When it comes to excuses for getting out of unpleasant tasks, "I don't have time" is one of my favorites. Dinner with the mother-in-law? No time! A trip to the dry cleaners? Are you kidding me with this schedule? What's great about it is that no one can politely question how busy you are and, when it comes to getting out of exercising, is there a better excuse out there?
Not according to folks who cite lack of time is one reason they don't exercise. But do we really lack the time or is that just an excuse?
How Much is Enough?
Starting an exercise program means rearranging your schedule to allow time for it, but it doesn't require that much time. Researchers know that short bouts of exercise can be just as effective for weight loss and health as longer workouts and that many people find it easier to stick with shorter workouts. In one study, researchers compared two groups of exercisers, those who did short bouts of exercise (multiple 10-minute workouts) and those who did long-bout workouts (20-40 minutes of continuous exercise). Here's what they found out about the short-bout exercisers:
- They were able to stick to their workouts more consistently
- They exercised more days a week than the long-bout group
- They accumulated more exercise time each week than the long-bout group
- They lost more weight, an average of 19 lbs versus 14 lbs for the long-bout group
Other studies have found that short bouts of exercise can also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, the same way longer exercise sessions can. Knowing that you could break up your workouts into a few 10-minute sessions, does the lack-of-time excuse start to lose its allure? Only if you delve a little deeper to find out what's really behind your lack of exercise.
Getting to the Bottom of Things
Turns out, if you want to change your schedule to accommodate exercise, you must feel a need to do it. People who exercise don't necessarily have more time than you, they've just determined that what they're getting out of exercise is worth more than whatever else they could be doing during that time (sleeping, having lunch with friends, chores, etc.).
Think about it. If someone called and offered a free massage, but only in the next hour, how hard would you work to clear that hour of time? If you like free massages, you'd work pretty hard to change your schedule, just like you find time for other things like doctor's appointments, working late, watching TV, playing computer games or running errands. Exercise is just like anything else but, unless it's important to you, you're never going to make time for it. I could give you a hundred reasons why exercise should be important to you, but you're the one who has to decide if it really is important to you. And if it's not, why not?
If exercise isn't a priority for you and you'd like it to be, take some time to go through these steps and answer a few questions. Getting insight into why you do what you do (or don't do) is the only way to change things for the better.
- Admit the truth. Do you really lack the time to exercise is there some other reason you're not fitting in workouts? Start by exploring your perspective on exercise and whether it's really a priority. Next, suss out other reasons you don't exercise to get clear on what's really stopping you.
- Ask yourself: If I commit to exercise, how would I accommodate it?. Sit down with your schedule and see what you come up with, reminding yourself that you're not committing to anything just yet. Maybe you could get up 15 minutes early for a strength workout or use part of your lunch hour to take a brisk walk. Make a list of all the times you could exercise, no matter how short.
- What routines would I need to change in order to exercise?. With your previous list in mind, what would have to change if you used that extra time for exercise? For example, for morning exercise, you would have to gather your exercise clothes the night before and get up earlier than usual. Go through each step in your mind or, better yet, practice one day to see what would have to change if you did this on a regular basis.
- What kind of exercise would be appealing to me?. If you were to wake up in the morning and exercise first thing, what would sound good to you? A quick walk outside? Yoga exercises? A circuit workout? Make a list of activities you enjoy and imagine yourself doing those activities on a regular basis.
- What kind of exercise schedule could I live with right now? If you had to schedule exercise this week, what would fit in with your life right now? A 15 minute walk before breakfast and a half-hour at lunch? A quick jog with the dog after work or a workout video before dinner? How many days of exercise would you be willing to commit to? Forget about how many days you should exercise and concentrate on how many days you will exercise.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Using all the information you've gathered, set up a workout schedule and commit to practicing it for, say, two weeks. Then, reassess and see how you're doing. Do your workouts fit well with your current routines? Is it working or do you need to make changes? Practice is how you determine what will work and what won't.
Too often, we worry so much about getting the perfect amount of exercise in that we end up getting no exercise at all. It's tough to let go of the idea that long, sweaty workouts are the only ones that 'count,' but in the new world we live in, we have to make some changes in how we live. Making time for exercise, even if it's just 5 to 10 minutes at a time, is your first step to making it a permanent part of your life.