How to sneak more exercise into your routine

We all know why exercise is good for us, but getting enough to enjoy all those health benefits can be a challenge. Incorporating regular physical activity — let alone more of it — into our lifestyles can be hampered by a lack of time, energy and motivation.

So what’s the solution? You don’t have to have lofty exercise goals like joining a gym or training for a marathon. There are many ways to get the activity you need, and it may take less time than you think.

Exercise: What do you and your family require?

You’ve likely heard the buzz about the revised physical activity guidelines, courtesy of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), that tell us what targets to meet to enjoy benefits like maintaining a healthy weight and reducing our risk of chronic diseases. Here’s what experts are recommending now:

– Children ages 5-11 and youth ages 12-17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, including vigorous activities at least three days a week and activities that strengthen muscles and bones three days each week.

The CSEP’s Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth also recommends limiting leisure time on TV and computers to no more than two hours a day as well as cutting down on time spent indoors, sedentary transportation and time spent sitting.

– Adults aged 18-64 need a total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, and bone and muscle strengthening exercises should be included at least two days a week — preferably targeting all the main muscle groups.

To get even more health benefits or to lose weight, you’ll have to up that number to 300 minutes per week.

– Adults aged 65 and up should follow the same recommendations as younger adults, but with one addition: include activities that help improve balance and prevent falls if mobility is an issue.

And no, we’re not getting away with less. While the old requirements recommended 60 minutes per day, that time amount was for light to moderate activity. The harder you work, the less time you need — and the more benefits you’ll see. The CSEP’s guidelines are in keeping with other organizations across the globe, including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How to up your activity

Does 150 minutes still sound like a lot? Remember, those minutes are cumulative and even 10 minutes at a time will help you see health benefits. For instance, start your day with a brisk 15-minute walk and you’ll bank 105 minutes a week.

Need some more ideas? Here are some simple ways to work more exercise into your routine:

Ditch your car. Can you bike or walk to work, run errands or visit friends and family? Leave the car at home and power your own mode of transportation.

Same goes for the youngsters: the CSEP recommends getting the neighbourhood kids together to walk or cycle to school instead of getting a ride. Parents and care providers can tag along to up their activity too.

Go the extra distance. When you do take the car, sneak in some extra steps by parking farther from your destination — like a few blocks away or at the back of the parking lot. If you normally rely on public transportation, get off early and walk a few stops. Are you a regular subway rider? Take stairs instead of the escalator.

Take a break. The majority of office workers spend too much time sitting. Give yourself a mental and physical break by walking around the block or even just around your building — and take the stairs if possible. (Hint: stash a sturdy pair of walking shoes in your desk so you’ll always be prepared.)

Walk the dog for longer. Don’t just give Fido a quick bathroom break — go for at least 10 minutes. Once you’re out the door, you’ll likely find you want to keep going.

Walk the mall. Doing a little shopping? Make a brisk lap or two around the mall before tackling your list. Malls are a safe, climate controlled place to walk any time of year, and many cities have mall walking groups too.

Multi-task. Waiting for the pot or kettle to boil? Do a few reps of a muscle strengthening exercise or a few simple stretches. While watching your favourite sitcom, walk or jog on the spot and get in some strength building.

Do it yourself. Believe it or not, chores are good for you. Shovel the snow, rake the leaves instead of using a blower, wash and wax your car and keep up with the regular housework, for example. Experts note that kids can get more activity by helping out too.

Help a neighbour. After you’ve tackled your own chores, help out a friend or neighbour who could use a hand.

Pop in a video. Hit the video store or library to check out some exercise DVDs, or use your on-demand service or DVR to try a new show. Fitness company websites and are also good for short videos like yoga, muscle toning and new dance moves.

Play a video game. There’s still some controversy as to whether active video games improve fitness levels, but the consensus is that any activity is better than no activity. Many games appeal to a wide age range so they can be fun to play with the kids and grandkids.

Go social. “Exercise buddies” can help us stay motivated and make activities more enjoyable. Instead of going for coffee, make a regular walking date with friends or take a fun fitness class like belly dancing or Zumba. Look for all-ages sports like pickleball or badminton that you can play with the youngsters in your life.

If you’re visiting someone with special needs — like a friend or relative in a long-term care facility — make a short walk part of the your visit too.

Join a group. If team sports aren’t your thing, find a regular activity better suited to your interests. For instance, many cities have running groups (perfect for parents with strollers) or hiking clubs. You can even find fitness where you least expect it — like heritage walking tours.

Make it a date. Take a break from movie night and go dancing, take a romantic walk along the beach or roller blade through the park.

Celebrate with an activity. Got a special occasion coming up? Go rock climbing or play laser tag for a birthday party, or host a family reunion at the park — complete with sports and games for all ages.

Train for a fundraiser. Whether you walk, run or cycle, supporting a good cause gives you a goal to work towards — and to get others involved!

Getting more activity in your life may not be easy at first, but it doesn’t have to be all that complicated either. Trying making some of these activities into habits, and finding other small ways to get up and move.

Download the new Canadian guidelines the CESP website.

For more information about living an active lifestyle, visit our Fitness section.

Additional sources: CBC News, Health Canada, ParticipACTION Blog, Public Health Agency of Canada,, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The World Health Organization.

How do you stay fit? Share your tips in the comments!