We all have times in our lives when the items clogging up our to-do lists leave little room to breathe, let alone prioritise our fitness routines. An example? December. On top of work and/or education, we have the added pressure of buying Christmas presents, attending Christmas parties, decorating, and so forth. Sure, the holidays are fun, but overwhelming to say the least.
I’m quite fortunate because the vast majority of my family members live in Russia. Only two (my mum and step-dad) celebrate Christmas and I can focus on the enjoyable side of the holidays a bit more, while taking it easy on my bank account. However, there have been numerous periods in my life – such as exam preparation and traveling – when I ended up neglecting my exercise routine. Movement happens to be the utmost form of self care for many people, myself included, which is why pushing it to the backseat often proves not only detrimental, but counterproductive.
Take studying for my IB exams as an example of when I neglected my exercise routine. And by that, I don’t mean I went to the gym five times a week as opposed to six. I literally did not move from my chair for a wholesome twenty days except for walking to and from the train station, which proved an ill-considered decision. Sure, the exams were a success, but finding some spare moments each day for exercise would have only boosted my productivity. In other words, not the waste of time I feared. When I eventually returned to the gym, I felt the decline in strength from the first minute. Every exercise hurt my joints, I dropped the weight I lifted by at least a third, and struggled through the cardio I usually enjoy.
Needles to say, I learnt a lesson. Nowadays, no matter how busy my schedule gets, I make room for some sort of physical activity. Sure, when I have deadlines and work and endless to-do lists, a ninety minute gym session may be out of question, but even a short run or endurance circuit is better than nothing. When the work starts to pile up, I remember the benefits of exercise and that sitting in the same spot all day takes an enormous toll on my productivity. It’s all about being flexible and not taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach.
‘Not enough time’ is one of, if not the most common excuse for not working out. But with enough dedication and thought, time constraints are quite an easy obstacle to overcome. I’ve compiled a list of tips that have helped me, and will hopefully help others stay (somewhat) active during those hectic periods in our lives. Keep in mind: as I’ve mentioned above, we certainly should not feel guilty for skipping the gym on occasion or pushing your fitness goals down your list of priorities. However, there’s a lot of room for manoeuvre between an olympic athlete training schedule and becoming sedentary to the point where a lack of exercise starts to have an impact on your productivity, physical health and mental wellbeing.
This may be hard to hear for the night owls, but an extra twenty or thirty minutes in the morning easily make room for a run or a yoga session and do not interfere with the rest of your day. Depending on the amount and nature of the work on my to-do list, I alternate between exercising in the early hours and later in the day. For other people, however, exercise is a strict and crucial part of their morning routine. Getting out of bed and jumping straight into a workout demands commitment (especially in less-than-optimal weather conditions). But after seconds of initial discomfort, you’ll find your energy replenished, mood improved and productivity boosted for the rest of the day.
Improve your time management skills
I’ll cover the sweeping question of time management in a future post. But the central point is: at times, we make ourselves needlessly busy because we’ve yet to master time management and/or anti-procrastination techniques. Analyse where your time is going, recognise activities that can be scaled back and you will, without doubt, find extra hours for yourself. You can start by reading my guide on overcoming procrastination if this is something you struggle with, or this wonderful post by my blogging pal Mia, which covers a broad range of time management techniques anyone can use.
Extra tip: whenever I am particularly snowed under (in a metaphorical sense because I live in the Southern England lol), I like to micromanage my time. In other words, plan my day out in fifteen minute chunks so that not a single moment is wasted. I allocate slots to my tasks, and leave a few for exercise and other activities. This seems rigid and excessive at first, but works wonders if you need to make sure not a minute goes to waste.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
A brief overview of HIIT, for those who haven’t heard the term before: when performing this style of training, you alternate bursts of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest/low-intensity movement like walking in place. This takes many forms, such as 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest, 50 seconds on/10 seconds rest, one minute on followed by a thirty second break. I love HIIT for many reasons. A 15-30 minute session can be just as effective as a one hour long, low-intensity workout. Truth is, if you’re doing HIIT properly and giving that ‘on’ period everything you’ve got, you shouldn’t be able to go for longer than the thirty minute mark.
Furthermore, HIIT combines strength and cardio. You can build muscle and endurance at the same time, maximising the efficiency of your workout. And you don’t even need a gym: with a timer and an optional pair of dumbbells, you can stay just as fit without having to leave the house (or, in the summer, take your workout outdoors to make the most of the weather!).
Wear your gym clothes
This won’t be possible if you work in an office with a strict dress code. However, many of us underestimate how much time we waste changing from one outfit into another, especially with insufficient time to organise our wardrobes. If you are a student or work from home, wearing all or at least a part of your gym kit saves a few precious minutes here and there. Plus, sportswear can be made stylish – leggings with an oversized hoodie and sneakers is one of my go-to looks on those ‘I have nothing to wear’ days. The comfort, of course, goes without mentioning. Another option is simply bringing your gear with you, incase an opportunity to exercise arises or you complete your tasks for the day quicker than expected.
Stay active throughout the day
Sometimes, getting to the gym or finding a block of time to do a workout is out of question. When this happens, make an effort to stay moderately active throughout the day. Go for a ten minute walk around your neighbourhood, do a couple of squats (once again, not recommended in an office environment), take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk instead of driving or taking public transport to places within a reasonable distance. Personally, I find that if I don’t stand up and do a few stretches every couple of hours while working on my computer, I feel sluggish and unproductive. These little things may seem insignificant, but will add up over the course of the day and prove much more beneficial than sitting in the same place for countless hours.
We spend much of our lives trying to balance our goals and priorities with keeping our physical health in order. It may be tempting to dedicate every spare moment to deadlines, work, school, etc., but when healthy eating and exercise fall out of the picture, everything else suffers. No wonder many successful people wake up early to hit the gym, avoid driving and prepare their meals in advance. This in itself shows how taking care of your body lays the foundations for a more fulfilling, productive life and keeps you energised in everything you do.
Let me know in the comments – are you a regular gym goer? How do you like to stay active whenever life is busier than usual?
Lots of love, Maria ♡1