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How to stay fit — no matter where you are

Woman By Christine Detris

I used to think that if I couldn’t commit to at least one hour of gym time, I shouldn’t bother going at all. That mentality led me to skip more workouts than I’d like to admit — until a chat with a fellow fitness-loving friend changed my mind. We were commiserating about how our busy schedules made it difficult to squeeze in exercise, no matter how much we wanted to stay fit. “But even 15 minutes is better than nothing,” she pointed out.

And it’s true. While adults should aim for around 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, studies suggest that even just 10 minutes of daily physical activity — done anywhere, any time — can provide physical and mental health benefits. “You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to be healthy. In fact, you don’t even need to go to a gym,” says Aetna health coach Ricky Moore. “Just a few minutes a day of exercise that gets your heart pumping can impact your health significantly.”

Here, Ricky suggests some simple but effective exercises that can be done whether you’re on the road, behind your desk or in the comfort of your home.

1.    If you’re traveling

Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary. While waiting in line for the restroom or to board a plane, try marching in place for 1–3 minutes while swinging your arms as you would if you were walking. This combination of movements warms up your body by slowly increasing your heart rate and pumping blood to your muscles.

Then, once you’re in your seat, try this exercise to engage your abdominal muscles and inner thighs.

Stand behind a counter or chair for support. Slowly raise one leg backward, keeping the knee straight until your foot is a few inches off the floor, hold, then slowly lower. Do 3 reps of 10 on each leg.

2.    If you’re running errands

Waiting for cashier to scan your groceries? Use the down time to challenge your calf muscles. While holding on to a counter top or shopping cart for support, slowly press up onto the tips of your toes, then slowly lower yourself back down.

For an upper-body boost, put your grocery bags to good use with shoulder shrugs. This exercise can strengthen your upper back and the muscles around your neck. Start with a few sets of 8–10 repetitions, and build up to 12–15 repetitions. 

While carrying your bags out, lift your shoulders for one second, and release until you reach your car.

3.    If you’re at the office

If you find yourself hunched over your computer all day, you’re not alone. Long days at the office can take their toll on your posture. Luckily, this seated cat cow stretch can help counteract the office slouch and build core strength and stabilization. Sit towards the front of a chair with your feet flat and hands resting on your knees. Inhale and roll your hips forward, lifting your chest upwards. Hold this position for 10–15 seconds. Then exhale and roll your hips backwards, rounding your shoulders and lowering your chin towards your chest. Now hold this positon for 10–15 seconds. Repeat 5–10 times.

To wake up your lower body, try this desk-friendly thigh burner. Bonus: it works your core muscles, too.

With legs straight, cross one on top of the other. Raise them off the floor. Press top leg down and resist with bottom leg.

4.    If you’re at home

There’s a reason why pushups never go out of style — they engage almost every muscle in your body. If you find this classic exercise daunting, Moore suggests trying a modified version. Stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the wall, positioning them slightly wider than your chest. Keeping your abs tight, bend your elbows and lean your chest toward the wall. Then press back out. Start out with a few sets of 8–10 repetitions, and build up to 12–15 repetitions.

If you’d rather face the TV than the wall, try a few sets of standing hip extensions, shown below. While this exercise primarily works the glutes, it can also improve your balance.

Stand behind a counter or chair for support. Slowly raise one leg backward, keeping the knee straight until your foot is a few inches off the floor, hold, then slowly lower. Do 3 reps of 10 on each leg.

Make the most out of your workout

Want to take your on-the-go exercise to the next level? Consider investing in a few pieces of at-home fitness equipment — Moore uses resistance bands with his clients to increase strength and flexibility. For less than $20, these versatile bands are small enough to fit in a backpack or tote bag.

If you need a change of scenery, consider taking your routine to a nearby park, a local high school track or even your own backyard. With a little imagination, picnic tables, bleachers and stairs can be just as effective as gym equipment, Moore says.

If you’re exploring joining a gym, check if your health plan offers a wellness reimbursement. Some Aetna plans, for example, offer discounts on memberships to some YMCAs and 24-hour fitness clubs. Read about other lesser-known health perks your plan might offer.

Juggling a busy schedule and a fitness routine can be a challenge. But remember that you can work exercise into nearly any situation. As my friend reminded me, even a few minutes of physical activity are better than nothing.

About the author

Christine Detris a personal trainer and marketing professional in New York City. Her health ambition is to maintain a healthy balance between triathlons and tacos.

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