November 28, 2004

Too Busy to Stay Fit-or Get Fit?

Simple techniques for maintaining a successful fitness program

Your childhood may have been a lot like mine, which revolved around school, friends and sports. I spent most afternoons after school outside with my friends. The seasons dictated the activity: Fall meant football and soccer; winter meant "house" hockey and basketball; and spring brought baseball season. In summer, we swam or played tennis.

We didn't care how hot or cold it was or whether we were tired or too busy to play. In fact, I even started my day sprinting around bushes on my paper route. Staying fit was just a byproduct of being a kid.

It's not so easy these days. Work, family, Reserve duty, and other commitments fill our days and drain our energy. How, then, can we possibly find time to stay fit or get back into a fitness program? Do we really need to, anyway?

A Necessity for Better Living

Statistic after statistic show that fitness brings many benefits. Consider these recent numbers from The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz:

An article in a 1983 Journal of Ergonomics states: "Mental performance was significantly better in the physically fit than in the unfit. Fit workers committed 27 percent fewer errors on tasks involving concentration and short-term memory as compared to un-fit workers."

A study by General Motors in 1998 found that employees who participated in a physical fitness program had a 50 percent reduction in job grievances and on-the-job accidents, and a 40 percent reduction in lost time.

Physical and mental renewal is even included as part of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in Dr. Stephen Covey's groundbreaking 1989 business book.

Getting Started

Despite the statistics, we believe we just do not have time to work out. That may be true for you right now. Simply traveling back and forth to the gym may require an hour or more that you just do not have. Simple solution: Do not rely on a gym for fitness. Start by incorporating more physical activities into what you do every day, such as:

* Park far away from your office and "power walk" the distance by walking fast and pumping your arms.

* Avoid the elevator and take the stairs as much as possible.

* Power walk to the airport departure gate when taking a business trip.

* Carry your child instead of using the stroller. You'll be amazed at how toned your biceps will become.

* Mow the lawn yourself and do your own gardening.

Next Step: Setting goals

The next step in developing a fitness program for your lifestyle is to set goals-which is part of mentally committing to fitness. This is often as tough as physically committing to it. Set goals- realistic ones-for the short- and long-term and write them down. They will serve as a contract between yourself and your fitness program.

Short-term goals might simply be completing a certain number of repetitions of an exercise or activity-10 sit-ups, for example. Long- term goals might involve losing weight or completing activities in a time limit, such as a six- or seven-minute mile.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you develop your goals. Do you want to be in overall better condition? If so, focus on completing activities that raise your heart rate. Do you want to be stronger? Set goals for muscle resistance activities. If you want to be more flexible, incorporate more stretching activities into your program.

Or maybe your goal is all three. The beauty of your program-and its challenge-is that it is up to you.

Finding the Time

Throughout my career as a college baseball player and then college baseball and basketball coach, I was fortunate to spend hours a day staying in condition. But you can also stay fit by committing even 30 minutes a day or an hour three times a week to a fitness program. The key is to be creative with that time.

Here's a quick overview of several exercises that you can perform just about anywhere. Keep in mind, though, that you should vary your routine and not work a particular muscle group two straight days. Never exercise when you are sick or injured. It's as important to rest your body as it is to work it. Also, consult a physician before beginning any exercise program.

The author sneaks exercise into his day by playing with his son J.D. and daughter Keegan.

Push-ups-Lie horizontally on the floor and keep your arms shoulder-width apart and your head up. Raise your body so that your arms are locked, while keeping your legs extended and toes touching the ground. Go down slowly by counting to three. Then, push back up, while keeping your back straight. Consider doing three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions two to three times a week. Push-ups strengthen the chest, abdomen and back.

Lunges-Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, pointed forward. Lunge your right foot forward while keeping your left knee at a 90degree angle. Hold for 1 seconds. Repeat with your left leg. Consider doing three sets of 10 repetitions, two to three times a week. Lunges strengthen the legs, specifically your quadriceps, calves, buttocks and hips.

Many exercises, such as lunges, can be performed just about anywhere. Lunges strengthen the legs, buttocks and hips.

Tricep Presses-Stand with your back against a supporting bench (or even a firm couch). With arms shoulder-width apart, place your palms slightly behind you resting on the bench or couch. Bend your knees, keeping elbows in, and let your body go down until you reach a 90-degree angle with your arms. Consider doing sets of 10 repetitions, two times a week. Tricep presses strengthen and tone your triceps and forearms.

Bicep Curls-Dumbbell weights or even a tennis ball with sand can be used for this exercise. Stand with your knees unlocked and back straight. Hold your weights at your side with palms facing your thighs. Using one arm at a time, slowly curl the weight toward your shoulder. Keep your elbows in and shoulders down and back. Turn your wrist up as you curl. Consider doing three sets of 10 repetitions, two times a week. Bicep curls strengthen and tone your biceps and forearms.

Yoga-Hatha yoga is the type of yoga that refers to physical postures. It helps you gain strength, flexibility and also tones your body. Consider doing yoga one hour a week as part of a complete program. There are many resources on the different types of yoga. Check out this Web site to start: http://fiy.yoganet. org/ fiyorganizations html.

Jumping Rope-Build up from five minutes to 10 minutes and up. This will raise your heart rate while working your legs and forearms. Jumping rope builds stamina.

Sit-ups-lie on the floor, with your hands behind your head. Raise your upper body until you are sitting at a 90-degree angle. Be careful not to twist or pull your neck. Then, slowly lower your upper body back to the floor. Consider doing three sets of 15 to 25 repetitions, two times a week. Sit-ups strengthen and tone your abdomen.

Calf Raises-Find a stair or ledge. Stand with your weight on the front part of your foot. Extend your heels slightly off the stair or ledge. Balance yourself on one leg with the front part of your foot. Work your calf muscle by lowering and raising your body. Count two seconds going down and two going up. Consider doing three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, two times a week. Calf raises strengthen and tone your lower legs.

Step-ups-Find a stair. Step up with your right leg and then follow with your left leg. Isolate one leg at a time by stepping squarely on the upper step. Repeat the process with the other leg. Consider doing three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, two times a week. Step-ups strengthen and tone the lower body, legs and buttocks.

Plyometrics-Plyometrics is explosive training for the more advanced exerciser. It involves jumping and short, bursting exercises. Consider plyometrics to work your cardiovascular system and strengthen your total body. It can be hard on your back, though, so don't overdo the exercises. Consider doing two to three sets of 10 repetitions, one to two times a week, depending on the time spent and level of your fitness. This Web resource may be helpful in choosing plyometric exercises: http://www.netfit. web.htm.

Connecting Mind and Body

The mind is a very powerful tool for motivating the body. So, a successful fitness program incorporates the mind as well as the body. Consider adding meditation and visualization techniques into your program. Slowing your body down through meditation helps you build a connection-and make peace-with your body. As Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying, "I have so much to do today; I'll need to spend another hour on my knees."

Meditation also helps with visualizing-or actually mentally seeing yourself-completing a goal and having a more fit body. Professional athletes regularly visualize as part of preparation before a big game or event. As a coach, I have incorporated visualization into many of my training programs. While coaching a high school basketball team, we incorporated 10 to 15 minutes of visualization techniques before every game.

All in the Family

A fitness program does not have to mean time away from your family. In fact, finding something you can all do as a family will keep everyone fit and healthy.

Consider "being a kid" with your kids. Run the bases with them. Wrestle. Play tag. Climb the monkey bars. Check out the Web site for more ideas.

Ma\ny city recreational programs offer co-ed softball, soccer and flag football leagues that you and your spouse can enjoy. Call your local YMCA or YWCA for open family swim hours. Call the local recreation department for information on hiking trails. And don't forget simply walking together around the block. It's free, easy and probably one of the best forms of exercise.

Nutrition, the Final Component

Being fit goes beyond building and toning muscles. It also means choosing the correct diet. A poor diet can contribute to increased levels of stress, poor sleeping habits, and more. Several recent studies by the American Medical Association suggest that the "Mediterranean diet," with lifestyle changes, can reduce the risk of heart disease and add years to your life. A traditional Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Six to eight glasses of water a day are also recommended. For additional information on the Mediterranean diet, go to pyramid".

Everyday tasks, such as raking and gardening, are great ways to incorporate more exercise into your day.

Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site offers information regarding other types of healthy diets. Go to http:// usdahome. In the drop-down menu on the left, "browse by audience," choose "information for consumers."

The Best Reason

All of us admit that family commitments mean less time for a fitness program. Families can also be a great source of inspiration, though. When your family members see how you're changing, you may motivate them to become more fit as well. That's a huge accomplishment in today's age of video games and 24-hour television.

Plus, who doesn't want himself or herself plus the family to have more energy, more focus-and just feel better?

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Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: First Fireside Edition, Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Loehr, Jim and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2003.

Matarazzon, Jennifer. "Superfest, Walk and Sculpt," Fitness Mind, Body & Spirit, October 2004.

Smith, Virginia. "Health studies praise Mediterranean ways," Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 22, 2004.


John Douglas teaches sport recreation facility management and coaching leadership, theory and strategy courses at American Military University (AMU). He has extensive experience as an athlete, coach, camp director and administrator. He was elected two- sport All-American two years in a row and athlete of the year from Catholic University. His professional sports career includes being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1995 and playing in the Blue Jays minor league system.

American Military University, the first of American Public University System's three institutions, was founded in 1993 to provide service members and their families with portable, flexible and affordable higher education. Today, American Public university System is one of the largest higher education providers to the armed forces. Go to for more information.

Copyright Reserve Officers Association Nov 2004