"The dog ate my sneakers."
"The kids have taken over the treadmill to stage hamster races."
People find all sorts of reasons to avoid exercise, but the most common excuse is that we just don't have the time. With this in mind, O challenged any reader too busy for fitness to send in a typical day's schedule. Then we selected a few of the most harried and put each in touch with organization maven Julie Morgenstern and workout authority Karen Voight. Watch how our experts achieve mission impossible—divining time where none seems available and coming up with innovative ways for the frantic to stay fit.
Terie Theis, age 36
"I spend so much time on work, house, and husband that I have no idea who I am anymore, other than what I am to others."
As a trial attorney and marketing director for her law firm in San Diego, Theis has burned through several secretaries with her demanding workload. She and her attorney husband work long hours, often on weekends. "I take care of everything having to do with our home—the banking, bill paying, etc.—as part of my control-freak nature," Theis says. "I spend so much time on work, house, and husband that I have no idea who I am anymore, other than what I am to others." Her goal is to get back to the "hot body" she used to have before she hit 30 and the pounds started creeping up.
Julie's advice: Theis is a classic type A personality and she needs a structured program. Theis concedes that the best strategy for her would be to schedule her exercise the way she schedules her clients—say, three evenings a week, when she might otherwise try to squeeze in more work. She should also let her husband be more involved in running their home so they both have time on the weekends—perhaps to work out together.
Karen's advice: With Theis's high drive, she would benefit from a workout that exhausts her. After some discussion, Karen comes up with the idea of training to run in the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll half marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society three months away. "It satisfies that feeling of 'I'm putting in a hundred percent,'" Theis says. "And on Saturdays, you have to get to the practice session at 6:30 a.m. If I were doing it just for me, I'd roll over and hit the alarm clock. But because charity is involved, there's another reason for me to get up." Karen agrees with Julie about the importance of scheduling exercise and also recommends that Theis commit to a personal trainer at least once a week—an idea the lawyer plans to follow up on.
Three months later..."I've been so turned on to fitness," Theis says, "I'm now a type A about exercise." Karen's marathon idea was a winner. Theis joined a running group and aced the half marathon in Phoenix (so what if she had no time to shower before jumping on the plane for her next appointment). She also started using Karen's stretching and yoga tapes, which come in handy when she gets home at 9 or 10 at night and still has energy to squeeze in a balancing workout. Taking Julie's advice, Theis started permitting herself to leave the office "at a decent hour" two days a week to meet a personal trainer at the gym she recently joined. As for the chores, they have not exactly been delegated ("My husband started his own firm in July, and our cats don't do dishes"). But Theis has learned to accept when things aren't done perfectly and has made small adjustments—for example, exercising instead of making dinner and asking her husband to bring home takeout. "Bottom line," says the fitness convert, "the bed doesn't know when it's not made and the dishes don't know when they aren't done, but my body does know when I have not exercised."
Next: Learning how to gain strength—without losing time
"I want to devote what little weekend time I have to tending the yard, napping, and recharging for the next week."
Even though Duden doesn't have children, her job in St. Louis Park, Minnesota—head office manager for a performing arts school—and the demands of a husband, house chores, a dog, and yard work all push her to capacity. After working until 6 p.m., Duden picks up her husband, and they spend their evenings buying groceries, doing housework, making dinner, and playing outside with Sammie, their Border collie. Since Duden works every Saturday until 2 p.m., she says, "I want to devote what little weekend time I have to tending the yard, napping, and recharging for the next week."
Julie's advice: Evenings are probably the best place for Duden to steal time for workouts. One idea is to trade off the meal preparation duties: Her husband, for example, could take responsibility for the dinner prep while she exercises; then after dinner, she'd clean up. And in Sammie, Duden may have the perfect built-in companion for her workouts—especially since Border collies need so much activity.
Karen's advice: Using Sammie is a great idea, "but if you're just throwing a ball, only the dog's getting exercise." Karen suggests Duden walk the dog for 20 minutes three days a week. Eventually, she might try walking one block and running the next. When the Minnesota winters get too cold to stay outside, workout videos are a good option.
Three months later...Duden was relieved, after talking to Julie and Karen, to discover that she didn't have to devote a daunting hour a day to exercise. She has been walking Sammie regularly—coaxing herself out the door by telling herself it'll only be for ten minutes, "but I usually get into it and go for at least 20." The extra activity has helped Duden feel noticeably more relaxed. For the months when the windchill heads below zero, she's thinking about buying a treadmill.
Carolyn Carter, age 43
"Sometimes I don't even have the energy to work, let alone exercise."
Carter's life is beyond busy. With a husband, three children, a full-time job in the information technology field, and a freelance graphic design business on the side, the Detroit resident starts her days at 5:30 a.m. and proceeds at a manic pace until she falls into bed, exhausted, sometimes as late as 1 a.m. Driven to advance her career, Carter takes classes after-hours. She also teaches computer classes two nights a week at her church. "Sometimes I don't even have the energy to work," she says, "let alone exercise." Her only nod to fitness has been to sign up for ballroom dance lessons one night a week with her husband as a way for them to spend some time together.
Julie's advice: "Carolyn's schedule is like an overstuffed closet—activities are shoved in with no rhyme or reason, and, like a messy closet, her life needs to be neatened up." After a lengthy discussion, the two determine that Carter must home in on her own priorities and start saying no to any activity that doesn't further them. Carter agrees and decides that her long-standing commitment to teach computer classes will have to go. Knowing that the contents of Carter's "life closet" will just expand to fill the space created by having two weeknights free, Julie suggests that Carter immediately replace teaching classes with taking classes—something fun and active in addition to ballroom dancing.
Karen's advice: At 43 Carter should pay attention to gaining strength. And toning up doesn't have to cost her any extra time. A step or a pair of five-pound weights would mean that while she's waiting for the coffee to brew, she could do two minutes of curls, squats, or steps-ups; then, as the oatmeal cooks, two more minutes, and so on. (A liter bottle of water also provides a heavy enough weight for a nice biceps curl.) "I need something I can do right when I roll out of bed," Carter says. Karen warmly offers to send her latest workout tapes—Burn & Firm (cardio/weight circuit training) and B.L.T. (Butt, Legs & Tummy) on a Ball—as well as a balance ball, but is stern: "I don't want to send the tapes and then not have you use them."
Three months later...Carter has taken the ball and bounced with it, losing six pounds in the process. She started doing a ball workout with Karen's video three times a week and—although she never went for Karen's kitchen workout—has embraced the idea of slipping in a little fitness here and there while doing everything else. "Having four flights of stairs in my house allows me to get some exercise into my schedule," says Carter, who also continues her ballroom class once or twice a week, walks when she can, and (drumroll) has just joined a gym with her husband. "Exercise has changed my life," she says. "I realize I cannot take care of my family if I am not at my best. I won't have Beyoncé's body, but I bet you I can do the bootylicious with the best of them!"
Next: Overcoming chronic pain and weight gain
"I tend to spend the weekend days trying to sleep and trying to convince myself to do the cleaning, grocery shopping, and other chores."
Craver, a nurse, lives in Davenport, Iowa, with her husband and 15-year-old son. During the week, she runs a busy ob-gyn office; on weekends she takes two overnight shifts at a local hospital to help make ends meet. "I tend to spend the weekend days trying to sleep and trying to convince myself to do the cleaning, grocery shopping, and other chores," she says. "If my husband didn't do the laundry, we'd all be wearing bedsheet togas." Craver used to keep in shape by biking the seven-mile commute to and from her day job, and she loved it. But when the office shut down its shower facility, she put away her bicycle. Since then, her weight has gone from 170 pounds up to 200, and she's unable even to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. "I'm a nurse," she says, "and I know better than to keep up this unhealthy lifestyle."
Julie's advice: There must be a way around the shower obstacle. After going over Craver's intense schedule, Julie helps her develop a plan in which she takes her bike to work in the car and cycles home at least two nights a week. On those evenings, her husband would then drive her back to retrieve her car from the office. It would also be great if Craver could find a way to fit in ten-minute bursts of exercise at work.
Karen's advice: Good plan, but after learning that Craver suffers occasional back spasms and stiff joints—the toll, perhaps, from all that bike riding—Karen advises a walking program with deep stretching. Craver worries that she won't do it, "because it bores me to tears." How about listening to a book on tape, Karen asks. "Books on tape usually last 36 minutes per side," she says. "They're broken into segments, so you're motivated to keep walking because you want to hear the end of the segment." Stretching, according to Karen, should be done after the walk.
Three months later...Ah, the real world. Life has taken a 180-degree turn and thwarted Craver's best intentions. After consulting with Julie and Karen, she quit her nursing job and landed in a completely new industry (software). She has a high-pressure position that requires her to live in another city during the week and travel constantly. "Julie had some excellent time management suggestions that would likely have worked had my life remained as it was," Craver says. "And the personal attention from Karen really inspired me, despite the end result." She has used the videos Karen sent for stretching, and she's been thinking a lot about Karen's insistence on the importance of valuing one's own needs so that others will value us. "Something tells me," Craver says, "that this idea is going to end up being the key to getting exercise back into my life."
Debra Peel, age 48
"My cell phone typically starts ringing at 7 in the morning, as clients and colleagues begin to check in."
Peel's job as a private investigator in Panama City, Florida, makes her schedule erratic, always unpredictable, and at times out of control. "My cell phone typically starts ringing at about 7 in the morning, as clients and colleagues begin to check in with me," she says. Long hours spent sitting during surveillance jobs mean that she's sedentary for much of her work time. Her husband, a sheriff, pulls a regular shift, but the couple take care of their young grandsons every weekend to give a break to their daughter, who is battling a serious illness. All these factors have contributed to Peel's gaining about 85 pounds to weigh in at 235. Exercise is critical not only to get her body under control, she says, but "as a stress reliever as well."
Julie's advice: It would be great for Peel to "put herself first" by starting each day with an exercise routine. During their conversation, Julie convinces the overextended sleuth that she needs to treat herself like a valued client and turn off the cell phone until a reasonable hour. Another idea: Peel is chained to an old hairstyle that takes too much time to maintain every morning; by getting an easier cut, she could free up some valuable minutes.
Karen's advice: Molding away in a spare bedroom is a treadmill that Peel used to enjoy using—perhaps she could dust it off and start walking again. Peel agrees this is a good idea...that is, until Karen prescribes 20 minutes at a stretch. "Okay, five minutes," Karen says. "Five minutes is just fine. Listen to upbeat music and you'll increase your pace." If Peel invests in a set of five-pound weights, Karen adds, she could start a 15-minute body sculpting program at home.
Three months later...Peel has reacquainted herself with the treadmill. Having decided not to take calls until 8 a.m. ("treating myself like my number one client, as Julie advised"), she walks for five to 20 minutes three times a week before eating breakfast, listening to music as she strides. Post-it notes all over the house urge "walk, walk, walk," but by now they're hardly necessary. Peel, and everyone else, can see the rewards: She has lost 25 pounds and dropped from a size 22 to a 16. "I feel so different," she says. "I have more energy, a bounce where I was dragging. I feel like I've been given a new lease on life."
Still can't get motivated to exercise? Here's what to do: