"I have a lot of excuses," says super-energetic Jo-Ann, laughing. And frankly, she has a doozy: an hour-and-forty-five-minute commute each way from her Cold Spring, New York, home to her Manhattan office. Jo-Ann leaves her house by 7 and doesn't get home to her fiancé until 7 or 8. "He loves to have dinner on the table, and I like to cook. By the time I'm done doing that, the last thing I want to do is work out." But she'd love to lose 10 pounds. Her family has a history of heart disease, so she knows she needs exercise. It's not all bad news: Jo-Ann walks three-fourths of a mile to and from the train every day with her computer-laden backpack, and she's got a treadmill, a stationary bike, and weights in the basement, as well as a TV.
Given her brutal schedule, Jo-Ann may want to parcel out exercise into smaller doses. "Most people fall into patterns, and a lot of people think good exercise strictly means three to four times a week for 30 minutes, but your body isn't keeping score," explains fitness expert Myatt Murphy. "All it really knows is how much activity you're performing in total each week. With a few tricks, Jo-Ann can get a lot more bang for her buck."
- Map out every single workout. A plan will play to Jo-Ann's work skills with schedules, deadlines, and goals. She should lay out a month's worth of workouts as a list of to-dos in the exact same way she plans to call clients. Plans evolve into habits.
- Despite the commute, a person as energetic as Jo-Ann has more of a motivation problem than a time problem. Make a commitment to exercise on the busiest day of the week. Once you've done that, it becomes much harder to convince yourself (and others) that you have no time to work out throughout the rest of the week. And weekends are critical.
- Get your partner involved. Research has shown that having an exercise partner—even if it's simply as support—can increase your chances of getting in shape faster than trying to go it alone. The machines are there, and the TV can be turned into a virtual gym using DVD fitness programs.
- Split your workouts in half if it's easier. Performing two smaller workouts that add up to your usual workout—for example, two 15-minute routines instead of one 30-minute session—still burns the same amount of total calories, plus it temporarily revs your metabolism twice instead of once, so your body burns more calories after your workout.
- Look for what counts as exercise and give it credit. Oftentimes, people are already doing everyday activities that elevate their heart rate and/or work their muscles—which may be why your body feels unmotivated to work out at day’s end. Everything from walking to the train station to carrying your child through the mall is exercise, so add up those minutes on days when you’re actively busy, so you can feel less guilty for feeling too tired to work out later in the day and adjust your workouts accordingly.