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How to prioritize workout time

Here we are, 15 days into a new year. I’ve heard people say that they have already failed at their new year’s resolution fitness goals because they just can’t fit it all in. Before delving into this dilemma, I need to preface this by telling you what I tell myself before stewing over a problem; this is a first-world problem. For most people who end up reading this post, we live in a wealthy country with opportunity and most of us have more than just our basic needs met, so let’s put this into context.

The second point I’ll make is that outside of jobs and family, most of our “busy-ness” is self-inflicted, and that leaves it open for change. This is good.

Now that my life-long migraine headaches are under control, the only other affliction that brings me suffering is FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out pushes me to jam as much as I can into my days, sometimes to the detriment of more important things. As I’ve aged I’ve had to learn to put into order all the things I want to do according to priority and what’s best for my physical and mental well-being. Everybody should do this filtering process in their own lives, and maybe by telling you how I do it, it can spark an idea for you and help you make some changes in order to achieve your goals.

  1. I tend not to make resolutions, but I do set goals. Some little, short-term goals and some big fat long-term ones. I find it’s okay to set seemingly unrealistic goals sometimes because they light the fires in us.
  2. If you have a flexible or somewhat flexible calendar like I do, this makes it easier. That’s not to say it’s impossible if someone else is dictating your day-to-day calendar. Many companies are now recognizing that if they give their employees the flexibility to take care of their health and fitness, the company also reaps the rewards. It never hurts to have that conversation with your boss. See if there’s some room in your day to make exercise a priority.
  3. Get some help. There are professionals like me out there whose job it is to help you reach your fitness goals. Hire one and then follow the plan. YouTube is also full of professional help; just do your research first and make sure they are qualified.
  4. Consistency is key. If you analyze all the aspects of your life, and particularly areas of success, you’ll find that you were most likely consistent in the activities that helped you achieve your successes. You cannot grow and become good at anything if you don’t do the thing and practice the thing. It just doesn’t work like that.
  5. When you have a scheduling conflict, ask yourself which is the more important in the long-run, and see if you can come to a compromise. If you can’t, you need to make a choice. Your choice always has outcomes. For instance, if I have a workout on my schedule, and my friends want to meet for dinner (FOMO on high here), I’ll tell them I’d love to be there, but it’s going to be after my workout. Either they’ll delay dinner so we can all get there together, or they’ll forgive that I arrive there with wet hair thirty minutes after they got their first drink. If your friends aren’t okay with that, you might have a different issue to address.
  6. Self-care (and exercise is self-care) is usually the first thing to go during stressful and busy times, and it should be the last thing to go. Study after study has shown that exercise is the most important thing if you want to become and remain a healthy older adult. The benefits are profound.
  7. You can’t be angry at yourself when you aren’t seeing the changes you want if you aren’t putting in the work. That’s like demanding a delicious meal appear on your dinner table without actually stepping into the kitchen. Personal chef notwithstanding. In other words, do the work, do it consistently and make it a priority.
  8. The older we get, the less our physical bodies enjoy doing one thing over and over (think linear repetitive activities), so mix it up a bit and add some more fun. The most important form of exercise you can do as you age is lift weights. Everything else (including any sport in which you might still be competing) is your second priority. If you don’t develop and maintain strong tendons, ligaments and muscles, your body won’t be able to support your other activities. That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact.
  9. Know Thyself. Have an honest conversation with yourself and understand what obstacles are in your way (both real and imaginary). Plot out some solutions to remove the obstacles. Here’s one example (and here, again, I’ll refer to this as a privileged first-world problem). I know these things about myself; that I’m extremely cold-averse and I just don’t have the mental fortitude to sit on an indoor bike trainer for hours at a time anymore. I also don’t want to have to set up and take down my bike a few times a week. Last winter I invested in a Nordic Track S22i indoor trainer with an iFit subscription. This particular model has an incline and a decline feature, which I love. One of my biggest gripes about indoor training has been that the first climbing ride I do in the spring absolutely sucks (and also the second and third…) because I haven’t trained at that particular hip angle. The recruitment of muscles between hamstrings, glutes, quads and adductors changes depending on the angle of your hip joint. This bike allows for training at any angle you’d experience riding outside. That’s cool. It also means that if I have even one hour to ride, I can throw on a pair of shorts and my cycling shoes, and get a decent workout done in 45 minutes and then get back to whatever I’m doing. No more excuses. It has the added benefit of scratching the travelling itch. With this system you get to ride virtually in some very cool places all over the world.

I am lucky to have a semi-flexible schedule and because my days are planned out from one hour to the next, I can plan accordingly. My job is very physical, and energy is a resource. I am learning that at 50 my energy levels are no longer infinite, but I’m still pleased with the volume of activity I can get accomplished in a day.

I use Google Calendar and plan my days and weeks out months in advance. It’s like doing a giant time puzzle. Since I’ve just been through this process, I can tell you how I do it, and maybe it will help you figure some things out.

The first time slots I begin filling are my clients with standing appointment days and times. In general, I make client appointments three months in advance. The next time spots I fill in are the workouts that I lead (I have others depending on me), then the classes that I take every week as a student. The remainder of the hours in the day are open to be taken up with client appointments and other physical or artistic activities. I make sure that my workout hours are on my calendar, and I color code them in a different color from the rest of my appointments. They stand out. It signals to my brain that they’re important.

My calendar varies seasonally, but this is a typical exercise week this winter. It will look a bit different in the summer:

Monday – a weight workout in the form of a high intensity interval training circuit.

Tuesday – a dance lesson and an indoor trainer workout or a yoga class

Wednesday – a weight workout in the form of a HIIT circuit. Sometimes I can get on the trainer for 45 minutes before this.

Thursday – either 2 hours of dancing in the evening, or an indoor trainer ride. Sometimes I can get a trainer ride done in the morning as well as dance at night.

Friday – either a trainer ride or a rest day, depending what my energy levels are doing

Saturday – if the weather is good, a bike ride outdoors (mountain or road) or a trainer ride. Sometimes I’ll load up a step class on YouTube and do that instead.

Sunday – either another bike ride or a rest day, depending on what I did on Friday. Maybe a yoga class if I didn’t go on Tuesday.

On days of very low energy, I’ll go for a walk. Walking is an underrated and underestimated activity. Get your steps in.

*I’ve been adding an ice-skating session about once a week to work on balance and lower leg strength for dancing, and the step class is a great way to get in some cardiovascular training and leg/ankle strength work. It also taxes the brain in a positive way. There is much data out there to show that any form of dancing (where you have to keep count of music and also movements) has a positive influence on brain health.

It is my hope that these thoughts will help you to map out some time every day to do some form of exercise. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.

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