As people turned in their time logs for the 168 Hours, certain themes came up again and again. One recurring one? Finding time to exercise. A high proportion of us claim we have no time for this, but that isn’t true. Even if you work 60 hours a week and sleep 8 hours a night, that would leave more than 50 hours for other things. The CDC spends much time cajoling us to get a mere 2.5 hours of activity per week!
What people mean when they say they don’t have time to exercise is that they do not currently consider it a priority during their waking, non-working hours. There may be good reasons for this; for instance, some parents worry that exercise will take time from their kids (though few people spend 50 hours per week interacting with their kids either). Often, the problem is more that there are barriers to exercise which make it difficult to allocate time. For instance, exercise will make you sweaty, which you then have to deal with. It may require a place to do it, and some people don’t live or work near places where it is easy to run or walk. You might be tired, or might have eaten recently. When a free half hour appears, it is often easier to turn on the TV than to establish a different habit of doing something active.
The key thing to remember is that in our sedentary culture, it is never going to be *easy* to find time to exercise, and it’s unlikely that the stars will all align at a time where you have zero work to do, nothing else on your plate, you’re feeling peppy and your sneakers have magically appeared beside you. People who stay in shape make time to exercise.
Since this is a matter of getting in the habit, it’s fine to start small. Aim for three times per week — 2 weekdays and 1 weekend session. Ideally, the weekend session would be something the whole family could do together, though if not, spouses can trade off, or you can do an exercise DVD or something from FitTV in your basement while the kids are napping.
On weekdays, look at your schedule, and see if there’s available low-impact space. Lots of people exercise in the mornings, because, as one trainer told me, there’s always going to be a reason not to exercise at 4pm, and it’s going to be a good reason. Alternate mornings with your spouse helping the kids get ready, and get up a little earlier so you can run or walk. If your employer has an onsite gym, this is perfect — do the early AMs or your lunch hour. Even if a gym is not available, you can often walk around the parking lot briskly. This will clear your head and focus you for work in a way that an additional half an hour of emailing just can’t do. Some people can walk to or from work, which is a great way to tag on extra activity.
One of the best reasons to exercise is that it models healthy behaviors for your children — you don’t want them to grow up and think that it’s optional! So some parents run while their kids bike, or jump rope together, or put the kid(s) in a jog stroller (find a used one on Craigslist or Freecycle). Build lots of activity into a family trip to the neighborhood pool by playing games, carrying your toddler as you “pool walk” or swimming laps competitively if they’re older. Play soccer in the backyard. Build an obstacle course together and see how fast you can go through it, and if you can lower your time if you do it ten times in a row.
There are all sorts of ways to work up a sweat without neglecting other priorities. A good way to stay in the habit? Log your time exercising — recording what you did and how long you did it. Over time, you’ll feel such a sense of accomplishment as you write these numbers and descriptions down that you’ll want to keep going.
A version of this article originally appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website.