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Exercise for Busy People: Making Time for Your Health

Michelle L. Segar, PhD, MPH

Time is precious, especially in the life of a busy midlife woman. So, do women who exercise regularly actually have more time than those who don’t? Probably not.

Physically active women create time for exercise. What tends to distinguish the “I don’t have time” women is that they don’t prioritize being physically active. The real question is why some women consider exercise a priority in their day and others do not.

Active Women Know Exercise Feels Good

One reason is that exercise constitutes an important aspect of their self-care. Physical activity reduces stress and enhances their sense of well-being. Their daily quality of life is enhanced when they are physically active and diminished when they are not—so they are very motivated to fit it in. These women do what I call “want-based” physical activity.

In contrast, most of us consider being physically active as a “should”—something we are supposed to do rather than something we want to do. In fact, “should-based” physical activity can feel draining. And, who really has time in their day for another “should”?

Making Exercise a Priority

The deeper differentiation between women who practice “want-based” versus “should-based” physical activity is not how much free time they have but how they time they choose to devote to exercise.

The “want-based” women personalize and tailor physical activity to their needs and desires. They don’t follow prescriptions. They do what makes them feel good, what reduces their stress, and what gives them energy. Exercise is like a gift that they give themselves. In contrast, women who practice should-based exercise consider it a chore. They tend to follow fads and “experts”—the right way to be fit. The should-based approach is not sustainable for most women because it is not their choice; it does not enhance their sense of well-being.

Steps You Can Take

Women can adopt a want-based relationship with exercise by taking the following steps:

  1. Make a conscious decision that you want to start getting the incredible well-being and self-care benefits that physical activity brings (improved mood and sleep, weight loss).
  2. Decide what experiences you want to gain from physical activity, such as reduced stress or social time with friends.
  3. Chose a physical activity that will give you that experience (walking outside in nature, playing a team sport).
  4. Schedule that activity into your day and give yourself permission to leave whatever you are working on to do it.
  5. Be flexible. If you only have 10 minutes instead of the planned 30, do your activity anyway.
  6. Evaluate whether the activity you chose is giving you the experiences you wanted. If it isn’t a positive experience, try a new activity, a different teacher, a lower intensity, or a different time of day.
  7. Experiment. Figuring out the best activity for you can be a process that takes some time, but it will be worth it.
  8. Decide if enhancing your sense of well-being is time well spent.

If you are squeezed for time, shrink your goal to 5 or 10 minutes of movement. You’ll be able to fit in a mini-workout and feel better after moving your body. Now you’ve made time for exercise.

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