There’s a lyric from an old Rush song that any parent can identify with: “Too many hands on my time.”
When work and family pull you in different directions, it can be hard to find the time for the self-care and exercise that you need. But you’ll be more productive at work, more patient at home, and generally better at everything if you can exercise daily.
Luckily, there are tricks to getting it done, reliably and guilt-free. Here are our 10 favorites. But first, let’s address a major obstacle to your daily fitness routine—the permission problem.
When people “don’t have time” for fitness, it’s not because they don’t see the value or simply don’t want to exercise. It’s because they may view it as prioritizing themselves, which can feel selfish. But it’s not. Remember the last time you flew on a plane? During the safety briefing, the flight attendants reminded you to put your air mask on before you put them on your kids.
Fitness is a lot like that air mask. Keeping fit reduces your stress levels, which makes you a better spouse and parent. It improves your productivity, so you can work more efficiently and have more time for your home life. And it keeps you alive longer, giving you more healthy years with your family.
Making time for exercise is not a selfish act. Permit yourself to use the ideas below to reap the benefits of this investment in yourself.
This strategy is a classic, and you’ve probably heard it before. But it’s a classic for a straightforward reason—it works.
If you schedule your workout time for the afternoon or evening, life as a parent and an adult often means something inevitably derails your plans and you have to skip or shorten your workout. That's not your fault or your family's fault. It's just the nature of how days progress for busy people.
By contrast, if you get up before your family and get your workout done while everyone is still in bed, the chance for interruption dramatically decreases. It's just you and your exercise.
High-Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) is a style of training where you exercise in short bursts of extremely vigorous action, take a short rest, then do it again. In terms of benefits like calorie burn and increased muscle mass, it can give you the best results for minutes spent exercising.
This is a great option if you can only set aside 20-30 minutes a day for exercise. As an added benefit, high-impact workouts like H.I.I.T. tend to boost the production of testosterone, which can increase how quickly you put on muscle mass and reduce fat content in your body even while you're aren't working out.
If you’re so busy you can't dedicate time to exercise, your solution may lie in some of the household tasks that already keep you busy. Although you won't be able to get much of a workout from balancing your checking account, some of the other chores most parents face include:
Consider how you do those chores now, and think about ways to increase your speed, add weight, or simply change your motions to put a good stretch into them. It's not as good as spending an hour focused on a workout, but it’s far better than nothing. Plus, you can make the chores a little more fun.
Many busy lives lack a full hour to set aside for personal tasks but do have small stretches of dead time throughout the day. If this is your situation, consider microfitness programs like the 10-10-10 fitness plan. Under this plan, you exercise vigorously for 10 minutes three times each day. These can be a great place to incorporate some of the H.I.I.T workouts we outlined above.
You can also take time each hour throughout your workday to spend 5 minutes stretching, doing calisthenics, or practicing yoga or a martial arts routine. The details are up to you, but the idea is to get your 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise structured in a way that works for your usual schedule.
One of the challenges facing parents when finding time to work out is that each hour spent at the gym is an hour spent away from their spouse and children. You can overcome this by working out with your family.
Differences in ages and physical ability sometimes mean you need to get creative. If you and your teenage son both enjoy basketball, it's easy to shoot hoops. If your wife jogs 5 miles daily, but you don’t exercise, finding an activity to do together is challenging. The same is true for any adults with young children.
But just because it will require some creativity and resourcefulness doesn't mean it isn't a good idea. You can get your workout in and spend quality time with the people you love, building up your muscles and the most critical relationships in your life at the same time.
When picking things to do together as a family, choose activities that make you sweat a little. Instead of going to a movie; try bowling. Stroll through a museum or take a hike in the park. Plan vacations around fun but demanding activities so you can stay active even while relaxing.
If your family loves sedentary activities, you don’t have to completely abandon them. If you do go see a movie—you can incorporate a walk by parking the car farther away or combine that activity with something vigorous and make a day out of it.
Working out at lunch has been a time-honored tradition for busy professionals since the last century. It’s a way to cram a workout into the day without having to lose time with the family in the evening. This solution works great when things are easy, but it falls apart for many because of pressure to work through lunch or the temptation to skip a workout when you’re feeling unmotivated.
Enter—the lunchtime workout buddy. Find a co-worker, or a friend who works nearby, and agree to meet at the gym. This won’t mean neither of you ever has a bad day or stressful morning, but the chances of both of you suffering from poor motivation at the same time are low. They’ll encourage you to show up when your motivation is running low, and you’ll provide the same boost for them when they’re not feeling it.
Try to avoid the cliche commute. You know, the one where you drive to work, park in the space nearest to the door, ride the elevator up two stories, and generally exert as little energy as possible while getting from your front door to your desk chair. Instead, consider incorporating any of the following commute workout options:
You can do similar things while working from home, like incorporating yoga or stretching into your day, or joining meetings or calls while walking around outside. Just move whenever there’s an opportunity to move.
If you and your spouse need time to work out, and your children are too young to be left on their own, it's time to tag-team your workouts.
For example, if you each need half an hour to exercise each day, block out one hour in the evening. For the first half-hour, you play with your kids while your spouse works out. When your partner has finished, swap and get your workout in.
Scheduling an hour or more to spend this way fulfills your responsibilities to your family by making sure your kids get some good playtime with you and your spouse. It fills your responsibility to yourself by blocking out time for your wellness, fitness, and health.
Many people hire a babysitter or use on-site day care to get a little alone time at the gym or while running errands like shopping. This is a great option but leaves many parents feeling like they’ve missed out on time with their kids. You can get past this by turning the idea on its head.
Instead of hiring somebody to hang out with your kids while you work out, find the extra time by hiring somebody to do some chores. If you can, consider hiring a housekeeper or a personal assistant to help with things like cleaning and grocery shopping so you have an hour free to go to the gym. You can also entice your children to chip in with the household chores by repaying them with an allowance, a meal out, or a fun activity of their choosing that you can do together.
If you’re out of time every week, make the time by delegating tasks where you can. Then, spend that time exercising and enjoying quality time with your family.
Whatever you do, don’t try taking on all of these ideas at once. The logistics alone will eat up as much time as you save. Instead, focus on the one idea that gets your attention right now. Try it for a month.
If it works, stick with it. You can’t argue with success. If it doesn’t, try your next favorite. Keep at it until you find the one that fits best with the realities of your life.
Your work will benefit, your health will improve, and your family will be grateful for the time you spend together.
Jack Ellis is in the healthcare industry and teaches fitness classes every week.