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10 easy ways to sneak activity into your day

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It can be hard to find time to exercise. But even short bursts of activity can add up to big health benefits. Get going with these tips.

You probably know that exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. Physical activity lowers your risk of disease, makes your heart stronger and helps you lose weight. It also boosts your mood, helps you sleep better and so much more.

All adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. A good way to break it up? Aim for 30 minutes on most days. You should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. But life gets busy, and it can seem impossible to carve out a chunk of time.

The good news is that lots of activities count as moderate exercise. And you don’t have to get your exercise all at once. Read on for some expert-approved ways to sneak in movement throughout your day.

The health benefits of exercise

Anything that gets your body moving is physical exercise. And some movement is better than none. “It’s definitely better to get in a few short bouts of exercise when you can than to skip it altogether,” says orthopedist John-Paul Rue, MD. He’s a sports medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Several small increments of exercise can be just as beneficial as a long workout. And they are easier to fit into a busy schedule.”

For example, you could take a 15-minute walk around your neighborhood in the morning, do 10 minutes of yoga stretches at lunch, then work in the yard for 10 minutes before dinner. Your goal should be to sit less and move more throughout the day, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Creative ways to sneak in exercise

If it’s hard for you to find the time to go to the gym or take a fitness class, that’s all right. Focus on doing other activities that get your heart rate up and your muscles moving. These ideas from experts can help you get started.

Make a game of it. Come up with some fun goals for your day and for the week ahead. Maybe see how many times you can do a lap around your building or office space. “Walk at a brisk enough pace that you reach a target heart rate,” says Dr. Rue.

Dare to stair. Choose to take the stairs if they’re available to you, says Mark Slabaugh, MD. He’s a sports medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. For instance, walk up the stairs at the mall or at the airport instead of using the escalator. Or walk up and down your stairs at home 10 times to get your heart rate up.

Try a health tracker. A health tracker can be motivating. You wear these tech devices around your wrist, and they count how many steps you take each day. You’ll get credit for steps at the grocery store, while you’re mowing the lawn, as you walk your child to school — and so on. Set a goal for the day (say, 4,000 steps) and see how far you get. Once that goal gets easy, you can bump it up.

 

Check out a larger selection of fitness trackers, pain-relief devices and more at the Optum Store.

Move more when you do chores. When you pick up clothes from the floor, carry groceries or tie your shoes, you’re moving. You may not think twice about these activities. But they can help you build balance and coordination. Another way to boost activity: Blast your favorite music while you sweep, dust or fold laundry. You can’t help but move faster and feel more energetic.

Squeeze in a mini workout. Strengthen your bones and build endurance with a quick circuit of exercise you can do right in your kitchen. Good choices:

  • Squats
  • Marching in place
  • Side steps with a band around your legs
  • Planks
  • Pushups against a counter

“Perform a circuit of each exercise for 1 minute each,” says Kelyssa Hall. She’s an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “One circuit will take you 5 minutes.”

Find ways to walk. Park farther away from your destination than you normally would and walk the rest of the way, says Farah Hameed, MD. She’s a sports medicine specialist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. Grab a spot at the far end of the parking lot. And if you take public transportation, get off 1 or 2 stops early and use your feet.

Take a dip. If you have access to a pool, get up early and swim laps for 15 minutes. Swimming is a good aerobic exercise that’s gentle on your joints. The pool is also a great place to think. “I make important decisions about my upcoming workday during my morning swim,” says Dani Singer, a personal trainer in Baltimore, Maryland.

Try this hobby hack. Come up with a way to sneak some exercise into your favorite hobby or activity. “If you like taking pictures, go for a nature walk,” Dr. Hameed says. “If you like listening to music, have a dance party. And if you like animals, consider getting a dog you can take for walks.”

Give back and get moving. Volunteer regularly at a local soup kitchen. Help clean up a park in your town or organize donations at a school clothing drive. Volunteering not only gets you out of the house and moving — it also makes you feel good, inside and out.

Change your after-dinner routine. Instead of turning on the TV, do something active. Invite your spouse or a friend to go for a walk somewhere new. Get down on the floor and do yoga stretches while you play with your baby. Listen to your favorite podcast while you lift some not-too-heavy weights in your bedroom.

No matter your age, even a small amount of exercise makes a difference. So get moving — and have fun.

Find simple ways to add more activity to your day on our Until It’s Fixed podcast

Additional sources
Activity guidelines: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition”
Activity goals: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). “How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?”

This article originally appeared on Optum Store.

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Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine. 

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