Exercise doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition to deliver good results. With just a minute here and five minutes there, you can end the week with calorie burning that makes a difference. The key to sneak exercise into your day is to create intensity-increasing habits that are built into you day. If you're committed to certain "to do's" every day -- laundry, grocery shopping, banking, house cleaning, even meetings and meals -- why not sneak in a few exercises while you're doing these activities?
Here are 10 ways to get fit, bit by bit. You don't have to spend a dime or find much more time!
1. Practise proper posture
By making an effort to stand tall and proud, you contract dozens of muscles from your legs up to your neck. Muscle contraction burns calories and builds muscle. Whether you're ironing, doing dishes, or standing in a lineup at the bank, concentrate on keeping a solid stance, a slight bend in your knees, an open chest (i.e. standing tall, not slouched), with shoulders depressed and head up. Not only does proper posture provide exercise but it helps you feel better too -- more confident and poised.
2. Step it up
Health Canada encourages Canadians to TAKE THE STAIRS. Whether you work or live in a building with stairs, ditch the elevator and/or escalator and climb your way to a fitter you. An average 160-pound person can burn about 50 calories climbing up stairs for four minutes. If that person continues to take the stairs for the same length of time five days a week, by the end of the year he or she burns about 12,700 calories (or about four pounds of fat). If there are too many stairs to climb in order to reach your destination, start by climbing up one or two flights before hopping on the elevator. Health Canada's Stairway to Health online calculator (stairway.hc-sc.gc.ca/calcalc.aro) offers a fun way to see how even little efforts pay off in a big way over time.
3. Leg it to laundry
Whether you're folding clothes, ironing or waiting for the rinse cycle, captive time is ideal for adding in some lovely leg work. Stand and perform 10 to 15 plié squats (think ballerina). Position your heels just beyond shoulder width with your toes rotated out to 45 degrees. As you drop into your squat, keep your knees in line with your toes and make sure your head, shoulders, and hips align or "stack up" as you drop down. To return to starting position, squeeze the muscles in your butt as you stand tall.
4. Squeeze to please
Your gluteus maximus -- affectionately known as your "butt" -- is the largest muscle group in the body. Fire it up and you'll burn calories. Whether you're standing or sitting, an invisible butt squeeze (tighten, hold for two seconds, release) repeated 10 to 15 times, one to three times a day, will tighten your tush and burn additional calories. Remind yourself to practise proper posture and push through your chest as you return to the starting position. Aim for 10 or more repetitions.
5. Back to basics
Imagine you're squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades and you have to hold the muscles tight so the pencil doesn't fall. It doesn't take long before the muscles in your back start to fatigue, does it? Any time you re-align your posture, sit or stand a bit taller, and avoid a slumped posture, you're exercising your back and core muscles.
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6. Push up bra-vo!
Did you know that five pushups work over seven different muscles and burns up to 10 calories? Not only do pushups target chest muscles, but they shape shoulders and tighten core muscles too. If you don't want to "get down and gimme five," place you hands on the edge of your desk or the back of your couch, step back far enough so your body is at about a 45-degree angle to the floor, then lower your body.
7. Do the can-can
Before you open up a couple of cans of soup at mealtime, do a few lateral raises to tone your shoulders. Holding a can in each hand, stand tall with your arms at your sides. Lift your arms up so your arms and body form a "T" pose. The cans add weight for resistance, so if you're feeling strong, choose chunky soups. Try 10 to 15 repetitions. One set will take you all of 30 seconds to complete.
8. Bring on biceps and bags
The next time you're carrying your grocery bags to your car, perform a series of biceps curls as you do. Keep your elbows at your sides and palms up as you hold the handles. Curl your groceries toward your shoulders. Lower and repeat until you get to your car or until your biceps tire out. Need more of a challenge? Park further away from the store's entrance.
9. Dine and dip
Every chair is a triceps-working machine waiting to tighten and tone your arms. Before you start each meal, grasp the front of your seat (knuckles facing forwards,) hoist your body weight into your arms, inch your behind over the edge of the chair and lower yourself down into a dip down and then push into your arms to come back up. Drop down 20 to 30 centimetres, keep shoulders square and solid, and extend through your spine (as if you're running it along the chair edge). Kill the jigglies by doing as many repetitions as you can.
10. Abandon the snack run
When it's commercials time, skip the trip to the fridge, and sneak in a set of crunches instead. Lie on the floor, tighten your abdominals, and then perform your favourite abdominal exercise 10 to 15 times. You'll be burning off during break time instead of adding on.
For more ways to sneak exercise into your day, visit Fitness Jumpsite's Calorie Calculator. Enter your body weight and the duration of your exercise and it'll display a list of hundreds of activities and how many calories you can burn. Find your activity (or a reasonable facsimile) and record your success.
Michelle Cederberg is president of Live Out Loud Fitness and Wellness Consulting. She helps people find more balance and success in fitness, work, and life. She believes that new exercisers should start small and turn activity into a habit so that success and enjoyment stay in the mix. For more information on how to become fit, bit by bit, check out www.liveoutloud.ca.
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