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TURNING SHORT, IDLE MOMENTS INTO MINI-EXERCISE BREAKS CAN KEEP YOU IN A HEALTHY FITNESS ROUTINE.

It always happens when you’re busy: a long download on the computer, or being put on hold by a customer service representative while you are waiting for something very important. Or you’re stuck waiting in a line longer than planned. The wait time combined with your workload might be conspiring against your best intentions to exercise that day.

These are the annoying moments of any given day, times when your frustration levels build. You have a choice at such times: deal with the wait time – with zen-like quiet, or angry sputtering – or multitask.

Because time constraints are the most-cited reason for falling out of a fitness routine, why not try turning these moments into mini-exercise breaks? Yes, right there in your home or workplace, sans music and loose clothing.

“These are the annoying moments of any given day, times when your frustration levels build. You have a choice at such times: deal with the wait time – with Zen-like quiet, or angry sputtering – or multitask.”

How? First, you have think outside of the gym box. No more compartmentalizing – you can get in exercise before you leave your house, after you arrive at work, even while traveling by car, bus, train or plane. Just a few minutes here and there does it. Call it an exercise snack.

The science of exercise snacking

Any time a muscle is asked to do something, a calorie or two is expended and the muscle is either maintained or grown, depending on the intensity of the activity.

A bodybuilder will pull, push, toss or drag weight to a high level of intensity to achieve very large muscle growth. It may not be your goal to be that large, but here’s the key advantage to muscle training: The greater the muscle mass in any human body, the higher metabolism (a pound of muscle requires 50-70 calories per day to exist; a pound of fat needs three). Building a muscle can happen anywhere at any time, and you can attack them one at a time in short bursts.

So here’s the proposition: perform strength exercises intermittently throughout the day in your place of work (aerobic activities require more time and perspiration). These are exercises largely based on bodyweight and little else. Even 30 seconds of certain exercises can have an effect.

Eight exercises to get you started

These exercises combine stretching to make you limber, but also strength exercises that can be done at low and high levels of intensity – you choose which.

  1. Shoulder twists: Stand or sit with arms extended to the sides at shoulder level, crucifix-style, palms down. Turn your head to the right and simultaneously turn the right palm up; twist the palm back as far as you can. Turn your head to the left and turn the left palm up while the right returns to a palm-down position. Repeat 10-20 times.
  2. Shoulder propellers: Stand in the same crucifix position, palms up, and draw circles with the hands, first clockwise for ten seconds, then counterclockwise for ten more seconds. Repeat with palms down.
  3. Lower back stretch: Stand with feet spread (various widths). Bend from the waist, knees locked straight, to hang hands toward floor. Do not bounce. Rise up and repeat 10 times.
  4. Deep squats: Feet shoulder width apart, drop as deep into a squat as you can, then rise up. Repeat 10-20 times. Alternately, pulse up-down rapidly, halfway up only.
  5. Heel kicks: Lie flat on floor; keep lower back flush with floor (no gap) throughout. Raise legs to 90-degree angles at hips and knees. Extend left leg only to touch floor with left heel, then retract while extending the right leg to touch that heel to the floor. Repeat 20, 30 or 40 times, rapidly.
  6. Towel tugs: Take a cotton hand or bath towel and twist into a “rope.” Grasp opposite ends with both hands above the head, pulling outward against each other. Hold in position 10-30 seconds; or, move in an arc by hinging from the shoulders. This exercise can be extended to all planes of motion.
  7. Calf raises: You can do this waiting in lines (think airports). Rise up on the toes and hold, then drop in a controlled fashion. Push as high as possible, hold up as long as possible; also, try it with one leg only.
  8. Butt, thigh and abdominal isometrics: This is the exercise you do secretly under your clothes. Isometrics are static strength training – simply tighten any muscle group in a clenching action – for ten seconds, release for three seconds, then tighten again for ten. Great for when stuck waiting in lines, riding elevators, or sitting in cars or on airplanes.

Of course, these mini-workouts are not the same as truly intense hour-long exercise sessions. Greg Whyte, author of “Fit in 5,” a book on brief, intermittent exercise moments, advocates this approach because “something is better than nothing.”
Some exercise is also a lot better than stressing out over being put on hold for five minutes.