When Less Exercise is More

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You have a busy week. Some last minute shopping to do (complete with many circles around the parking lot to simply find an empty spot), cookies to bake for your neighborhood cookie exchange, gifts to wrap, travel plans to finalize, a volunteer session at the local food bank, and a holiday party for work. You're feeling frazzled, but you want do it all for the spirit of the season. At some point, something has to give. When you're this busy, what's the first thing that falls off your to-do list? Yourself. And for many of us, that means our healthy diet and exercise plans fall by the wayside for days or even weeks at a time, making it harder to climb back onto the treadmill than if you would have just stayed on its belt to being with. Eventually, you need a reason (or resolution) to get yourself back on track and luckily, the New Year is just around the corner, so you decide to just wait until then. Sound familiar?

But what if you could have it all—or at least MOST of it? The truth is, you can. If you can learn to apply one simple rule to your workouts, you can say "yes" to all the holiday festivities and still keep your muscles in tip-top shape, helping prevent that notorious holiday weight gain and the climb back onto the wagon that happens in January. How?

Forget the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to exercise. Too often, we can't fit our usual routine into our extra busy days, so we choose to do nothing instead. Now how does that make any sense? It's like the quote from one of our favorite members, ~INDYGIRL about overeating: "If you got a traffic ticket would you break every traffic law the rest of the day? Then why toss the whole day over a slice of pizza?" The same goes for your exercise plan. If you can't fit in your full session, why does it make sense to do nothing instead? Wouldn't you want to be 50 or 100 calories instead of zero? Or lose half a pound instead of none?

We know that short workouts still count. 10-minute bouts of fitness are the foundation of the SparkPeople program, and research has shown that they still help people improve their fitness levels, too.

Recently, I was having a particularly busy week at work. I had to go to teach a Pilates class that evening and also run a quick errand near the gym before I headed home. After Pilates, I simply did not have 45 minutes to spare for my full cardio workout. I could have driven the half-mile to the bookstore, but instead, I chose to squeeze in a shorter workout and multitask. I grabbed my iPod, slipped my credit card into its holder, and jogged from the gym to the store and back, and was able to fit in 10 minutes of cardio before I headed home. (No, you don't get that many strange looks while carrying a book while you run.)

Ten minutes may seem insignificant when you're used to doing more, but it really does add up. Not only does it keep you consistent (many of us know just how motivating a streak can be), but it also helps you maintain your fitness level and continue to burn calories and work toward your goal. If your all-or-nothing exercise mentality led you to NOT exercise at all during the month of December, you'd burn 0 calories and lose a lot of momentum. But if you chose to do what you can, even if it wasn't a full workout, you'd burn thousands of calories, which could prevent weight gain and maybe even help you lose a pound or two over the course of the month.

Next time life gets in the way, don't get caught up in the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to fitness—or food. Every small step you can take toward your goals is still going to get you closer than standing still.

Do you have trouble with the all-or-nothing exercise mentality or have you learned to implement this stay-on-track technique?

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Thanks for the tips! Report
What a great entry! Report
This posted at the perfect time to reinforce something I already know but that I haven't been doing as well as I should on lately. Thank you! Report
I'll admit that in the past I've been an "all or nothing" person when it comes to my work outs but I've been trying to change that. Even if it's just as simple as some crunching during a commercial break or using the upstairs bathroom at home when I'm downstairs. Every little bit helps Report
AMEN to this!

I've had a "do 10 minutes cardio each day" rule for months and I did more cardio in that time than I did when I was aiming at 30 min/day because it's easier to get started when you're only looking at a short period. (Most of the time I ended up being on the treadmill longer than 10 minutes anyway.)

On the other hand I have a friend who's gloriously good at telling me why my workout isn't any good: it's only effective to do cardio in daylight (she read it somewhere) and I usually work out at night, it's not effective to work out when sick and I have a slight cold, it'd be more effective to do this or that... but as far as I know, she doesn't do any cardio for cardio's sake. (To be fair: she bikes to work and walks to her grocery store.)

My thinking is that the exercise that's too short, wrong time of the day, wrong phase of the moon or whatever is ALWAYS better than the exercise you don't do. Report
Usually I like my 30-45 minute workouts, but breaking it up keeps your metabolism up as well. Plus telling yourself 'it's only 10 minutes of jumping rope' makes it sound so easy! Report
Do I have trouble with the all-or-nothing exercise mentality? Boy, do I ever! But, I think I'm in the right place mentally to hear this message. It's really resonating with me! Thanks for writing this article at the perfect time. Report
A great idea. Thanks. Report
Over the years, my Life Philosophy - applying to every single area of my life - is SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING. It's best to wash all your laundry, but it's better to do part of it than none of it. It's best to get on your knees and scrub the kitchen floor, but if all you can do is swipe at it with the Swiffer that's better than nothing. It's best to get a gorgeous, well-thought-out present that's beautifully wrapped, but it's better to have something small and home-wrapped than nothing. Same for workouts. It is so hard to bust out of the perfectionist all-or-nothing mentality but it is so worth it in the end. Report
have trouble with the all-or-nothing exercise mentality or have you learned to implement this stay-on-track technique?

I have great plans to continue to exercise and eat good while away visiting family for 13 days. Unfortunately I found this past week I was slipping and I hadn't even left for vacation. I am a teacher and usually get to go walking 2 or 3 times per week. Due to staff development I lost my three walking days last week. I also usually do some exercises in the morning. I got my husband to start exercising with me and so started to put it off in the evenings and found that between getting ready for christmas and our trip i was no longer exercising. I also stopped logging my food and found myself not choosing healthy foods and over eating. I have gained almost 2 lbs because of my lack of staying true to my goal. I plan to get back on track this week and even though I leave in a few days I plan to do yoga everyday and play with the wii with my family. :) Report
I tend to be All-Or-Nothing, so I am learning (slowly) to incorporate small chunks of workouts in my schedule this season. I am trying to be happy with the three workouts a week that I'm managing, rather than the five to seven I usually garner. Every little bit counts! Thanks for the reminder, Coach Nicole! Report
Fantastic advice! Thank you, this comes at a perfect time. Report
GREAT blog. I'm so glad I read it! 10 minutes IS better than nothing - and that is my new mantra for the upcoming holiday week. Yess!!!!

I totally agree. Any exercise is better then no exercise. If you clean house today...feel good about it! You've just exercised! Report
I am pretty black and white, all or nothing. Glad to know I don't need to be when it comes to exercise. Thanks! Report
good reminder....that a squeezing in a little exercise here and there adds up!! Report
Thanks for the reminder, I am usually a 'all or nothing' sort of gal. Report
This is exactly what I needed right now... love that. Report
I will do a shorter workout. Report
I did have an all or nothing mentality, then I discovered how quickly you can burn yourself out or worse injure yourself by thinking that way. Now I do the 90/10 rule, I try to do healthy eating and exercise correctly 90% of the time and if I fail 10% then it's okay, as long as I accept I am human I am usually alright. Report
Loved this entry. I am sooooo guilty of skipping it if I can't do the whole workout. Thank you for pointing out how silly that is. Report
I'm always telling my SparkFriends to take baby steps and that every little bit adds up. This is the secret to my success and it's how I pick myself up after a fall. Report
I always have trouble with that becuase there are some times that I am so tired that I don't want to do anything, but when in doubt I do try to walk Report
Some is always better than none. Report
Thanks for this blog. I was just feeling guilty over the only 20 min workout I did Fri. when I went to the mall to finish holiday shopping. I'm glad that the 20 min. mattered. Report
I prefer a full workout in the morning, but if I only have time for 10 or 15 minutes, I have begun doing that. It's better than not getting in any workout time, and it does boost my metabolism and energize me for the day. Report
GUILTY! I just can't really get into just 10 min at time thing. I keep trying. I guess I just get too distracted . Report
Great article! I'm guilty of using the all or nothing excuse. I love to walk, and now I can't because the arthritis in my knee is so bad. So I am finally starting to do strengthening exercises to work the rest of my body. One of these days I'll be able to get a knee replacement and return to walking, but I need to be sure the rest of my body is strong as well. So thanks for the good reminder! Report
Thanks for a well-timed "poke in the nose" :)

Jim Report
I completely agree with that advice, Coach! I've been using *any* opportunity that presents itself to get in a few extra steps here and there, even on the busiest days (I am working at 2 jobs right now). It certainly adds up - a few steps extra to park just a little further away at the mall, walking to the grocery store (and walking BACK with a filled backpack!), getting off ONE subway stop earlier on the way to work and walking the rest of the way ... I'm finding that my exercise minutes overall are staying pretty consistent even though I'm not getting in "full workouts!"
I do have a hard time with the all-or-nothing mentality. Thank you for the very timely reminder. Report
What and understatement! I realized last night i totally blow off my whole program almost any time i have more than 2 consecutive days off from work! its a real revelation for me. and thats when i should be doing the best! so this article was very pertinent. also im going with just doing 10 min if thats all i can get-it is better than nothing. i love the traffic ticket analogy too. Report
I've been guilty of the all-or-nothing mentality since I had my baby. I haven't been able to get to the gym for my usual daily workouts because I feel she is still too little to be going to the gym's day care, plus all the germs, etc. At home, I am busy with her, so its been tough to exercise. Well recently I decided to do my Turbo Jam DVD every day for 20 minutes. I can usually spare 20 minutes, and it keeps my body in "workout" mode. Report
Great blog - fortunately we have an abundance of 10 exercises right here on spark people - created by you!

Doesn't pilates count as a workout? Report
I learned some things reading this. Good Blog Report
I LOVE IndyGirl's comment - nice way to put it. Thanks for this post - very timely. Report
Thanks this was just what I needed to hear!! This seems to be one of my biggest hurdles for weight loss - I just can't lose the all or nothing mentality. I plan to post the traffic ticket quote where I can see it everyday! Report
I have ran to the library before and ran home with a couple of books. You're right, you don't get TOO many stares. =) Report
As my new, healthy, permanent lifestyle has evolved, part of that lifestyle is being a more active person EVERY DAY.....whether it's an extra lap around the grocery or "super" store before I start shopping or working in the yard and carrying one rock at a time or taking an extra trip up and down the basement steps just for the heck of it or staying on the treadmill for 5 more minutes because I CAN!!! Everyday holds an opportunity to be more active and I LOVE IT!!!! Yes, I still use my DVD's and SP exercises, but in general, I am just more active!!! Report
Loved the traffic ticket quote.

Exercise is one thing I have no trouble fitting in - I am pretty compulsive about HAVING to get in my activity steps each day-- working really hard on the portion control -- that's the traffic ticket I truly need to pay attention to. Thanks for that. Report
I like that thought of "all of nothing mentality." It is so easy to do nothing when I don't have much time. I try to remind myself that even five minutes is better than nothing! Report
Good advice. Thank you. Report
I am a do all or nothing and I am working on changing my mindset. A little bitty step at a time.
Thanks Report
I sometimes miss a workout (like this morning when I overslept for a yoga class), but try to make it up later in the day - yeah right, who am I kidding :-).

What I also like to do is park in the furthest corner of the parking lot and then walk to the store or where ever I need to go. I get a little extra walking in and when I pull out of the parking spot I don't have a lot of people crossing my path. Report
Great blog post. I've been too busy to work out my usual 5 days a week lately and instead of stopping all together I have been going to the gym 3 times a week. This is a huge change for me. Before joining sparkpeople I had an all-or-nothing mentality when it came to exercise and eating. If I ate lousy for just one meal I would feel like I had blown it all so why continue trying. If I skipped the gym for more than 3 days I had a difficult time getting back to it. Sparkpeople has been key in terms of changing my attitude about exercise and nutrition. It's taught me that its okay to slip up once in awhile as long as I get back on track as quick as I fell off! Report
I love Pilates. Report
I just skipped last night's workout due to post-Christmas-shopping exhaustion. I ate dinner and went to bed, which is probably good since I rarely get enough sleep anyway. My plan is to make up for the missed workout today, and now that I've had adequate sleep and am well rested, I'm looking forward to it.

I do tend to have the all-or-nothing mindset though, and next time I'll try to remember that some can be better than none. Report