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How to Squeeze in Exercise Without Hitting the Gym

Bottom of a woman's legs in leggings and sneakers running up a colorful staircase.

Sometimes, it’s hard to fit a gym session or a run into your day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something active. Let’s check out some ways you can fit more exercise into your life.

In this article, I’m going to stretch the definition of exercise a bit to include other healthy activities, like, well, stretching and balancing. They might not burn loads of calories, but they’re still good for you. We’re also going to skip some of the obvious ways to get more exercise, like going to the gym or taking up a sport you enjoy. Everyone knows those. We want to look at ways you can slip activity into your day-to-day life, even when you’re busy.

How to Get More Exercise at Home

Your home is where you spend most of your downtime, but it’s also a great place to sneak in a bit of extra activity.

One of the simplest ways you can do this is by starting each day with some push-ups, crunches, or air squats. As soon as you roll out of bed, take five minutes to get your heart rate up and your body moving. It’ll wake you up and get your day off to a good start. It doesn’t matter what your current level is—even ten push-ups, crunches, or air squats is enough. As your fitness improves, you can increase the volume without having to increase the amount of time.

You don’t have to exercise first thing in the morning if that doesn’t work for you. You could do the same set of 10 push-ups, crunches, or air squats as soon as you walk in the door from work, whenever a commercial break comes on the TV, while you wait for the microwave, immediately before you sit down to eat, or whenever you check Instagram. Pick a few events throughout the day you can spend 60 seconds exercising after.

Vigorous cleaning is another good way to get your heart rate up. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, throw on one of your favorite pump-up songs, and tidy your living room. Your house gets cleaner, and you get healthier.

Pick something like squatting or a stretch you need to do, and do it while you brush your teeth every day. It’s free time, so take advantage! I stand on one leg while brushing. My balance is terrible, but I’m working on it.

Almost everyone could benefit from more stretching. It’s a pretty passive (and boring) activity. So, why not pair it with something you almost certainly do every day, like watching TV. Instead of just sitting in a heap on your couch, take a few minutes to stretch out your whole body while you watch your favorite shows. Again, you just fit something healthy into your day without having to change up your routine in a significant way.

If you have kids, why not play with them outside for 20 minutes each day? Playing catch or going for a short walk are great ways to combine quality family time with exercise.

And small humans aren’t the only family members who benefit from some outdoor play. If you have a dog, make it your job to take him for a walk before work in the morning or after dinner each evening. If you don’t have a dog, consider getting one! The video above (if you can watch it without crying) explains how adopting a dog saved Eric’s life.

How to Get More Exercise at Work

Working a desk job doesn’t mean you’re doomed to lead an unhealthy life. You just have to make sure you eat right, look after your mental health, and fit in some exercise and activity when you can. Even at work.

The best way to incorporate some exercise into your workday is to do so before you arrive. If you can, walk or cycle to work. It will probably take you a bit longer, but it’s time well spent. If you have to take public transport, get off a stop or two early and walk the remaining distance. Even an extra 10 minutes walking before and after work is good for you.

When you arrive, don’t take the elevator—take the stairs. Obviously, this bit of advice only applies if you work in a building that isn’t too tall. Although climbing the stairs to the 29th floor would definitely cover your exercise for the day.

If you get an opportunity to go for a short walk during the day, take it. One-on-one meeting? Suggest a loop around the outside of the building. Lunchtime? Walk to a restaurant that’s slightly farther away. On the phone? Pace a corridor.

If you’re unable to walk much at work, you might want to consider a standing desk. Our own Michael Crider swears by his. At the very least, mixing it up between sitting and standing throughout the day is better for you.

Also, as long as you don’t mind a few stares (and you really shouldn’t), you can get a few sets of push-ups or air squats in during the day. Smokers are allowed cigarette breaks, and coffee-addicts are allowed coffee breaks, so there’s no reason you can’t drop and give ten on the hour, every hour.

Another helpful tip is always to keep a set of gym clothes at the office. This way, if you decide to hit the gym on the way home, you’re ready to go. You don’t have to stop off at home first, which could cause you to get distracted or change your mind.

How to Get More Exercise While Out and About

You’ve probably started to notice a theme here: when you can, walk. Also, the stairs are your friend when you’re out running errands, too.

If you’re meeting friends at a bar or restaurant, don’t take an Uber—walk. If you do take an Uber, leave 20 minutes early and get dropped off a few blocks away so you can take a short walk. If you’re walking somewhere, take a slightly longer route.

If you’re meeting a friend for coffee, suggest you grab it to go, and then head to a nearby park to walk and chat. You’ll barely notice you’re exercising.

If you have to drive somewhere, park at the far end of the parking garage or lot rather than near the door. Again, you’ll get in some extra steps. This is especially good if you’ve got to carry stuff back to the car.

Another option is to wear ankle weights or a weighted vest. The extra resistance means you’ll burn more calories with every step.

How to Get More Exercise While You Travel

When you’re away on vacation or traveling for work, it can disrupt your exercise routine. But, as always, there are ways to keep active.

Of course, the easiest way is to walk, walk, walk! The good news is that people typically walk more when they’re in a new place. It’s an added benefit of exploring, shopping, hitting tourist spots, and going out for food.

Airports are great places to stay active. Skip the escalators and take the stairs. Skip the moving walkways, too. While you wait for your plane, don’t just sit down for a beer, have a look around the terminal and get some steps in.

One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to go to the highest vantage point and get the best view. If there’s a hill nearby, climb it. The mountains around Los Angeles are the perfect example of a tourist-friendly way to get a serious workout. It’s also the only way to get close to the Hollywood sign. If there are no hills to climb, look for tall buildings. Structures like the Eiffel Tower often have stairs for adventurous people who want to skip the elevators.

And— like when you’re at home—don’t dismiss bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and air squats. Start your day with them, or do ten push-ups every time you order a drink at the poolside bar.

Of course, rest is also essential. If you’re super-active at home, the best thing you can do for your body while on vacation might be just to enjoy the time off!

“I don’t have time to exercise,” often means you just haven’t made it a priority. However, there are a lot of ways you can be more active throughout the day without it taking up more time.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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