classes for yoga,  pilates,  zumba, kickboxing  and weight training.  If you are interested in yoga or pilates, go ahead and read this article by my partner before you buy any yoga mats.

Given that I could choose from a variety of classes offering different ways to work out, I never got bored at the gym.  And, the advantage of doing a variety of exercises is that you get a full body workout which sometimes just one type of exercise (like walking) does not cover.  I knew I had to do more than just a daily walk around my neighborhood.  

Another issue was that with everybody being at home, my cooking, cleaning, and child care responsibilities increased four fold.  In addition to that I was making sure my two children were keeping up with zoom school classwork and homework.  

How do I stay in shape if I don’t have the time? This is a question I have asked myself at several stages of life. This is also a question many of my friends have asked from time to time. The modern fast paced lives that many of us live – trying to juggle family and children and careers brings us to this dilemma sooner or later. I set about trying to find the best system that would allow me to stay healthy considering my busy schedule.

I researched the best exercises I could do at home in the shortest amount of time to keep myself healthy and keep my immune system strong.  I kept trying new things, I listened to audiobooks about motivation and how to stay on track during these tough times.  

One excellent book that I would recommend to everyone is Atomic Habits by James Clear.  This book really helped me make an optimum plan to work out even when I did not have a full hour but could find a few minutes here and there throughout my day. 

We are often told that we need to think big if we want to bring about change in our lives.  What if we could achieve major transformations through small tweaks to our daily routine.  We underestimate the power of making small improvements repetitively over a period of time.  Real change comes from the compound effects of many small habits made over a long period of time which accumulate to produce remarkable results.  This in short is what I learned from the book Atomic Habits and used my learnings in how I created my workout plan which has been a great success for me. 

After trial and error, I have come up with a system which I think should help a lot of people.  This system works for me now as I was not motivated to do much exercise by myself at home.  I will present several ideas and hopefully one or more will work for you too.

Another important thing I have tried to do is to incorporate the primal essential movements in these exercises.  As we grow older, our health will remain good if we can practise these primal essential moves in our daily routine.

I set my alarm to ring every hour on the hour from 7 am to 7 pm.  This works for me, and I would like you to choose the time period that works for you.  I wake up between 6 and 6:30 am and am  ready to start work by 7 am.   When the alarm rings, it is my cue to do a 1 – 5 minute mini workout.  (And I try to drink one glass of water every time the alarm rings. )

1)  Jumping Jacks

Usually the first thing I do is 10 jumping jacks at 7 am.  Then I take a 5 second break and do 2 more sets of 10 jumping jacks with a 5 second break in between each set.  This actually takes about a minute to do.  You can work your way to doing 12, and then 15 and then 18, and 20 jumping jacks per set as you get better every day. 

Take it slow and there is no rush to get to 20.  Remember these are 2 minutes bursts of exercise you will do 5 – 10 times per day, every day for 365 days.  You will be surprised how much fitter and stronger you will feel after only 30 days of regularly doing these.  

The next 4 exercises I try to fit in every day are the 4 primal essential moves – push ups, pull ups, squats and the plank.  

2) Push Ups

So at 8 am when my alarm rings again, I will jump up from my chair and get on the floor for push ups.  Push ups were very difficult for me and I started on the wall first, then on a counter and then came to the floor.  Even on the floor I was first doing knee push ups.  Only recently have I started doing the full pushups as correct form is very important and I was in no hurry. 

Please do not compare yourself with other people.  You are competing with only yourself, and a very small improvement every day will compound into this nice achievement which you will be surprised to see after 30 days.

3) Pull Ups

Pull ups, the next primal essential exercise is also very difficult for me and in fact I still do not know how to do them properly.  I do not have the arm and shoulder strength for these, but hope to get to my goal by trying them every day.  

4) The Plank

When you hold a plank, you engage multiple muscles which helps strengthen your core. This will greatly improve your posture too. The goal is to hold a plank for 60 seconds, and doing this 3 times with 30 second rests in between. Again, start out slow and that means hold the plank for 10 seconds if that is all you can manage and then rest. If you can only do 1 plank on day one, that is where you are and that is excellent. Do not be in a rush, but you can add time to how long you are able to hold the plank, and also increase the number of times you do the plank with rests in between.

Always remember correct form is very important, and that is why I want to get my form right before I do more repetitions of the exercise. I do not want to rush towards the goal of three 60 second planks without first getting the correct form down.

5) Squats

Squats will help improve flexibility, mobility and balance. Squats will help build muscle and will shape up your glutes. I do 3 sets of 10 squats with a 20 second rest between sets. You can start by doing only 1 set of 10 squats, and as you get stronger, you can add the second set and then the third set. You can slowly increase the number you do in each set to 15, and then to 18 and then to 20. Believe me, when you do these every day you will get better each day and at the end of 30 days or 60 days, you will be amazed at the progress you have made. The key is to not give up and continue your routine for 100 days and then evaluate if you want to make any changes.

The plank and the squats are relatively easy and these 5 exercises take me to 11 am.  Remember, so far I have done 5 exercises, and each one takes 1 – 3 mins.  It works for me as I am not sitting continuously for long periods of time, I am getting out of the chair for a few minutes every top of the hour.

I will list the other exercises that I do.  I do different ones according to my mood and that keeps me from getting bored.

6) Stationary Bike

About 6 months ago we bought a stationary bike.  Some days I do a 10 min cycling session at 12 noon or 1 pm.  There are many stationary exercise bikes availabe for home use. The one we thought was most affordable and provided the biggest bang for the buck was the Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Exercise Bike.

7) Rebounder

 I have had a rebounder for a few years now, but I hardly used it. Ever since I made rebounding a part of this exercise routine, I am using it a few times a week and enjoying it.  So some days I will do a 5 minutes jumping session on the rebounder.  You can actually start with 1 min jumping sessions and again work up to 5 mins or more.  This is a very good exercise for detoxifying your lymph nodes and good for general health too. 

8) Weights and Resistance Bands

I have also bought a set of weights and resistance bands to work out my arm and leg muscles.  Some days I use these for a 5-10 minute session.

9) Jump Rope

Jumping rope is one of the best exercises out there as it is a high calorie burner even when jumping at a moderate pace. It improves balance and coordination. It also increases bone density. Also, jumping rope is one of the most affordable fitness options. A good quality rope would cost anywhere from $5 to $25. Depending on what surface you jump on and how you take care of it, your rope can last for many years.

By following this routine, I am able to be consistent and I am very happy with my progress.  By doing short micro workouts, I do not feel too tired to even skip one day. This way I do get in a workout of 10 – 20 minutes every day (5 to 7 bursts of 2 minute sessions or sometimes even 5 minute sessions).  Apart from this, I have continued with my walks. 

I have seen a big improvement in my flexibility and strength based on these 2-5 minute micro workouts and would urge everyone to give this method a try.  Whatever your fitness level, you can do a routine similar to mine. Make a list of 5 to 10 exercises you would like to start with and get going in short bursts every hour. Another plus for me is that I am not paying for a fancy gym membership anymore and have become reliant on myself regarding my workout and my health.

The goal is not to do intense exercise for a few days or months, then crash and burn and give it all up.  The goal is to make exercise an essential part of my daily living, and by doing short bursts of essential moves, I am making sure I am not tired or burnt out and do feel like I have made immense progress over the last few months.  

Happy exercising to you all.  Hope you can find your exercise groove and settle in it for the long haul like I have.