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How to Fit Exercise into a Busy Daily Routine

Making time for daily exercise is all about timing, enjoyment, and efficiency.

Last Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Exercise in a Daily Routine

Research tells us that regular physical exercise contributes to significantly better physical and mental health. While something like obesity may seem like an American issue, it has become a global pandemic, with over 1.9 billion people worldwide currently facing increased health risks and comorbidities.¹ And that includes more than 39 million children under the age of five. Exercise plays a critical role in the prevention of obesity and several chronic diseases, including:¹

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis

However, finding the time in a busy lifestyle to fit in daily workouts can sometimes seem next to impossible. With only so many hours in a day, how can you balance your work routine, family responsibilities, and social life and manage to get in time at the gym every day?

It’s more doable than you imagine and only requires thinking just a bit outside the box. You do not need a gym membership, special equipment, or a personal trainer to incorporate physical activity into your life. All you need is commitment.

The six tips below can help you fit exercise into your daily routine — whether you’re an on-the-go business executive, a retiree, a single mom, or a harried college student. By incorporating just 30 minutes to an hour a day of physical activity, you can potentially extend your life by years. Your health matters — not just to you but also to your loved ones.

Jump to:

Efficiency is key
Find what you enjoy
Use competition to your benefit
Commit to a schedule
Keep track of your progress
Don’t let perfection hold you back
Easy exercises for on-the-go fitness
References

Efficiency is key

When incorporating physical activity into a busy lifestyle, efficiency is critical. You want to choose an activity that can be done anywhere, at any time. Of course, if you have a rowing machine or Peloton at home, that can certainly make things easier. But for those who don’t, having a simple workout routine that you can accomplish in a hotel room, office space, or bedroom is both efficient and convenient. And it removes all excuses about skipping regular exercise.

At the end of this guide, you’ll find a few easy exercises for on-the-go fitness. They require no equipment or assistance and are effective for novices and seasoned fitness experts. In addition to these simple exercises, other options for efficient workouts include:

Find what you enjoy

There’s nothing more challenging than making yourself do something you don’t enjoy, so why would exercise be any different? If you dislike running, nothing will make you suddenly love doing it daily. On the other hand, when you find a physical activity you enjoy, there is much more incentive to do it.

Finding your chosen physical activity requires a little self-evaluation. What did you enjoy doing as a kid? What activities seem interesting to you today? Some people don’t like bodyweight exercises but thrive when dancing alone in a room — with workout videos or without them.

Keep in mind: finding what you enjoy does not mean finding what you’re “good at.” You may find rock climbing inspiring, but you’ve never attempted it. Take that inspiration and let it feed you.

Find resources on how rock climbers train, and start there. If you’ve always wanted to be a swimmer but sink like a rock — look into local swim classes and start from a completely blank slate.

Being good at any sport or physical activity is entirely irrelevant when you consider the reward you get from investing your time in something that gives you pleasure and moves you. Someone unskilled at tennis who spends days on the court practicing sets a great example — they’re doing something they enjoy and getting lifelong health benefits from it.

Use competition to your benefit

Whether you’re competing with yourself or others, there’s something to be said about motivation from competition. In clinical studies, researchers have shown that competitive environments can positively impact memory and effort, although significant gender differences exist.³

If competition is a driving motivator for you, finding ways to integrate it into your exercise routine may be the key to opening new doors for your health. Some examples of how to inject competition as a motivator include:

  • Training for a running or cycling marathon
  • Preparing yourself to climb a chosen mountain
  • Engaging in competitive sports like tennis, kickboxing, or martial arts
  • Enrolling in a dance competition and preparing for the event
  • Setting goals for a specific hike and gaining the skills to do it

Commit to a schedule

There are many ways to make excuses and get out of doing something good for you. But once you establish a steady routine, things like exercise integrate into your day, becoming a part of how you function.

Are you a morning person or a night person? If you’re most invigorated in the mornings, schedule a daily walk, jog, bike ride, or training session each morning before you start your day. You’ll be in better spirits with more vigor as you step into the office.

Consider setting up your exercise schedule after work if you’re a night person. Doing so can help you burn off steam or stress before heading into the evening, feeling peaceful and relaxed. Just don’t try pushing it too far — working out too close to bedtime can impede peaceful sleep.

Keep track of your progress

Keeping track of your fitness goals has never been easier than it is today. There are more devices and phone apps for tracking steps, movements, and heart rates than one could have imagined a decade ago.

But you don’t need to be tech-savvy to monitor your progress as you start a new fitness routine. Simply jotting down notes in a calendar or journal offers enough motivation to keep you going.

By keeping track of your progress, workout length, and feelings about your experiences, you’re etching positive proof in your mind of your efforts. And as you progress and improve at any given activity or sport, you can always look back and see how far you’ve come.

Don’t let perfection hold you back

Perfectionism about performance can limit us when the truth is that doing any exercise is better than none. If you’re distressed because you don’t have time for your regular 30-minute exercise routine, do what you can with what you’ve got. If it’s five minutes of simple exercise (like the ones listed in the next section), then go for it — it’s better than nothing.

People tend to have an “all or nothing” attitude. If you don’t have time for a 30-minute workout today, it’s often too easy to call it an “off-day.” We must let go of the ego and say, “I’ll just do something now.” Something easy — something that gets your heart beating. You don’t have to run a marathon every day. You just have to do something.

Easy exercises for on-the-go fitness

There are limitless resources online for simple workouts in the office, at home, or on the go, including videos, visual graphics, and step-by-step tutorials. If you’re in any of these settings, these basic exercises can help limber you up, raise your heartbeat, and burn calories.

Below, we’ve detailed a few basic bodyweight exercises for those in a non-gym environment to get in an efficient workout that tests your muscles, balance, and endurance. Note that having a yoga mat will make these exercises easier on your back and body. Keeping a yoga mat under your desk can benefit you when you need it if you work in a cubicle.

Squat side kick

The primary focus of these exercises is their efficiency, and the squat side kick achieves several goals in one: it balances you and activates all muscles in the body. This leg- and glute-toning activity takes little time and can be done in any setting.

  1. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and lower into a half-squat.

  2. Raise your right knee to hip level, then extend it to the side (like a kickboxer).

  3. Straighten your left leg upward in the same motion.

  4. Bring yourself back to the starting position and repeat.

Low lunge hover

For another leg- and glute-toning exercise, you can perform the low lunge hover with ankle weights for an added challenge.

  1. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, step your right foot back into a lunge stance. Your left knee should be bent and sitting just above the ankle.

  2. Bring your arms over your head.

  3. Bending at the waist, bring your upper body forward so that your right foot and upper body make a straight line.

  4. Lift your right leg as you straighten your left leg.

  5. Hold this pose for three breaths and return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat as time allows.

Table twister

The table twister is a great cardio exercise in limited environments requiring no equipment.

  1. With your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees as you hinge your waist to the left.

  2. Use your arms to ground yourself as you raise your hips.

  3. Use your left hand to punch to the right, across your chest, rotating your torso.

  4. Return your left arm to the prior position and repeat with the right arm.

  5. Alternate with repetitions as time allows.

Chair twist

This exercise strengthens the thigh, butt, abdominal, and oblique muscles.

  1. Standing with your feet together, bend your knees so that you are in a sitting position, with your back upright.

  2. Reach your arms forward and then straight above you.

  3. Rotate your torso to the right and hold for three seconds.

  4. Rotate your torso to the left and hold for three seconds.

  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Side crunches

Side crunches will target all the below-the-chest muscles for building core strength and toning that six-pack.

  1. Lying on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your hands behind your head, lower your knees to the left as you crunch upward.

  2. Return to start and repeat, alternating sides.

References

[1] Obesity and overweight: Fact sheet (2021, June 9). World Health Organization. Retrieved on June 13, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight.

[2] Warburton, D., Nicol, C., and Bredin, S. (2006, March 14) Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMA Media Inc. National Library of Medicine, PubMed Central. Retrieved on June 13, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/.

[3] DiMenichi, B. and Tricomi, E. (2015, September 1). The power of competition: Effects of social motivation on attention, sustained physical effort, and learning. Frontiers in Psychology. National Library of Medicine, PubMed Central. Retrieved on June 13, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4554955/.