How can I exercise when I have no time?

Holly S. Andersen, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
“I don’t have the time” is not an excuse. Just 10 minutes is better than nothing. Walk, take the stairs, get up from your desk, and move around. Don’t sit at your desk all day. Today, people have standing desks because sitting is so bad for our health. I have dumbbells in my office so that I can do something between appointments.
There are two ways to go given a situation where there is a perception of no time. The first is to try and incorporate some exercise into your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator and park your car a little further away from you office so you get more walking time in.

The other important thing to re-evaluate is your time. Time is filled with obligations and priorities. If exercise is a priority then it's important to figure out how to re-prioritize. It may also be important to actually 'look' at how you are spending your time to see if it's efficient or to see if there might be gaps where you could put in some exercise.

In a recent report from the Centers of Disease Control, ‘lack of time’ was a listed as one of the top barriers to physical activity.  Many technological advances and modern-day conveniences have made our lives easier and (as a result) less physically active.

Here’s some suggestions to overcome this barrier:

Identify available time slots. Monitor your daily activities for one week. Identify at least three 30-minute time slots you could use for physical activity.

Add physical activity to your daily routine. For example, walk or ride your bike to work or shopping, organize school activities around physical activity, walk the dog, exercise while you watch TV, park farther away from your destination, etc.

Select activities requiring minimal time, such as walking, jogging, or stair climbing.

Another strategy is to further investigate how you perceive time.  Time is a resource, much like money.  And you have the power to decide exactly how that resource is spent.  By clarifying your goals, and most importantly identifying WHY you want to achieve them, you’ll create an emotion.  And there’s nothing more powerful than emotions to motivate you to prioritize how you spend your resources – including time.

Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.  ~Edward Stanley

Research has shown that three 10 minute bouts of exercise a day is just as beneficial as one 30 minute bout of exercise for improving general health.  Breaking up exercise into three 10 bouts a day is more manageable and so perhaps you will be more willing to do it.  Can you for example (if you have stairs in your house) go up and down the stairs for 10 minutes before work?  Then at your lunch break, go for a 10 minute walk. And finally take another 10 minute (scenic route) walk to your car in the evening.  Get creative and think outside the box.  Once you get into a routine, the "feel good" benefits of exercise will probably motivate you to do more.

Where there's a will there's a way.  If exercise is important to you, you will find time. Just like you find time for other commitments, exercise deserves the same respect.   Write it in your calender and honor the time commitment like you would any other appointment.  How important is being healthy and active to you?

I hear this excuse a lot when I meet people for the first time.  People always say they are so busy with their work and family life that they have no time to workout.  I beg to differ on this.  When I meet people and look at their lives I see they have plenty of time they are just putting priorities on other things than their health.  Did you know the average person watches 8 hours and 15 minutes of tv per week.  I think that is plenty enough time to get a workout in several times per week and get healthy.  Even if you did 30 minutes a day to workout that still leaves you with 4 hours and 45 minutes for anything else.  Really how important is your health to you?  Bottom line it is all about time management.  You just need to plan out your day so you can fit your workouts in and you will get great results and feel great.

Everyone has the time to work out. Be it for 10 minutes 3 times a day or simply waking up 30 minutes earlier. If you are finding yourself stretched really thin on time everyday you may want to evaluate your days and see if there isn't something you can delegate out to someone, or make better use of the down-time you do have.

Whichever the case here are a few simple changes you can make. At work.. park at the back of the lot and walk, same for grocery shopping or going to the mall.

Turn off the TV, or if you must watch it you can do squats, crunches, jumping jacks or any other stationary exercise while watching your program or even during the commercials.

If you work in a multi-level building, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator.

When doing yard work, think of ways to incorporate exercises into your movements: picking up leaves or grass? squat instead of bend over (this is better for your back anyway). Get creative.

I hope this helps give you some ideas to incorporate fitness into your packed schedule!

The best tool for many of my clients usually not a treadmill, a set of dumbbells, or a new pair of sneakers. In many cases, it winds up being a daily planner. For about $10 or $15 you can get more control over your daily routine and find the time (30-60 minutes) to invest into yourself for exercise.

Try this: For one week, write down everything you do (I MEAN EVERYTHING-coffee breaks, food shopping-laundry-chatting on the phone-EVERYTHING), no matter how small or insignificant…and no matter how silly it seems. Then once you see how much time you spend on certain activities, you can begin to prioritize what can be done at what time or what can be eliminated. I am not saying you have to be a time management machine, but if you are honest with yourself, I am sure you can find time for exercise. Maybe combine some activities to save time and be more productive or consider eliminating some of the activities that have a lack of activity, like time in front of the television.

I assure you once you try using a daily planner you will have more control over your “time constraints” and you find time for exercising. Remember time is our most precious commodity, spend it wisely, because once it is gone you cannot get it back. Good Luck!


Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics

There are ways to exercise without a formal program. All you need is as little as ten minutes. Here are some ways to incorporate exercise into your life:

  1. Walk during your child's sports practice or arrive a little early to pick them up and walk in the area until they get to the car.
  2. Park farther away at the grocery store and before you actually start shopping, take a stroll around the store.
  3. Call someone and walk around your house as you talk.
  4. Take the stairs as often as possible at work.
  5. Take ten minutes on your lunch break and find a place to walk. 
  6. Put your child in the stroller and take a walk every day.
  7. Find a walking partner because when you walk with someone, it's less like exercise.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
When it comes to working out, most of us have two excuse cards we play: We have the ace of "no time" and the jack of "it's not convenient." Now, I know you're busier than Grand Central Station at 5 p.m. I know you're juggling more balls than a 12-armed clown. I know it's easier to sit on the couch than do a push-up on the floor.

But I also know this: Time and convenience aren't excuses. First of all, you don't need a whole lot of time (30 minutes to walk a day and 30 minutes a week to do some resistance training). If you don't have the time to do that, then you have to be willing to admit that the problem is not that the fact you're out of time, but that your life is so out of control that you can't budget enough time for your health and your well-being.

And secondly, you don't need a gym or fancy equipment; heck, it takes more time to drive to the gym and change clothes than it does to actually work out. In fact, you can use your body as your weights to lift. It sure beats spending your workout time waiting at the exercise machine for someone to finish their issue of Quilting Quarterly. Yes, it's easy to say you're too tired, too stressed, too busy, too this, or too that. I say, too bad. The only way you'll strip away the fat is to start by stripping away the excuses.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

More About this Book

YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers...
No time to exercise? That's no longer a good enough excuse for skipping the physical activity we all need. Here are four great exercises you can do in two minutes or less each. Squeeze them in throughout your day:
  • When you're at the supermarket, get your shopping cart and push it -- empty -- around the perimeter of the store before you begin shopping. If you're used to a bit of exercise, wait until the cart is half-full and then push it around the store circuit. And don't get side-tracked in the bakery section!
  • Use a stability ball to build strength safely while doing squats. Place the ball behind your back, against a wall. With hands on hips, bend your knees slowly, as far as is comfortable, then return to a standing position. (Don't let your knees move past your toes.) As you do this exercise, the stability ball rolls along with you, making the movement easier. You can do this at home, in the gym or in the office -- the stability ball makes a great chair as well and helps you burn a few more calories while you're seated.
  • Boost your balance by stepping over a small plastic cone, soup can or child's beach bucket. Stand about 6 inches behind the cone. Lift one leg and step over slowly, transferring weight to the front foot. Then lift the other leg and step over. Step back over the cone the same way, one leg at a time. Repeat 10 times. When this exercise becomes easy, add a side-stepping movement or increase the height of object, up to 12 inches high.
  •  If you live in a two-story house or an apartment building with several floors or you work in an office with a stairwell, you have all the equipment you need for a great two-minute workout. Climb those steps! When you do, you burn more calories per minute than when jogging and can get good cardiovascular benefits as well. Make multiple trips up and down at a moderate pace, breathe regularly and be sure to rest if you feel any discomfort. When using an enclosed, public-access staircase, you may want to bring an exercise buddy along for safety and companionship.

Continue Learning about Types Of Exercise

Americans Urged to Move More, Sit Less
Americans Urged to Move More, Sit Less
Americans need to move more and sit less. That’s been the clear-cut message from government health officials since they issued physical activity guide...
Read More
How should I exercise if I am middle-aged?
Int'l Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)Int'l Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)
Doing more than 200 minutes of vigorous exercise per week will help protect your arteries, especiall...
More Answers
How do I perform tubing triceps extension?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
Stand with your feet pointed straight ahead and placed shoulder-width apart.  Keeping your knees sli...
More Answers
Why Is Stretching Important?
Why Is Stretching Important?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.