How To Find Free Time To Exercise

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What do you do with your free time? If you asked "what free time?'" a new study suggests that you might have more free time than you think you do. But when researchers looked into how people spend that time, the study also found that Americans are very hesitant to use any of that free time working out, with folks across the country spending less than 10% of their free time exercising, MindBodyGreen reported.

As a personal trainer, I know that one of people's main concerns about exercising is a perceived lack of time, but this study suggested that you have more than enough time to work out if you want to. The study was published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease and was conducted by collecting data from over 32,000 Americans who recorded every one of their activities over a 24-hour period between 2014 and 2016. The study excluded the following activities from its definition of free time: work, commuting, sleeping, household activities, self-care activities, shopping, family caretaking, grooming, and playing with one's children. But even with all those activities accounted for during the other 24 hours, the study still concluded that the average American has about 5 hours of free time every day.

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What you do with those hours is up to you (and yes, getting caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a perfectly valid way to spend those hours). Typically, the study found, Americans spend over 50% of their free time on screens of some kind (including phones, TV, and computers), while devoting only about 7% of free time to physical activity. But if you're looking to spend at least some of that time in the gym, there are plenty of ways to make exercising more fun.

From young children to older adults, studies show that making your workouts as playful as possible is key to motivating you to get and stay physically active. For young adults and adults, team sports and other physical activities that feel like play can be more engaging, sustainable, and enjoyable for those who might otherwise not enjoy exercise, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science. And the benefits of play don't diminish with age. Participatory activities with an emphasis on integrating socializing and fun with physical movement increased elderly nursing home residents' fitness levels and overall health, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences.

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So how do you integrate this kind of playfulness into your own workout? Sometimes, it's all about getting physical with video games or cool YouTube workouts. But if you want to make sure you're leaving the house, you can make the gym more of a playground than a sterile box with rows of treadmills.

For example, one of my personal training clients would much rather play on a jungle gym than follow a reps and sets-oriented workout routine. So for her workouts, we maximized playful activities: jumping (rope or on boxes), swinging (kettlebells), throwing (medicine balls) and hopping (between cones or water bottles). To replicate this experience for yourself, you can set a timer and take 30 seconds each to swing some kettlebells, do some box jumps, toss some medicine balls against a wall or with a friend, or hop back and forth between cones or your water bottle. Just a few circuits of those activities should do it.

You can also put on one of your favorite pump-up jams in your headphones and commit to running or lifting or cycling (or whatever, really) throughout that song if you'd rather not use a timer. Unless you're choosing some of Queen's longer classics, you won't have to give your attention to one piece of equipment for more than three and a half minutes at a time. Five or six of your favorite songs later, and you'll have worked up quite a sweat.

So if you're looking to use some of your apparently ample free time to squeeze in some exercise, that's awesome. Just remember that the experience doesn't have to be unpleasant: get creative with your exercise choices and your workout playlist, and you might find that working out in your free time becomes something you actually look forward to.

Studies Referenced:

Sturm, R. (2019) Free time and physical activity among Americans 15 years or older: Cross-sectional analysis of the American time use survey. Preventing Chronic Disease, https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2019/19_0017.htm.

Nesti, M.S. (2016) Exercise for health: Serious fun for the whole person? Journal of Sport and Health Science, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6188716/.

Najafi, Z. (2018) The effect of fun physical activities on sarcopenia progression among elderly residents in nursing homes: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Caring Sciences, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30283758.