With five children and three energetic dogs, who has the time to run a 5k, eat a pack of berries or try a new recipe? Even when Mom isn’t across the country, making time for exercise isn’t always easy.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the average American is significantly less physically active than he or she should be to meet the Healthy People 2020 goal of 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. “People frequently have it in their heads that they are ‘supposed’ to be too busy to exercise,” said Cameron Johnson, a physical activity physiologist in the Division of Population Health, CDC. “While it can sometimes be difficult to fit in time for exercise, it doesn’t have to be.”
Exercise can improve your mood, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and increase your ability to think clearly, especially after you do an activity such as walking the dog. It’s also something you can control and improve your health. For most people, exercise doesn’t have to be hard — you just need to add at least 30 minutes to your day each day. Here are some ways to incorporate physical activity into your busy lifestyle.
Plan a convenient time each day to exercise
Instead of making the decision to exercise, make the decision to do it. This means starting to establish a schedule for weekly walks with the family. “The earlier you start to incorporate physical activity, the more likely you are to succeed,” Johnson said.
Try the following ideas:
• During lunchtime, meet your child or run errands together.
• During the day, stop to catch up with a friend or catch up on a date that you didn’t get to last night.
• Take time to relax by riding your bike or walking to work.
Do away with distractions and think clearly
Becoming physically active may mean spending less time thinking about how many tabs you need to check before you can get a minute of sleep. Rather than eating just one thing, choose a variety of foods to make your overall diet healthier.
“It can be helpful to take in a spoonful of vegetables for a snack rather than just one,” Johnson said. “Choosing the right food will be an important part of eating well.”
Tackling persistent obesity can be another step toward improving overall health. Weight is one of the most common causes of exercise-induced health problems, says the CDC. And in order to lose weight, exercise is a key factor.
“Making sure you make an effort to move is a good place to start for overweight or obese adults and children,” Johnson said. “Exercise is the key to creating a healthy weight and functioning in the world.”
Manage the reward cycle that leads to inactivity
Children see a carrot in the form of a food reward for doing the right thing, Johnson said. Parents need to find a way to prevent these food rewards without influencing the behavior of children.
“Exercise can be rewarding for kids, so it’s important that parents make sure it’s motivational and also realistic,” Johnson said. “Kids often get the idea that if they work out, they will automatically get a treat. “Not every activity leads to a reward, but focusing on exercise should not be derailed by treat-related excitement. “This motivates your children to continue with the exercise in the future,” Johnson said.
As a parent, the best way to encourage children to be physically active is to create a rewards system that is appropriate for the situation, Johnson said. You can learn more about healthy rewards on the Obesity Council’s website.
You should make sure your children have access to a bathroom and consider options such as water stations and energy bars instead of sugary treats.
“Kids want the positive reinforcement for their behavior,” Johnson said. “Exercise is a powerful motivator. It gives kids a sense of accomplishment and achievements.”
For health benefits you can control and benefits you can control, make adding 30 minutes to your day a priority. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity (walking or biking) every day, but the number can vary greatly based on personal circumstances. Don’t try to fit it all in at once. Rather, include 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day (voluntary activity that’s engaging and fun) and try new healthy activities.