5-Minute Fitness: Quick Fixes to Help You Stay in Shape

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Getting and staying fit doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym. (Unless you love going to the gym, that is!) All it takes is some small changes in your routine, and you can build five- and ten-minute fitness intervals into your daily routine, says Dr. Kai Ng, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco.

Climb As Much as You Can

Forget the stairmaster, another way to get exactly the same type of exercise is to walk up stairs whenever you have the opportunity. Climbing stairs strengthens calves, thighs, glutes and hips and improves overall cardio fitness. It’s also a great energy pick-up. “One thing I do to make myself take the stairs is I always pretend like the elevators are broken,” says Dr. Ng. “I do the same thing with escalators and moving walkways, like in airports; I trick myself and just act like they don’t exist. And when you do have to use one, you don’t have to just stand there, you can walk up the left side.”

Airports and transit stations provide other exercise opportunities as well, Dr. Ng says. “When I’m waiting for a plane, I always take a walk around the terminal. I have  two young kids and they wouldn’t tolerate sitting at a gate anyway, so we walk around and find different airplanes and other things to look at, making it a bit of a game. Even if you don’t have kids, you can do the same thing and make yourself move around.

Keep Feet Ready for Walking

It stands to reason that the more comfortable your feet are, the easier it will be to motivate yourself to walk farther. And that means wearing walking shoes, even on workdays. “You’re never going to walk anywhere if you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes,” says Dr. Ng. “If you have to wear high heels to a meeting, keep a pair in your desk drawer. Your feet will thank you when you’re 70.”

Dress to Move

Restrictive clothing, like shoes, can get in the way of your desire to exercise. “It’s hard to stride in a pencil skirt, so you’re less likely to take that lunchtime walk,” says Dr. Ng. “Clothes designed for movement make it much easier to take stretch breaks at your desk.” Luckily, trends have followed this desire for movement, with business clothes made from stretchy fabrics, and yoga clothes elegant enough to wear to the office. “Fashion can still be comfortable enough to be active in,” says Dr. Ng. “With the innovations in fashion nowadays, you can build a wardrobe that’s work appropriate but lets you take a 20-minute exercise break without stopping to change. That way, `I can’t go, I don’t have my gym bag’ is not a valid excuse.

Talk and Walk

There are plenty of tasks that require sitting at your desk, but talking isn’t one of them. So use meetings and phone conversations as a chance to stretch your legs. “When someone wants to schedule a meeting, say `let’s walk and talk.’ When I have a lot of calls to return, I take my phone into the hall and walk,” says Dr. Ng. Use lunch breaks for walking, even if it’s just a 20-minute stroll for a sandwich. Even better, bring something healthy for lunch so you can use your entire lunch break to walk.

Don’t Skimp on Breaks

No matter how busy you are, it’s important to take breaks. “People think ‘I have to keep working,’ but actually that ten minutes can make you more efficient than if you sit at your desk,” says Dr. Ng. And when it comes to lunchtime, get outside, even if it’s just a stroll to get a sandwich. “Make the commitment, “I deserve to spend 20 minutes outside, not in recycled air.’ It’s mentally necessary.”  Likewise, make it a habit to stand up from your desk for a few minutes every half hour to stretch and move around. Not only will it keep you alert, but it reduces your risk of injury as well. “We are seeing a lot more people coming in with carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries from sitting at a computer everyday,” says Dr. Ng.

Create a Moveable Workstation

You can also make changes to your work setup that allow you to stand or move around, such as a desk that raises and lowers. “One trick for desk workers is to trade out your comfy chair for an exercise ball,” says Dr. Ng, who does this herself. “You have to think to make yourself sit up straight, and you have to keep moving so you don’t fall off. It’s impossible to be utterly still.”

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