Making time for exercise on a regular basis


There are a couple facts that make regular exercise an obvious choice:

  1. Exercise makes you healthy and happy.
  2. Exercise helps you focus and get more work done, even after you subtract the time spent on exercise.

Those two things are definitely true for me.

Nonetheless, historically I’ve done a crappy job of getting regular exercise.

At one point, stopping by the gym on the way to work was a snap. But then having a baby in my charge got in the way. I then was playing pick-up ultimate a couple nights per week. But that wasn’t quite often enough, and the days when certain annoying people showed up was a huge disincentive. There were classes at the gym, I suppose, if I wanted to do them, but fitting it into the schedule is hard. For a good while, my commute was a combo bus/train/bike situation. But after a couple horrible incidents along my route (that happened to others), I decided that I am not willing to put my life into the hands of skilled but inadequately attentive LA drivers. Cell phones kill cyclists too frequently in my realm. Now, whether I drive or go metro, my commute takes a bunch of (inactive) time, and a day at work and parenting obligations don’t seem to leave time for exercise.

That last sentence says “seem to leave time.” Of course there is time, as long as I make it a priority.

The knack must be to change conditions, of one’s own schedule and/or the exercise itself, to make it straightforward enough that the prioritizing exercise doesn’t become pain in the butt.

My problem wasn’t finding an hour of time. It was finding the right hour, before or after work, that doesn’t mess up my family’s schedule. Going somewhere else with stuff, showering, and the associated hassle really adds up. An hour at the gym, by the time you factor in everything else, becomes well, well more than that hour. With the temporal overhead costs, it’s hard to not think that I should be writing the manuscript I’ve committed to, or prepping for class or grading, or pickling that broccoflower that I bought days ago that’s still waiting in the fridge. (Don’t knock pickled broccoflower until you’ve tried it. I haven’t done it yet, so if you remind me I’ll let you know.)

Lately, I’ve found something that works great for me, that doesn’t have all of those other barriers. I don’t have to hop in a car, I can do it pretty much anytime and nearly anywhere, it doesn’t involve specialized gear, and doesn’t hinge on anybody else’s schedule. And it’s really pleasurable.

I run.

Without having much experience or knowledge or whatever, and not having anybody else to do this with, how does one go out and do this running thing? A well-known maker of footwear used for running has a slogan that answers this question. It’s pretty straightforward. You go outside, and then you run.

It’s portable. When I traveled to my field station, I brought the right shoes. When I was invited to visit another campus for a couple nights, I brought the right shoes.

Let’s say I am at home and only have 45 minutes. I go out, run for 40 minutes, get home, and then shower. Bam. Done. I can listen to some new tunes, some favorites, or a podcast. (I have great new one to suggest by the way, ahem ahem.) If I want some new scenery that isn’t available in the few miles around my house, then I can go somewhere else. In Pasadena, walking and running the 5k around the Rose Bowl is a thing people do.

Scientists like the data-rich exercise experience, amirite? There are a few tracking apps. I use the Nike one, and I know some folks use MapMyRun. It’s all good. It is useful to keep tabs on time, pace, distance, routes, elevation change, and all that. And at least the app that I use also has lots of specific tips and plans to get you started if you want.

What about when the weather turns sour, and there’s snow or freezing rain? Well, I’m in Southern California. I’ll be fine. Year-round outdoors running isn’t for everyone I guess. And there are knee problems that some people have, of course. But for me, after some months, it’s going mighty well.

I wake up a bit early, I can run. I can show up at work a little late, I can run. I do carpool and get my kid home from school, I can squeeze in a run. I finished making and eating dinner with my family, I can go for a run. If you have enough time to watch a TV show or read a chapter in a book or write a blog post, you can run. The temporal overhead cost of running is low. You just have to shower and change, and that’s it.

A lot of scientists run. I guess now I’m a newbie to this crowd. Hi there. Is there some kind of secret handshake or something? I’m not going to be using that twitter hashtag, though.

6 thoughts on “Making time for exercise on a regular basis

  1. Terry, get a walk station. Three hours of email and editing and you are 10-15 km at its max 2 mph without even knowing it, and no more typos than usual. Within two days you forget it is even there. Dan Janzen

  2. Welcome to the running club! It really is fantastic. And if you so desire, you can pursue it with a group of people by finding a local running club.

  3. Can I recommend that you also do some kind of cross training, even just a few yoga moves or leg lifts before or after some of your runs? I have had to stop running temporarily (after many years of no injuries) due to runner’s knee, which is an easily avoidable thing that I wouldn’t have gotten had I only done some other kinds of exercise.

  4. Yes! Personally, exercise is absolutely key to my overall well-being and happiness: it helps me sleep better, eat better, and makes me more productive. I too struggle with finding the time, so also work to be strategic. Unlike you, however, I don’t much like running (although I do it sometimes), but I do like cycling! So, bikey bikey bikey whenever I can! However, this gets difficult at my latitude in the fall, as days get shorter. And, as the academic term unfolds in the autumn, the schedule also get more difficult. So, on a whim this autumn, I joined a lunch-time ‘spin class’ at our athletic facility- offered two times per week. This was a big deal since I typically use my ‘lunch time’ to get work done, i.e., stuff a sandwich into my mouth while emailing [=not a good habit]. So, I saw lunch as work time. But going to exercise over lunch, a couple of days a week, isn’t only good for me, it gives me an important mid-day break from work. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m the only academic staff who is taking the class. My observation is that Profs do not take any kind of break at lunch.

    Bottom line: exercise does have to work with your schedule, and it has to always be a priority. It’s a shift in mind-set that will, in the long-term, improve overall well-being and happiness.

    Good post: thanks for writing it.

  5. Welcome to the tribe! There isn’t a secret handshake, but there is a secret code: “What (race) are you training for?”.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head: running is portable. Even getting out for 20 minutes is good. My motto, when time/family pressures dictate a small window: some running is better than no running.

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