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Easy hacks for building exercise into your daily schedule

If you’re studying or at work all day, it can be hard to find the time or motivation to exercise first thing in the morning or once you knock off. On a deadline or stressed about a project? It’s probably even harder, as exercise is often one of the first healthy habits to fall victim to late nights and extra pressure.

But here’s the thing: exercise can help you study and boost your performance at work.

‘Exercise has a number of positive effects on cognitive function, such as memory and executive function, which includes things like planning and problem-solving, as well as reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depression,’ says Dr Jackson Fyfe from Deakin University’s Faculty of Health.

Even better, you don’t need to leave your work or study space, run for hours or get a gym membership to reap the benefits. Here are some easy hacks to help build exercise into your schedule.

Using resistance exercises to get moving

Exercise that doesn’t require a large amount of space or equipment, if any at all, makes it easier to take a break for a quick on-the-spot workout.

‘There are various exercise options that don’t require much equipment or space, making these activities suited to being performed during short breaks from the desk,’ Dr Fyfe says.

He recommends resistance exercises. ‘These could include squats, lunges, calf raises, push-ups, as well as those that are more dynamic and aerobic-focused and raise the heart rate a little more, such as star jumps, marching or jogging on the spot.’

Want to increase your intensity? ‘These exercises can be made more challenging with the addition of basic equipment such as resistance bands or weighted vests, but these certainly aren’t necessary to obtain a benefit,’ Dr Fyfe says.

Choosing an activity you enjoy

When it comes to exercise, something is better than nothing ‘Aim to find something that’s simple enough to feasibly complete during short work or study breaks,’ Dr Fyfe says.

Enjoyment is a major factor in sticking to a routine. If you’re not enjoying something, you won’t continue to do it, and the same goes for exercise. So, it’s vital to find a type of exercise you enjoy.

‘Finding a form of exercise that makes you feel good in the short-term is known to predict longer-term exercise behaviour,’ Dr Fyfe explains.

Doing a little at a time

Exercise is only beneficial when it’s done formally and for a long period, right? Not exactly.

‘Many people only consider structured exercise for defined periods, like going for a walk or a run for 30 minutes or spending 60 minutes at the gym lifting weights, as beneficial,’ says Dr Fyfe. ‘Let’s not underestimate the benefits of small bouts of simple physical activity accumulated throughout the day.’

This often takes the form of what’s called ‘incidental’ exercise – unstructured physical activity that you do as part of everyday life.

‘Accumulating shorter bouts of physical activity during the day, such as walking to and from a destination or walking up a flight of stairs, can have significant health benefits if performed regularly,’ Dr Fyfe explains.

Adding an extra degree of difficulty to incidental exercise is a simple strategy to build more rigorous activity into your routine.

‘Finding ways to make these incidental types of activity even more challenging may also increase the benefits,’ Dr Fyfe says. ‘For example, brisk walking instead of walking slowly or taking two steps at a time instead of one when walking up stairs.’

Making your routine a habit

The holy grail is an exercise routine that becomes an ingrained habit; one you no longer need to plan or motivate yourself to complete.

According to Dr Fyfe, how long it takes for exercise to become a habit differs from person to person, so it’s important to be patient and keep persisting.

‘It’s often believed habits can be formed within a particular amount of time, but the reality is it can vary widely,’ he says. ‘Some studies have shown that it can take an average of two months for simple tasks to become a habit, but it can range from 18 to 254 days, depending on the individual.’

To speed up the process, Dr Fyfe suggests starting small and trying to perform your exercise routine more frequently.

‘Try to focus on the short-term benefits of exercise, such as how it makes you feel, rather than long-term benefits like improvement in health or fitness that will come with time.’

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Dr Jackson Fyfe
Dr Jackson Fyfe

Lecturer, Strength and Conditioning Sciences,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

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