Too busy to exercise? Here’s how to fit fitness in

Richard McVey
Senior Health Adviser at Bupa UK
17 December 2019
Next review due December 2022

'I want to exercise but I just can't find the time.'

Sound familiar? You’re not alone – many of us have said these words before! The sentiment is completely understandable. Work, family and social commitments can really seem to eat up the hours. Fitting fitness in might not feel achievable.

But try asking yourself: could you fit some activity in by getting creative with your routine? And if you would feel healthier and happier as a result, wouldn’t it be worth it?

1. Remember that any exercise is better than none

‘I can only manage the odd bit of exercise here and there, so it probably doesn’t make a difference anyway.’

In fact, the latest physical activity guidance from the government stresses that any exercise is better than none. While two-and-a-half hours of moderately intense activity a week is ideal, even squeezing in small amounts can give you a health boost.

One example of this is running. It’s something you can do for free, before work, during your lunch break or in the evening. A recent review of 14 studies found that any amount of regular running, even once a week, was likely to significantly improve your health.

2. Find a spare 10 minutes for some HIIT training

‘I’d really need a spare hour or two to do any meaningful exercise.’

You can actually fit in a solid workout in just 10 minutes. HIIT training is a brilliant way to keep fit if you’re busy. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and means doing short bursts of intense exercise, at regular intervals over a short period of time. You just need a bit of space, comfortable clothes and a routine to follow. Here’s an ideal one to try.

3. Get creative with your schedule

‘My schedule is just too packed.’

You might instinctively think you don’t have any time spare. But have a good think about it and see whether you could find some spare minutes or hours:

  • early in the morning – a bit of exercise first thing could provide the energy-boost you need
  • on your way to work – you might be able to walk, cycle or jog at least part of the way
  • during your lunch break – go for a run or find a good gym, swimming pool or yoga class nearby; lots of places have 45 minute-long classes that can fit in to a one-hour lunch break
  • on your way home – a light jog part of the way back from work could help clear your head (and save time by getting you home faster)
  • at the weekend with your family – it could be going for a local park run or having a game of rounders with family and friends

There are even ways to be active while you’re at work, including desk stretches, walking meetings and taking the stairs. Taking your full lunch break and using it to be active (even if that just means going for a walk) can set you up for a productive afternoon. Some people who I support say they don’t take a full lunch break unless they book one into their diary. So adding your lunch break as an appointment in your calendar might help you claim back this time.

4. Buddy up with a friend

‘I need to hold back some time to see my friends.’

You could combine socialising with fitness, by meeting friends for a walk, or to play sports or go to the gym together. We’re more likely to stick to our commitments if other people are involved, so this approach could help you to work the activity into your routine. It will also help your friends to get fit too!

Research has suggested that friends are likely to influence how much we exercise, and vice versa. It might be worth exploring running or fitness apps on your phone that let you connect with friends, share your activities and encourage one another.

Just like teaming up with a friend, joining a team is a commitment so could be a great way to make sure you keep doing an activity regularly.

5. Find an activity you love

‘The thought of exercising just doesn’t get me excited.’

We aren’t all sporty types, so this is understandable. Remember though that fitness doesn’t only mean the usual suspects like running or going to the gym. How about tennis, kung fu, tag rugby or tap dancing? If there’s a particular activity that really appeals to you as a hobby, fitting it into your routine won’t feel like a chore at all. There are lots of interesting, less-common sports out there to try. Have a look online and around your local area to see if you can find something that really appeals to you.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Richard McVey
Richard McVey
Senior Health Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Physical Activity Guidelines. UK Chief Medical Officer’s report., published September 2019
    • Pedisic Z, Shrestha N, Kovalchik S et al. Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019; doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493
    • Aral S, Nicolaides C. Exercise contagion in a global social network. Nat Commun 2017; 8:14753 doi:10.1038/ncomms14753

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