It’s a dilemma all working women face: you landed the job, a full-time, in-office role that will challenge you intellectually—and put you back in the habit of a daily commute.
But with daytime hours now newly consumed by workplace demands, you bid a bittersweet goodbye to the flex schedule of months past.
And the very first thing to fall off the chopping block? That mid-morning spin class.
In times like this, it’s crucial to “balance your life broadly,” says Derrick Carpenter, a positive psychology expert who offers fitness motivation tips on Happify. “Maintaining an exercise routine is probably the single best thing you can do for your personal development, for your professional life and your productivity at work.”
Sounds compelling, right? Now let’s say you believe in the benefits of exercise but still struggle to scrounge up even one extra minute in the day. Consider these strategies for improving your work-workout balance.
1. Stop thinking of exercise as a luxury.
It’s easy to see working out as icing on the cake—the extra thing you get around to once other obligations have been crossed off the list. That puts it squarely in the “luxury” category like, say, a (much-coveted, rarely enjoyed) deep-tissue massage. Viewing exercise as expendable ignores the impact of its potential benefits on your life as a whole, Carpenter says.
“There’s a ton of research out there on exercise, productivity and focus,” he says. “If you’re finding it a challenge to work into your schedule, recognize that working out can affect everything you do.”
Case in point: those late nights when work seems determined to sabotage your dinner plans, sometimes it’s completely beyond your control. But we’re betting that a sharper focus and efficiency throughout the day, thanks to losing that extra hour of sleep to go for a pre-dawn five miler could do wonders for getting you out the door on time.
2. Build it into your calendar.
One key to success when you feel like you don’t have a second to breathe? Old-fashioned planning.
“Schedule your workouts, just like you would a meeting with a co-worker,” Carpenter suggests.
If you’ve trained yourself to find a stopping point the moment that Outlook reminder pops up, you can learn to carve out time for physical fitness, whether it’s a quickie lunchtime class or twenty minutes of leg work in the stairwell. Or, if you’re able to work out a consistent childcare arrangement, do so and carve out a couple evening classes each week before heading home.
Tiffany Judkins, director of instructional design at an educational nonprofit, relies on a high degree of advance planning in order to get out the door for her early morning workouts.
“I check the weather in advance, pack all the things I need including shower items, a towel, the clothes I’m wearing to work, a makeup bag, extra layers, snacks—it all goes in the bag the night before,” says Judkins, who is in her mid-30s. She plots out commute times, sets her alarm volume on high, and puts Post-Its by the door with extra reminders.
Meaghan Murphy also relies on a strict schedule to make sure she fits in exercise. Murphy, 40, and executive editor at Good Housekeeping, has three young children, and rises before dawn five days a week to hit a range of 5:30 a.m. classes in her suburban, New Jersey community.
“Fitting in fitness is crucial for my sanity,” she says. “I’m a better mom, editor, wife, friend when I carve out a little ‘me time’ to sweat out my stress. I found that waking up before the kids and getting to the gym at the crack of dawn is the best way to make it happen. Meetings don’t suddenly pop up at 5 a.m., no one is calling, emailing, nobody needs a diaper changed.”
Of course even the most dedicated of us want to curl under the covers instead of hit the treadmill every now and again. To keep herself on track, Murphy relies on “a Breakfast Club of like-minded moms to rise and shine with me. We support and encourage each other, keeping each other accountable,” she says. “It’s almost like going for drinks or a girl’s night out, except we’re drinking water and busting our butts. People often balk at the time, but after only about nineteen wake-ups it becomes a habit. I don’t even set an alarm anymore. My body knows it’s time.”
The common denominator here? Both women get their workouts done before the day gets ahead of them. After all, studies from the American Council on Exercise say early birds tend to be more consistent with exercise.
“There is a bit of magic in carving out time in the morning,” Carpenter says. “No matter how much you plan out your day, there’s always the unexpected. It’s easier to hold that sacred time.”
Ultimately, planning can only get you partway to your goal, while the rest boils down to commitment. Bear that in mind next time you feel compelled to hit the snooze button!
3. Know that it’s a proven mood-booster.
As if jumping back into a career isn’t anxiety-inducing enough, many women are stuck in a tug-of-war between the demands of relationships, motherhood, and family. When you’re tallying up obligations, it’s helpful to remember that the benefits of exercise can impact both physical and mental well-being.
“Exercise is extensively linked to positive emotion. It promotes natural boosts in our mood,” Carpenter says. “Maintaining a regular exercise routine can reduce anxiety and stress in our lives.”
And anxiety isn’t the only negative emotion a workout can alleviate. Judkins swears by the mental health benefits of breaking a sweat.
“If I don’t work out, I feel definite psychological effects,” says Judkins, who commits to at least three workouts per week with free outdoor fitness group, The Rise, NYC. “It impacts my mood, and I’ll even feel generally sad and melancholy.”
Carpenter is keen to point out the unavoidable. “No matter how much willpower we’ve got, the chemical effects of stress build up in our bodies and take a toll on us while we’re at work,” he says.
The bottom line: Pushing through those Burpees can do double duty for your body and your brain—as long as you make time for them.
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