Even if you don’t have time to go to the gym, there’s lots you can do at home or at your desk. (Photo: Kaikoura Community Gym, MGNOnline)

At one point or another, we’ve all used the excuse of not having enough time to hit the gym and get in our daily workouts. Of course, it’s not entirely untrue. Most people probably don’t have enough time for an hour or two of exercise a day, which is probably the minimum requirement if you want to be a competitive athlete. It’s one thing when you’re in college or your early 20s, but finding that much time as you get older is frequently an impossible task. With a newborn at home now, I’m beginning to understand the time crunch better every day.

However, just because you can’t be in pique physical condition doesn’t mean we “don’t have enough time to work out.” If you’re not planning on competing anytime soon, it’s OK to focus on staying in shape rather than being in the best shape of your life. There are plenty of creative ways to improve your physical health, even when you’re short on time.

HIIT workouts

The debate is ongoing, but there’s credible evidence that high-intensity interval training is better for our health than traditional exercise. The idea of HIIT is to push your body to the limit, with all-out exercises in a short period of time. It’s doing things like running several sets of all-out sprints for 30 seconds with only five or 10 seconds of rest in between. HIIT burns more fat than traditional exercise, but the key lies in taking your body out of its comfort zone.

It may seem like a foreign concept to most, but HIIT workouts range from about five to 20 minutes. However, when done correctly, they leave you drenched in sweat. Breaking a sweat boosts your endorphin levels, giving you that sense of a “runner’s high.” It also decreases your risk of an early death and helps keep your sodium and blood sugar levels better regulated.

These seemingly minor details can actually make a big difference in your health. The key is pushing your body (while being sure to not push yourself too far) close to its limits. HIIT exercises aren’t meant to be something you go halfway on. For the duration of the workout, your only focus should be the workout.

Movement and change
The more often we do the same exercises and activities, the easier it is for our bodies to predict. If we do the same arms or leg exercises without ever changing the weight or intensity, we get a little bit less out of the workout every time. Why? Because our bodies have to focus less and less to complete the movement, meaning less work for our muscles and fewer calories burned.

HIIT works similarly to the way that intermittent fasting works. It’s also, in my opinion, the same reason that people who fidget live longer lives. Our bodies are not meant to sit still for eight or more hours a day. Our bodies are not meant to do the same exercises or activities every time we decide to go to the gym. Our bodies are meant to move, change and adapt all the time. It’s why we’re healthier and happier when we stand up for five to 10 minutes every hour. Every bit of us—our muscles, our mind, our skin—gets bored and lazy when we do the same things over and over again.

Leg exercises
If, for whatever reason, HIIT exercises aren’t for you or maybe they’re just not something you’re comfortable with yet, there are still plenty of ways to get in exercises during a normal day. For instance, if you’re in the kitchen cooking, you can always do sets of squats or heel raises in between stirring pasta or cutting up chicken.

Heel raises primarily strengthen your calf muscles. There are three positions I use for this exercise. For each position, place your legs shoulder-length apart. For the first position, point your toes out straight in front of you. For the second, place your toes out away from your body at 45-degree angles. For the third, point your toes inward until they’re touching one another.

Raise your heels off the ground while keeping your knees straight. Hold this position for at least a few seconds before releasing. When you bring your heels back down, try to raise them back up without letting them touch the floor. I repeat this between eight and 12 times before switching to the next position.

Arm exercises
Do you have time to scroll through Instagram or Facebook feeds while you’re at home? Do you spend some amount of time watching TV after a long day? I know the natural inclination for all of us is to sit on the couch as motionless as possible, but this time can always be used to exercise.

If your legs need a break, you can always try some arm exercises while remaining seated on the couch. You can do more while sitting at your desk than you probably realize. Some of the most common options include bicep curls, rear lateral raises, overhead tricep extensions and wrist curls. It may seem like it won’t make a huge difference, but remember, something is always better than nothing. All this is simply a small piece of the better you that you’re trying to mold.

Mental aspect
In some ways, being healthy is about finding creative ways to trick your body out of becoming too complacent. Although the simple exercises I’ve mentioned might seem insignificant, they help me remember to make exercise a priority. They remind me that exercise is important to my overall well-being, and to me, remembering that is half the battle. So don’t say you don’t have time to exercise. Find time. Do what you can, when you can, even when you’re not in the mood.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.