A grueling hour at the gym after work? Forty minutes on the treadmill every morning? Who has that kind of time for exercise? Hardly anyone. That’s why, after months or mere weeks of struggling to stick to a prescribed regimen, lots of people get discouraged and stop exercising at all. A behavioral sustainability scientist, Dr. Michelle Segar believes that exercise doesn’t have to be a rigid, draining endurance test to do a body—and mind and spirit—good. “Everything counts,” she stresses. “Every bit of movement you do is adding to your health, fitness, and joie de vivre,” she assures people of all activity levels. “You can find numerous gifts of movement every day in your own life. You just have to look around to discover where they are.”
As Dr. Segar shares in her new book, NO SWEAT: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (AMACOM; June 11, 2015), seizing on opportunities to move throughout the day can be fun. Examples to spark ideas include:
- The Long Cut: Yes, it’s simply the opposite of the shortcut—strategically planning the longer walking route to a destination to increase time spent moving. You can take the Long Cut anywhere—to work, while shopping. Just by parking your car a little further from your destination, you can build in a round-trip of ten or more minutes of movement.
- The Phone Moment: Walk your talk! When you’re talking on your cell phone, get up and move around, go up and down stairs, or take a walk around the block. During the work day, you can even have a walking meeting over the phone. A movement break works wonders to free up the mind for creativity.
- Active Waiting: When your kids are playing organized sports or practicing karate, why sit around waiting? Walk around the perimeter of the playing field or, if your kids are taking an indoor class, the closest street. Consider asking another parent to join you. You don’t have to miss your child’s entire game or class. Do twenty minutes of Active Waiting and then come back and watch.
- The Couple’s Cruise: It’s lovely to walk, hand in hand, with your partner. Consider dinner and a walk instead of dinner and movie. If you have young kids, explore switching off with a neighbor or hire a sitter. A Couple’s Cruise before or after dinner can be very intimate—healthy for your relationship and your bodies.
- The Boogie Break: Need a break and energy boost? Whether in the privacy of your office or home, pick a song, put on earphones, and get down, get down, get down! This is an amazing way to get a lot of energy, loosen up, and lift your mood. Just think Ellen DeGeneres and start dancing!
- Family Fun: Tossing a ball, playing tag, swimming, skating—you can do all sorts of physical activities with family members. Family Fun can be as structured as a bike ride taken together as raucous as a backyard game of tetherball or as simple as a leisurely walk around the block to transition into nighttime. Consider pairing up a child and parent for special activities. It’s a great way to bond.
- Office Sprints: Working in an office doesn’t have to mean sitting all day. Get up from your chair and stretch periodically. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Or just use the stairs as an in-house gym any time you need quick a break. Instead of sitting at your desk, try standing up and working. Standing desks—and even very, very slow treadmills to use while standing and working—are becoming a popular option in a number of offices.
- Cleaning Calisthenics: Anyone who has ever pushed a vacuum knows that it provides exercise. Household chores count as valid physical movement, so take advantage of the opportunities doing them can present. For example: build in additional trips to the laundry room, carrying smaller loads to get more movement in. Count yourself lucky if you have stairs in your house!
- The Leisurely Stroll. Strolling—not power-walking, not counting the blocks or tracking your mileage, just enjoying the city—is relaxing and great exercise. Perfected by the Europeans, it’s a totally underappreciated activity that you can do alone or with others. Instead of meeting a friend to talk at a café, grab your coffee or tea to go and head out for a stroll. You can catch-up and window-shop.
- The Movement Snack. When you’re not quite ready for a meal but your stomach is growling, you reach for a snack to tide you over. You can do exactly the same thing with exercise. When your body is sending you the message to move but you don’t have the full thirty or forty minutes available, you can still grab a five- or ten-minute refresher. Grab a bite whenever you can! Remember, when it comes to movement for your health and well-being, everything counts!
Adapted from NO SWEAT (AMACOM, June 2015).
MICHELLE L. SEGAR is a behavioral sustainability scientist and Director of the Sport, Health, & Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Health Behavior and Kinesiology. A sought-after advisor, her expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Elle, Prevention, and other major media.