"I don't have time to exercise." So now what?


Every so often, a reader mistakes me for an Agony Aunt and emails me a fitnessy-related crisis to solve for them. To you, MM reader, I say: well done. A problem shared is a problem halved, and all that.

This week, I received the below:

When am I supposed to exercise? I actually just DON’T have the time. I live out way out west of Sydney and have to get up at 5:30 to get ready and get to work on time.

I usually work through lunchtime and then don’t get home until about 7pm. When I get home, I have to cook dinner for my partner and I, and then clean everything up. I also do uni by correspondence so that’s something I usually do at night too.

If I ever have spare time, I like to use it to relax. And I don’t want to cut back on sleep or get up earlier or anything – I don’t sleep enough as it is!

I also don’t want to join a gym because it’s too expensive. So, apart from weekends, when I usually get in a bit of running, when am I supposed to exercise??

– MM Reader

Now. I know that many personal trainers call bullshit on the whole “I don’t have time to exercise” thing. That there are 168 hours in a week and that everybody can give up at least four of them to dedicate to cardio/strength training/whatevs.

I disagree. Sometimes, life is complicated and there is no time. I know the feeling and I know it well. Sometimes, life is frantic and the wheels just fall off and there is no time to think about what to have for lunch, let alone whether you can attend yoga class.

I hate those days. When you find yourself crawling into bed far past your bedtime and you don’t so much fall asleep as just pass out. When you’re at an airport already ten minutes late for your flight, buying lunch (in the form of potato chips) at the newsagent because you haven’t eaten in 18 hours. When your husband has gone away and your kids have been screaming and fighting for six hours and all you can do is collapse on the kitchen floor with a glass of wine.

Sometimes, entire weeks can disappear past me in a blur of late nights and early mornings, assessments and work tasks. And unfortunately, for the great majority of us, convenience is not on our side. We don’t have a home gym, or a gym membership, or a personal trainer to turn up on our doorstep every morning to do a quick 20-minute workout before work.

Don’t have time to run? I understand.

So, in summary – I understand. I do. And here are my suggestions for you:


1. Incidental exercise is where it’s at.

There’s a reason people are so wrecked after children’s birthday parties. All that organisation, all that running around after the children to make sure Dylan doesn’t eat the dinosaur cake before it’s cake time, all that moving of tables and refilling cordial jugs and baking chicken nuggets… Exhausting.

The problem is that we’ve gotten to a point, especially in the city, where incidental exercise is no longer a huge part of our lives. We don’t have to walk long distances, we don’t have to chase woolly mammoths for dinner, we don’t have to physically go outside and call the children in for dinner. We just get the train/go to Woollies/use our phones instead.

By incorporating more physicality into your everyday activities, you’ll get that little bit fitter while not spending too much extra time. Best way to do it – think about everything you do each day and change it up so that little bit more effort is required.

– Get the bus to work? Get off one or two stops early and walk. While you’re on it, stand up rather than sitting down.

– Get the bus home? Try running instead. It takes me an hour to commute on the bus and yet only an extra 15 minutes if I run. Sydney traffic and silly bus routes and all that. Just jump in the shower when you get home.

– Going to the shops? Purposely park as far away as possible.

– There’s a lift? Take the stairs.

– There’s a walking route with hills, or one without? Take the one with.

– On the phone? Do laps around your house while speaking instead of sitting down.


– Watching TV? Do planks, push-ups, sit-ups and crunches in the commercial breaks.

– Making dinner? Do yoga poses while you’re at it.

Don’t stress. You don’t necessarily need a gym.

2. When you actually have time to exercise – make it easy for yourself.

Think about how easily a trip to the gym can eat up two hours out of your day when you’re only doing a 45-minute-long group fitness class. You have to get dressed (in something that’s suitable to be worn in public), you have to drive there, you have to park, you have to go drop your stuff in a locker, you have to do the class, then you’ll probably stand around chatting for awhile, then you have to drive back home, shower, etc etc.

All of it’s time that you can’t afford to waste, so try and minimise the time spent on exercise. A good way to do this is by staying at home to exercise – there’s a bunch of suggestions here. Doing an app workout or a DVD might only take 15 – 30 minutes and you can stay in your undies and travel no further than your lounge room.

3. If all else fails, working out for 4 minutes actually has some benefit.

Yes, really. If you just spend four minutes sprinting up and down a hill, it has the same result as doing interval training for 30 minutes. Find more info here – but make sure you keep up the weekend exercise and longer periods of exercise when you can.

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

You’re just doing your best. In the end, we’re all just doing our best. Well done you. xxx

What do you do when you’re having one of those “I don’t have time to exercise” weeks? How do you find time to exercise?

The Athlete’s Foot want you to get out of the house and get involved in the 2013 running season. For the next fourteen weeks, you can Tweet or Instagram a picture/post/video of yourself pounding the pavement with the hashtag #IDIDIT for your chance to win a free fitting and pair of running shoes from The Athlete’s Foot. Oh, and don’t forget to tag @theathletesfootaustralia. Visit the website for more details. Happy running!