Fitting in exercise can be tricky, I know. Everyone wants to know how to stay fit when you’re trying to do (and have) it all at work, at home, and in your social life. I understand the struggle. I’ve spent years figuring out the best way to fit fitness into my schedule, and I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.
1. Make it a priority.
This is the first thing you have to do if you want to know how to stay fit when you’ve got a full schedule. None of the following tips will make a difference if you don’t do this first. I consider exercise my “me time.” It’s the only chunk of the day I can focus solely on myself, subconsciously work through whatever issues I’m dealing with, and just connect with my body.
For several years in college, I didn’t consider my fitness to be as important as my studies or friends, but I ended up feeling exhausted, self-conscious, and stressed out. Once I changed my priorities around, I was confident in myself, had the energy to participate in extracurricular activities, and still managed to stay on the Dean’s list.
2. Stop making excuses.
I know life happens, and there are times that the gym just won’t happen, but I also know that 90% of the time we’re making excuses. I know because I used to do that too. The best way to stop the excuses, aside from actually prioritizing your fitness, is to address the real reason you’re reluctant to exercise. Are you scared because exercise is a foreign concept to you? Are you intimidated by the other gym goers? Are you afraid you’ll fail? Figure out what the true problem is, and work through it so you can stop saying you just don’t know how to stay fit.
3. Set health and fitness goals.
One of my favorite ways to stay fit when I have a million things going on is to add some new, exciting health and fitness goals. At the start of every month, I write down what my goals are and tape them on the fridge so I’ll see them constantly. Typically, my goals are working out a set number of days for the month, running a certain number of miles, trying out a new fitness class, or removing a certain food from my diet.
Having new goals every month helps me stay motivated on the days when all I want is to lie face down on floor for three hours (you know you’ve been there.) You can also set smaller goals, like beating your PR on your next run, or larger goals, like completing a half marathon. Choose the goals that will fire you up the most, and you’ll be amazed at how much time you suddenly have to exercise.
4. Learn to better manage your time.
Time management is one of the most important skills in life. You need to learn to maximize your time if you want to be productive and active. This means don’t waste an hour combing through Instagram when you need to finish a report for work. If you waste that hour, then you have to take time later to do your work, and that’s one less hour you have to do the things you want. Stop wasting your time, focus on the task in front of you, and take control of your life. In addition to managing your time, you need to create a workout schedule that works with everything else in your life.
I schedule my workouts for 5 a.m. every weekday and 8 or 9 a.m. on the weekends (so I can sleep in a little bit). There are days when I have to move it around to lunch or after work, but that’s okay because I plan to do that ahead of time. Figure out when you like to work out the most, schedule it in, and then stick to the schedule (unless something really, really important comes up).
5. Try shorter, more intense workouts.
Instead of attempting to block out a whole hour on a hectic day, try breaking your workout up into smaller chunks of time. This makes scheduling a little easier and can also prevent exhaustion or injury. When I do this, I do 30 minutes of cardio in the morning before work, and then do weight training or yoga after work. Your schedule might not work for this on a daily basis, but keep it in mind for those days when obligations or sleep mess up your plans.
6. Work out while watching TV.
Squeezing exercise into your schedule doesn’t always have to mean giving up your favorite TV shows. You can definitely multitask. The next time you use the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, watch one of your favorite shows at the same time. You can utilize the TVs provided in your gym if you want, but I recommend using a tablet to stream your preferred show. If you want to watch TV and do strength training, then follow a TV show workout inspired by the show (or make up your own). You can also read a book while on the stationary bike if TV isn’t really your thing.
7. Wake up earlier.
If I hear someone say they don’t “have the time” to exercise one more time, I might literally flip a table. Okay, that’s a lie. I will go do some annoyed burpees though. Finding the time to work out is as simple as waking up earlier. It’s not always easy to rise earlier, but if you’re committed to being healthy, then you’ll find a way to wake up.
Go to bed earlier in the evening so you don’t lose precious hours of sleep, and set yourself up for pre-dawn success. Sleep in your gym clothes. Schedule your coffee pot to start 10 minutes before you need to be up so the smell can pull you away from the comfy pillows. Place your alarm clock on the other side of the room to force yourself out of bed. I promise you can wake up earlier.
8. Make it a social event.
The gym is never as enticing as hanging out with your friends, and I know how easy it is to skip working out altogether so that you don’t miss out. There’s one easy way to make exercise more fun however, and that’s making it time you spend with friends.
When I was in college, a good friend and I decided we’d learn how to stay fit together by working out together every day. We went to fitness classes, lifted weights, and suffered through the elliptical side-by-side for two years. I was much more excited to exercise when I knew I had someone to chat with during the reps. I was never much of a runner until I started meeting up with friends and family to go with. Now I look forward to meeting my brother at the trail for a long run and a little friendly competition.
9. Sneak activity in when you can.
If I’ve learned anything in my brief 24 years, it’s that I can’t always control my schedule. Sometimes there’s a social event or work engagement that can’t be missed and you have to skip the gym. It’s okay when this happens; just try to squeeze in a little more activity throughout the day.
Park further away from the door. Take the stairs. Do some calf raises when standing in line. Stand up and stretch every now and then. It won’t burn 500 calories, but it will help you feel better about missing the gym.
10. Follow a healthy meal plan.
No matter how much you work out, you won’t see any improvements if you continue to eat unhealthy foods and portions. Stick to fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains so you’re not consuming more calories than you’re expending and your body receives the fuel it needs to complete your exercises. You can still treat yourself every now and then, but try to maintain an overall healthy diet.
11. Meal prep ahead of time.
One of the hardest parts of being busy is not having a ton of time to cook those elaborate, healthy meals every single night. I’ve found that taking time to meal prep once or twice a week can make all the difference between staying on track and finding yourself at the McDonald’s drive-thru.
I try to meal prep on Sundays so I have meals to last through Wednesday, and then meal prep Wednesday evening for the rest of the week. Breaking up the meal prepping is more manageable in terms of time and reduces the chance of wasting food.
12. Track your steps.
Even if you think you’re exceptionally active, you should find a way to track your activity if you really want to learn how to stay fit. I work a desk job, so I spend a large portion of my day sitting, and even though I devote an hour every morning to exercising, I don’t naturally walk as much as I should. When I invested in a Fitbit, I quickly learned I need to walk more. Now I check my steps daily, and I’m more conscious of how much I move throughout the day. If you want to increase your steps, take five or 10-minute breaks to walk around your office or around the building. Doing this every hour or two hours can add up and improve your overall health.
This article originally appeared on Earn Spend Live.