Taking time everyday to get in regular exercise can be more than challenging these days with so many demands put upon us. In fact, it can feel like a down right chore! Even though we know that we need proper nutrition, activity and rest to lead a balanced life and stay healthy, often our priorities get shifted and those essential components of wellness get pushed to the wayside. If you leave out or skip a day of exercise because it’s inconvenient or you get too busy you’re ultimately shortchanging your health and missing out on an opportunity to relieve stress and live more vibrantly.
Workouts are meant to give you energy, not take it away. You always feel better when you’ve put in the effort and pour out some sweat. Can you ever remember saying to yourself after a good bout of exercise, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that!” So if the effort and energy aren’t the problem, why do we skip exercise sometimes, even though we know it makes us feel great? When we feel we have to leave out a workout from our busy schedules the real issue is usually time management. Somehow we have to incorporate exercise as an essential part of our daily, habitual routine and give it the priority it deserves as a central component to living, to one’s lifestyle.
When time is compressed (when isn’t it?) there are still very effective ways to get in your exercise and re-energize yourself daily. Yes, the best-case scenario is daily exercise. Our bodies are made to move, designed for activity, not sedentary living. Just look at how the body reacts to long-term hospital stays or palliative care. Muscles atrophy and lose most of their mass within weeks, joints stiffen and bedsores set in – all simply because the body is unable to move much. Again, exercise shouldn’t be seen as optional or as a chore. It can become one of the most fun aspects of your life!
Healthy activities can energize you for your whole day, beat stress, help you digest food better and allow for a peaceful rest at night. I honestly believe the twitching and discomfort associated with “Restless Legs Syndrome” comes from nerves in the legs firing as if to ask their owner, “please walk me!” We sit too much all day, at work, at our computers and in traffic. So getting up and remaining active for at least a little while each day is more imperative than ever. But here’s the beauty of what I’m suggesting – you only have to exercise for a few minutes everyday! That’s right!! In twenty, ten or even five minutes at a time (if you’re consistent) you can build up a daily workout routine and stay committed to it without shirking your other commitments (I don’t mean Youtube or the boob tube)! Let me tell you how…
I want to give you a few tips to get you started and then I’m going to walk you through a few simple workouts you can do at home, in the park or even on your lunch break so you can begin the journey of making daily exercise part of your lifestyle and reap all the inherent benefits. Here’s a tip: Did you know that flexibility training should comprise 20-30% of your whole workout regimen? If you’re committing an hour to each day’s workout, that’s 12-18 minutes of stretching. Flexibility increases muscle strength by 30-40% and staves off joint pain and cramping. Strength training should always be done after flexibility work and should comprise 40-60% of your total workout time. Training your musculature with weight bearing keeps you strong, energetic and youthful, increases bone density and sets your metabolic rate. If you want to lose weight – gain muscle! Lastly, cardiovascular training should come last and comprises only 30-40% of your total workout. Doing cardio last gives you the energy stores to test your endurance. Shorter bursts of cardio training are often more beneficial than doing long cardio bouts because of energetic burn, muscle loss, metabolic shifts and increases in stress hormones associated with endurance training. Yes, doing too much cardio can make you lose muscle and retain fat! Again, that’s why strength training is so essential to staying fit, slim and energized. Now, a few questions for you…
First, answer this for yourself: when are you most likely to devote any time to your workout? Is it in the morning, perhaps pretty early on? Most business people and professionals prefer this option so they get it done and “out of their way” so they have energy to move on through the rest of their often highly stressful day. Or is the late morning/early afternoon a better fit for your lifestyle? Full-time moms or those with part-time jobs and seniors often prefer this time slot for exercise, when the kids are at school and traffic is lighter. Or maybe you’re an evening exerciser? I’m a bit of a night owl myself and often like an evening workout to re-energize me for the night or to sweat out the stress of the day. A lot of people like to do their workouts right after work for the same reasons. My best advice: make sure the gym or sports venue is between where you live and work so you have to pass it – or you may just skip it! So, now that you’ve decided when you’re most likely to work out, you’ll want to figure out what form of exercise suits you best…
What kinds of activities do you enjoy doing? I love yoga, group fitness, weight lifting, stair climbing, waking, jogging, sprinting, swimming and hiking. You might not like any of those options and so you’d be less likely to engage in them or any exercise if I said you had to pick from that list. Customizing your own workout based on your interests is a great way to ensure daily activity. If you like to garden, which is a fantastic way to stay flexible and bear your own body weight to build strength, then gardening a bit everyday would be a terrific prescription to keep you active. Trying new activities to see if they’re a good fit for you is another excellent strategy for staying fit. Variety is more than the spice of life; it’s the hallmark of a diverse, dynamic and well-rounded workout! The body appreciates adjusting to a challenge and the mind can get bored easily. Keeping your body guessing while your mind is entertained can help you discover more ways to move, breathe and sweat on a regular basis.
Now we know when, how and probably where you’re going to exercise. Let me walk you through some short sample workouts so you can begin framing your own exercise routines to your lifestyle. Try these suggestions:
20-Minute Functional Exercise Workout
Alternate the suggested weight bearing strength exercises for one-minute each with one-minute cardiovascular exercises as suggested. Then feel free to switch them around and mix them up, as you prefer. Keep it fun, interesting and creative! Click on the chart to the right for more cardio options:
(With a three, five or ten lb. dumbbell weight in each hand per strength exercise…)
1. Strength: Squat and stand. Repeat for one minute or 20-30 repetitions.
(Set down your weight after each strength exercise to perform cardio…)
2. Cardio: Do jumping jacks for one minute. Any pace is fine!
4. Cardio: Mountain climbers with your hands stationary on the floor, alternating feet.
5. Strength: Weighted stiff-leg deadlift (see Dennyzen on Facebook for details).
6. Cardio: High-knee march, bringing knees up to navel or palms held at waist height.
7. Strength: Sumo or straddle squat, with feet wide apart, hips/knees open, holding the weight in front of the groin with straight arms.
8. Cardio: Squat thrusts or “half-burpees” (See chart).
9. Strength: Calf-raises, on a step or simply lifting to the balls of the feet, weights in hands held by your sides with straight arms.
10. Cardio: Arabesque leg extensions to the rear, lifting your leg from the hip, squeezing your gluteus. Looks like a kick backwards. Alternate legs.
11. Strength: Chest/bench press, flat on the floor, a ball or a bench, keeping thumbs lined up with the mid-line of the chest horizontally.
12. Cardio: Pushups, from the knees or feet, like a chest press but upside-down and bearing your own body weight. Start with a few and work on your form.
13. Strength: Chest flies or “tree-huggers,” palms/knuckles of both hands face each other as you squeeze the pectoral (chest) muscles together.
15. Strength: Shoulder press, standing or seated, raising weights over your shoulders.
16. Cardio: Plank, resting forearms on the floor while balanced on the balls of the feet. Hold the pose or start marching, keeping the abdomen tight, hips in line with shoulders. You may lift and lower the hips in a thrusting motion, called “dolphin.”
17. Strength: Tricep press, weights overhead or on each side with a “kickback” motion outside hips like pushing ski poles. Focus on contracting rear muscles of the upper arms.
18. Cardio: Bench or chair dips, balancing on hands squarely set under the shoulders, knees bent with buttocks off the front of the chair or bench, bending elbows only.
19. Strength: Bicep curls with dumbbells, alternating or combined, keeping weight below the chest with elbows behind the ribs.
20. Cardio: Bicycle crunches, supine hip thrusts/bridges or any quick moving abdominal exercise into a cool-down stretch on the floor.
*Twenty exercises, one minute apiece, for twenty minutes, non-stop. You’ll love it!
10-Minute Push-Pull Workout for Toning
Alternate “pulling” and “pushing” exercise for ten minutes. This sequencing provides the best parts of muscular flexion and extension exercises for a thorough strength training session in a short amount of time. Again, there are no rests between exercises, so your heart rate goes up quickly and your metabolism will spike for hours after this intensive session, helping you burn calories longer. Great for weight loss goals since the basic equation for reducing fat storage is to burn more calories than you’re ingesting. One minute per exercise. Eat about 45 minutes after this workout to feed your muscles and watch them grow lean and toned.
Keep a dumbbell in each hand throughout this ten minute routine except for pushups and dips. Hold them closer to your body for legwork.
1. Push: Seated single (or double) leg presses (bending knees) for one minute.
2. Pull: Seated single (or double) leg lifts (straight legs) for one minute.
3. Push: Pushups from the knees, feet or on a bench, one minute, no weights.
4. Pull: Bench/chest press with dumbbells perpendicular to the spine, one minute.
5. Push: Bench dips, bending the elbows, no more than a 45% angle, no weights.
6. Pull: Skiers squat with bent-over rows, holding dumbbells, pulling up.
7. Push: Standing or seated shoulder press, pushing dumbbells overhead.
8. Pull: Woodchoppers from the sides going across the body’s mid-line or overhead, chopping through the legs. Works with dumbbells, cables or a kettle bell.
9. Push: Bicep curls with dumbbells or a barbell, keep your elbows behind your ribs.
10. Pull: Upright rows, combined with sumo squats for more dynamic movement, make sure elbows lift outside the ears each time you row upwards.
10-Minute Flexibility/Yoga Workout (see link)
5-Minute Energy Burst Workout
When your energy is sapped and you need a surge of endorphins but you don’t have enough time to get a “runner’s high” try this quick 5-minute routine to re-energize!
1. One-minute weighted run. Hold one dumbbell (or two dumbbells together) or a weight plate in front of your chest and jog or run, lifting your knees for 60 seconds.
2. One-minute weighted squats. Holding weights at your sides or close to the chest, do regular, skier’s or sumo squats for 60 seconds.
3. One-minute alternating or walking lunges. Holding weights at your sides, do forward, reverse or side lunges, alternating in place or walking them for one minute.
4. One-minute jumping jacks and squat thrusts (half-burpees), alternating five at a time. Mountain climbers and burpees can be substituted. One minute!
5. One-minute pushups. Incline, decline or flat, from the knees, feet or on a bench, at any pace, keep pushups going for a solid sixty seconds. You’ll feel so strong!
5-Minute Stress Buster Workout
If your day has been long and arduous and your back feels like a coat of armor you’ll want to take a few minutes to unwind and transition from work to playtime. This workout is perfect for business people coming home after battling their commute who’d rather pour a glass of wine and veg out but know that a stretch will help them shed their day, digest their dinner and drift more easily into dreamland.
1. One-minute down-dog yoga pose with deep breathing, keeping hips high, looking toward the navel. Alternating a runner’s stretch to loosen the hamstrings is advisable. This stretches the entire posterior of the body from the base of the skull to the soles of the feet (where most stress-induced tension resides).
2. One-minute child’s pose (or folded leaf), on the knees, sitting on the feet, resting the torso on the thighs, folded forward so the head and arms drop toward the floor. This stretches the back, hips, buttocks, thighs, knees and feet and allows the head and arms to rest after a long day of activity and holding that down-dog!
3. One-minute alternating child’s pose with up-dog pose, hands planted on the floor or yoga mat, thrusting hips forward toward the wrists out of child’s pose then sinking hips back into child’s pose. Keep swinging forward and back, exhaling into each pose, inhaling in between. This thrusting action will loosen the lower back and hips and help the body feel relaxed with rhythmic, oxygenating breaths.
4. One-minute alternating knee hugs. Turn onto the back and extend the legs. Hug one knee to your chest then alternate on your exhalations. You may end this with hugging both knees and rocking on the spine and then extending the arms and legs apart for a supine stretch to loosen any kinks along the spine or pelvis and lengthen the major joints so you’re free of work and traffic tension.
5. One-minute alternating bridge pose with double knee hug. Place feet and palms flat on the floor/mat and lift your buttocks off the floor, thrusting your hips toward the ceiling, keeping heels under the knees and the head, neck and shoulders flat on the floor for bridge pose. Then lower the spine slowly and hug both knees to the chest for a few breaths. Alternate and repeat several times until you feel relaxed and take a few moments of quiet, restful stillness until you notice your stress has evaporated with each exhale.
If you haven’t enough time or energy to commit to the above routines – make the time and you’ll wind up with more energy for having done the workout! But if nothing else, go for a walk around your neighborhood to stimulate your cardio response. People used to walk everywhere – to the store, the post office, to see their neighbors, even to work. Now we rely on our cars way too much and our waistlines are paying for the convenience. Walking has tremendous and well known health benefits but also helps clear the mind and calm the central nervous system. So, go walking with a friend or by yourself to settle your nerves, digestion and evacuate stress from your body. Connect with nature as you take in the scenery and breathe some fresh air. Hiking, biking, dancing, swimming, kayaking, jumping rope, trampolining or playing any physical game or sport are other creative and fun ways to stay active everyday.
I hope that these time-conscious but thorough routines and suggestions are helpful in making your commitment to daily exercise more manageable. Remember, it’s your life, you decide your lifestyle – how you spend your time, energy and activity. Make great choices that will keep you happy, healthy and well for years to come! I’m always excited to hear about your progress or answer any questions you may have about my posts. Please contact me anytime… stay active and be well!