Exercising on a Time Limit


Time is one of the most common barriers to getting enough exercise.  You have to make time to eat and sleep, but you dont have to make time to exercise, so it gets pushed off the to do list much easier.  In this article I will give you the amount of enough exercise based on your whole-person physiology, so you get more results in less time.  The  physical, mental, emtoional and spiritual health benefits of exercise make it a convient  user-friendly way to feel and function your best every day.   

How to Exercise Well when you don’t have time to exercise

Twenty Four /seven. That is all each of us gets. We are constantly confronted with choices for how to spend our time. Finding the time for exercise is a struggle for many. In fact, it is the most commonly reported barrier that keeps people from exercising regularly.

For some, this is because of demands on time from work and family. For some, it never seems to make it to the top of the ‘to do’ list and life always seems to get in the way. Whatever the reason, they all stem from misinformation about how much time you need to spend exercising.


The Recommended Amount of Exercise

How much exercise is enough?

The recommended amounts of exercise have been largely based on studies from self-reported amounts of exercise and information from outdated science about calories.

Self-reported amounts of exercise are well known to be unreliable. People tend to overestimate how active they are in a day. Add to that the wide variety of ways to define exercise and these studies do not give us a useful guide for something as important as how to invest our time.

Research on calorie burning started around the time of the industrial revolution. Factory owners provided food for workers and needed to know how much food was needed to keep workers going. The assumption was created that calorie-burning was limitless. The more you move the more calories you burn.

New Guidelines to Exercise Well

Within the past decade, however, newer research has shown the body has a fixed energy budget. There is a limit to how many calories the body burns, no matter how much physical activity you do. out.

These two facts free us from outdated ideas about how much is enough exercise and lead us to rely on physiology for guidance to how much is enough to be healthy and well.

Your body has four functional skills that allow you to move in daily life most efficiently and effectively.

  1. Mobility,  the ability to move freely without resistance or stiffness
  2. Strength, the ability to move against gravity
  3. Stamina the ability to move for extended periods without fatigue
  4. Rest,  the ability to shift your whole person into a state where it restores energy heals, and repairs so it’s ready to move again.

Each of these skills helps the other but one does not replace the other. That means one of the most effective uses of your time for exercise is to use it to practice a balance of each of these for skills.



Relearn how to move well in quick exercise

But how much time do you need to spend on each? That depends on the quality with which you do each one. When you focus on movements, rather than muscle groups, and specifically the movements you need to do for daily life, you narrow the list of exercises that are worth your time. The greater your presence when practicing each skill, the less time it will take your brain and body to work together to develop and keep them.

For how much is enough time to invest on each,  we can look to physiology. The science of what happens in the body when you move gives us more specific information about using our time well for exercising to feel and function best, even as we age. This science tells us that enough is:

  1. Practicing the six basic mindful mobility movements once or more a day
  2. Practicing the six basic strength moves twice a week
  3. Practicing moving continuously at a moderate breathing level for thirty minutes three times a week or the equivalent in shorter bouts
  4. Practicing resting well when not moving, by putting your body in a position of alignment and your mind in the present moment with kindness.

To get the biggest return on your investment for your health, doing each one of these in the way that shifts you out of a stressed state and into the state of being well. That keeps you from the health drain of chronic stress and supports your lasting motivation by signaling your brain that exercise is a worthwhile way to spend your time.

When you want to be healthy in your whole person, but time for exercising is low, start Exercising Well. This is the simplified, science-based way to exercise to reduce the stress that comes from always feeling like you are not doing enough exercise, and strengthen your self-motivation skills that have a carry-over effect to other habits for your whole-person health.

Multiply the Benefits of Movement

The most time efficient way to do anything is to ensure you are getting more from every minute you invest.   More and more, research is emerging that reinforces the importance of self-care – not as an act of selfishness – but to provide the critical nourishment that enables our relationships, our communities, our world to grow strong.

When we are mentally depleted and physically fatigued by daily activities,  we make choices from the point of  exhaustion, anxiety and worry.  Simply put we react instead of choose.

In those moments, the rational parts of our brain that would make healthy and kind choices is hijacked by our “guard dog” part of the brain, the Amygdayla. In a true emergency – this part of the brain protects us.   Chronically in this defense mode we disconnect – from our own needs and the needs of others.  The cost is health and well-being in a ripple effect from ourselves to all around us.

The great news is that movement calms the brain and restores us to use the part of the nervous system (parasympathetic) that allows us to think  clearly again.

In the very motivating book  Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey reminds us that movement turns on the higher order functions, boosts motivation, self-esteem, focus and mood.   When we are physically active it promotes growth of new brain cells by increasing the level of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which he calls Miracle Grow for the brain.  This growth helps regulate stress,  manage depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.  He states “When you move, play, especially having fun doing it you are using more cells than ever in the brain – making more of BDNF and helping the brain in so many ways.”

Positive emotions and exercise

Research on positive emotions and how they affect the body are turning up very similar results.  Neuroscientists are discovering that we can train the brain to restore calm to the mind which calms the entire body.  When negative thoughts prevail, the body is in overdrive.  A calm body allows for new cells to grow and the immune system to do its job.

The mind-body calming effect can be strengthened just like a muscle. Even if positive thinking does not come naturally to you, researchers found that  practicing loving kindness meditation daily or even simply recalling your most positive connection each day, trains the brain to calm the body easier.

Barbara Fredrickson’s research shows that kindness and positive thoughts increase oxytocin which reduces the brains tendency to go into over-drive.  This chemical also heightens our ability to connect with others.

During exercise the brain produces more serotonin and dopamine – two mood enhancing chemicals – within just 10 minutes of moderate activity!

Hmmm – what if we are able to combine these two brain boosting activities – movement and positivity?


Enjoyment: the first key to a time efficient exercise program

What are we missing out on when we find ways to just get through a workout?  When we endure, even simply witness on a reality show, a boot camp style exercise instructor yelling and insulting to motivate?  When we take a walk with a good friend and complain the whole time?  When our minds are filled with self-criticism because the person on the next treadmill has the body of a supermodel?

It is time we eliminate exercise induced shame and anxiety.  Let’s use this great science and multiply the benefits of movement:

  • Listen to inspiring positive music or watch inspiring videos, like TED talks while exercising
  • Exercise with a close friend and make a pact to listen mindfully and be encouraging
  • Take a beauty walk – notice the beauty around you, stay curious, open, mindful
  • Take a gratitude walk – listing all the things you are grateful for along the way
  • Support only gym or class environments that are encouraging and uplifting
  • Listen to an audiobook on a subject you really enjoy
  • Vow to inspire others to enjoy exercise and movement
  • Practice random acts of kindness while doing a physical activity
  • Practice Loving Kindness Meditation or mindfulness while stretching
  • Volunteer to help someone in need clean their yard or home, walk their dog, etc.
  • Participate in a fund-raising walk/run for a cause you feel passionate about

In one of Susan O’Malley’s blogs on dealing with the grief of her mother’s passing she wrote:  “The act of doing something, however simple, is transformational. I’m renewed in my belief in the process, and I can hear my mom tell me ” if it takes more energy to frown than be happy, trick your brain and smile.

Let’s be clear – positivity is not Pollyanna.  It is not about putting the tough stuff in our blind spot.  It is simply using our human ability to choose where we put our thoughts. It is the brains job to look for real or potential problems to solve.  This means we will most likely go to a negative thought when our mind wanders.  Choosing to focus on gratitude, beauty and connection in a given moment is simply using this science to promote health and strengthen our resiliency.

This is a practice for true well-being.  It is a life-long journey.  We can start (and restart) the practice at any time.

Imagine the effect of our momentary decisions to move with positivity. Each of us in a more calm, optimistic state of mind means our children, families, marriages, workplaces, community’s benefit from us taking the best care of ourselves.

The ripple effect is immeasurable…