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Ways to Fit Exercise into Your Busy Schedule

Way to Fit Exercise into Your Busy Schedule

In an ideal world we’d all be able to go to the gym three or four times a week, take a jog around the park during our lunch break, join the latest yoga or body pump class and still have time for work, play and a good night’s sleep. In reality, however, these days most people’s time is so precious, they don’t always have the luxury of spending it on exercise.

Indeed not having enough time for physical activity is a common complaint. A survey carried out by Arthritis Research UK (which now goes by the name Versus Arthritis) suggests a lack of time is the top reason people put off exercise, with 33 per cent of those polled saying they were too busy to work out (i). The charity Better has also found that lack of time is the main reason people don’t go to the gym, with almost 40 per cent skipping exercise because of a too-hectic lifestyle (ii).

However, staying active doesn’t have to take up a big chunk of time, and there are ways of fitting exercise into your day, even if you only have the odd few minutes here and there to spare.

Daily activity

First, it’s a good idea to try to be more active in general. That’s because even some of the busiest people have sedentary jobs – as many of us do – which means they spend long parts of their day sitting.

The problem is that sitting for extended periods has long been known to be harmful to health. Back in the 1950s, scientists did experiments with London bus drivers and bus conductors, and found the drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks than the conductors. The drivers, of course, spent most of their day sitting behind the wheel, while the conductors were constantly on their feet, running up and down the stairs between decks.

It isn’t just our hearts that are affected by sedentary behaviour either. Today, we have lots more information to suggest the more time we spend sitting, the more likely we are to have an increased risk of being overweight or obese, as well as developing type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

According to the NHS, this may be because when we sit for long periods of time – whether watching TV, working at a computer, reading, travelling and doing homework – our metabolism slows down. This affects our ability to regulate our blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as metabolise fat, plus it may make our muscles and bones weaker too (iii).

You could argue that getting into the habit of moving more and sitting less is a necessity, especially where health is concerned. But how do you do it? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

At work:

  • Turn your commute to work into an opportunity for exercise – walk, if you can, instead of taking the bus or driving, or if your office is too far away get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way (or park further away than you would normally). If it’s safe to cycle, riding your bike to work can give you a great workout.

  • Try using an app on your computer or smartphone to remind you to get up and move around the office every half hour.

  • Take a walk around the building each time you get up to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee. Also consider walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or phoning them.

  • Stand up every time you take or make a phone call instead of talking while sitting down – standing may not exactly be exercise, but it works more muscles and therefore burns more calories than sitting.

  • Suggest having walking meetings where you get out into the fresh air and walk and talk with your colleagues instead of sitting in stuffy conference room (if you can’t get out, stand during meetings instead of sitting).

  • Ditch your office chair and use a Swiss ball – the type you see in gyms – to sit on to help strengthen your core muscles.

At home:

  • Do some body resistance exercises while you’re watching TV, such as squats, lunges and push-ups. Also use the ad breaks to work in a little cardio activity, such as jogging on the spot, doing star jumps or run up and down the stairs a few times if you can do so safely.

  • Use any opportunity when you would normally be standing to move – when you’re brushing your teeth, for instance, while waiting for the kettle to boil or when you’re doing the washing up. Instead of just standing still, try marching on the spot or do some calf or toe raises.

  • Play with your children whenever you get the chance – climb, run and skip at their speed to get your heart rate up for a few minutes at a time.


Superfast workouts

Thanks to the popularity of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), working out no longer has to take up lots of our valuable time. The idea is the harder you push yourself, the less time you need to spend exercising.

HIIT involves repeated bouts of high-intensity activity followed by rest periods, and has been praised for its ability to improve fitness and cardiovascular health as well as reduce body fat while maintaining muscle mass. One small-scale study even suggests HIIT stops ageing at a cellular level by boosting the production of proteins for your mitochondria, the parts of your cells that release energy from the food you eat (iv).

You can find numerous HIIT workouts to try online, at fitness studios and on exercise DVDs – some may last up to an hour, but many get you finished in 20 minutes or sooner. One well-known type of HIIT workout, called Tabata, can be carried out in just four minutes if you don’t count the warm-up and cool-down (this consists of 20 seconds of hard work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times).

Indeed, a study carried out by Dr Tabata himself found that volunteers following his four-minute protocol on an exercise bike five times a week enjoyed far better fitness improvements than others who did a hour of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week (for instance, they boosted their anaerobic capacity – the ability to produce energy without oxygen – by 28 per cent while the moderate exercisers’ anaerobic capacity stayed the same) (v).

However, don’t be fooled into thinking HIIT is an easy option – if you want to reap the benefits and save yourself time you have to work yourself hard.

To learn more about HIIT and other exerices trends why not read our article.

Give these a try

HIIT has set the trend for shorter workouts, which is great news if you want results but are starved of time. If you only have 10 minutes or so to spare, why not try one of the following:


This is an interval training concept that anyone can remember. You start off by doing an activity – running, cycling, rowing, stepping etc – for 30 seconds at a gentle pace. Then you pick up the pace a little for the next 20 seconds, finishing with 10 seconds at as fast a pace as possible. Repeat this cycle for five minutes (five rounds), rest and recover for two minutes, then repeat again.

If you have more time you could do two – or even three – repetitions of five rounds, and still finish in just over 20 minutes. The best part of it is that the hard interval – where you go all out – lasts for just 10 seconds each time, which is a lot easier than pushing yourself to the max for 20 seconds or longer.

Try using the 10-20-30 concept next time you’re out walking. Walk at a normal pace for 30 seconds, briskly for 20 seconds and break into a sprint for 10.

Kettlebell swings

They may not look like much, but kettlebell swings are one of the most effective ways to get your heart pumping – plus they give you a near total-body workout, targeting your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, arms, hips, forearms and core muscles, all at the same time. The swing is considered an ideal move if you want to burn fat, improve your cardiovascular fitness and build strength, and you just need a single piece of equipment – a kettlebell – to perform it (women usually start with an 8kg kettlebell, while men start with a 12kg weight).

It’s important to get your technique right, however, so find a fitness professional who can teach you the move or learn the correct way to do it online – personal trainer Greg Brookes specialises in kettlebell training, you can see his kettlebell swing tutorial here.

Once you’ve mastered the swing itself you can build your own workout around it. Try a kettlebell swing pyramid if you’re short on time:

  • 10 swings, rest 10 seconds

  • 20 swings, rest 20 seconds

  • 30 swings, rest 30 seconds

  • 40 swings, rest 40 seconds

  • 30 swings, rest 30 seconds

  • 20 swings, rest 20 seconds

  • 10 swings, rest 10 seconds

If you’re a yoga fan you could mix things up by doing a sun salutation between each set of swings instead of resting.

Compound moves

If resistance training is your thing but you have a limited amount of time for exercise, you can work out faster by focusing on compound exercises. These are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time (the kettlebell swing is a good example), so you’ll also burn more calories because these moves require more energy than smaller movements that target single muscles (isolation exercises).

Examples include:

  • Deadlifts

  • Squats

  • Chin-ups/pull-ups

  • Lunges

  • Push-ups

  • Bent-over row

  • Upright row

  • Dips

You could also try combining exercises to work more muscles – try using a pair of dumbbells to do shoulder presses while sitting on a Swiss ball, for instance, or do bicep curls while you’re also doing lunges. 


One of the fastest ways to burn calories and burn fat is to pick up a rope and start skipping. Skipping is one of the most effective cardio exercises there is, with one study suggesting that skipping for 10 minutes works you as effectively as half an hour’s worth of jogging (vi). It’s tough going, and after 10 minutes you’ll feel as if you’ve really had a  good work-out.

To keep things interesting try skipping on both feet for 10 skips, then skip on your right foot for 10, then your left for 10. Then go back to both feet for nine, your right foot for nine and your left for nine, and continue dropping a skip in the same way until you get to zero.

NHS 10-minute workouts

The health service has devised a series of short workouts you can do at home that require no equipment. They’re called 10-minute workouts, but you’re also advised to do a six-minute warm-up to prevent injury and a five-minute cool-down to improve flexibility. There are six workouts to do throughout the week – with one day off –including a cardio workout, toning workout, bums and tums workout, abs workout, firm butt workout and upper arms blaster.

Finding time for exercise can be a struggle, but this article should give you some ideas to help you work out effectively when life is hectic. For more tips about exercising – and lots more besides – visit our Sports Articles Blog.


  1. Available online:

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  4. , et al. Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism Vol 25, 3, P581-592. Available online:

  5. , et al. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 28(10):1327-30. Available online:

  6. Comparison of Rope Skipping and Jogging as Methods of Improving Cardiovascular Efficiency of College Men. Res Q. ;39(2):240-3. Available online:

Our Author - Christine Morgan


Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.

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