Sure, everyone wants to be in better physical shape, but how many of us are actually doing enough about it? If you think exercise is too time-consuming, think again. You can improve your fitness and muscle tone in just a few minutes at a time in the midst of the activities that you’re already doing—whether you are in your kitchen, standing in line at the store or sitting on your couch watching television.
I call these quick movement sessions fidget-cisers because they are almost as easy and convenient as fidgeting. Benefits: They increase circulation…improve flexibility…strengthen muscles, including the deep abdominal (or “core”) muscles that protect the back…give you an infusion of energy…and help relieve the tension that can interfere with mood, focus and productivity.
Ideally, fidget-cisers should complement—not substitute for—more vigorous, extended cardiovascular exercise. But even a little movement can improve your health and mood, and these isolated activities will improve tone in different areas of your body.
How often should you do a fidget-ciser? Anytime you think of it! A good way to start is to do one of these exercises once an hour. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you.
Important: Don’t overdo the intensity on any of these. You should feel a stretch but no pain.
IN THE KITCHEN
While your dinner is simmering or the coffee is brewing…
Leg lifts. This exercise is like what ballet dancers do at the barre. Stand with your side to the kitchen counter, and place your hand lightly on the counter for balance. Tense your stomach muscles, and slowly raise the opposite leg in front of you, keeping your raised leg and your back straight. Pointing your toe will make it easier to keep your leg straight. It’s more important to control the movement going up and down than to raise your leg high. Hold the position for one second, then slowly lower your leg. Now raise your leg to the side and hold for one second, then lower and raise it toward the back for one second. Do three repetitions on that side, then turn and do three repetitions on the other side.
Countertop pushups. Stand facing the counter, a few feet away. Place both hands on the countertop, and do 10 slow push-ups, taking two full seconds going down and two seconds going back up.
Countertop squats. Face the counter, feet shoulder-width apart, toes forward. With your hands on the counter for balance and your back straight, bend both knees a few inches while sitting back slightly, weight in your heels. Then squeeze your buttock muscles as you slowly push through your heels to come back up. To protect your knees, don’t go down too far—I do mini-squats, just bending slightly as I sit back. It’s the coming up that works your butt. Start with five to 10 squats, and work up to 30 at a time.
ON YOUR COUCH
While you’re watching TV, talking on the phone or reading…
Bicep curls. Keep a three- to five-pound hand-held weight nearby for this exer-cise. You can do it seated or standing. Sit up or stand straight, and tighten your abdominal muscles to protect your back. Pick up the weight in one hand, and position your arm down at your side, with the inside of your elbow facing front. Slowly bend your arm at the elbow until your forearm is perpendicular to the floor. Repeat with one arm for a total of five times, then do five repetitions with the other arm.
Be sure to lift and lower slowly so that your muscles are doing the work rather than relying on momentum.
Tricep dips. Sit at the edge of your couch, feet far enough away from the couch so that your lower legs are perpendicular to the floor. With arms at your sides, place palms on the couch, fingers facing forward. Keeping feet and knees together, press the heels of your hands into the couch to support yourself, and scoot your rear slightly forward so that it’s just in front of the couch. Bend your elbows, and slowly lower your rear toward the floor, then straighten your elbows to lift back up. You should feel the backs of your arms working hard. Start with five repetitions, and gradually increase to 15.
Invisible Hula-Hoop. Stand up and swivel your hips a few times in one direction, then the other, as though you are keeping a Hula-Hoop in motion. This movement works all the muscles in the torso. Keep going for 30 seconds, and work up to one minute.
Rear and hamstring toner. Stand in front of the couch, and face away from it, feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Keeping your buttock muscles tight, lower your rear until it briefly taps the couch, and at the same time, raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height, palms facing the floor. Return to standing as you lower your arms to the sides. Think of the seat tap and the return to standing as one fluid motion. Work up to 15 repetitions.
Reverse lunge. This fidget-ciser particularly works the front thighs as well as the hip flexors. Stand a few inches in front of the couch, facing out at a 45-degree angle, with your right leg closer to the couch and your hands on your hips. Lift your left leg, point the toe and stretch the leg behind you so that the top of the left foot rests on the couch. You should be standing up straight with your weight on the front leg, like a ballerina doing an arabesque. Keeping your head level and your torso straight, tighten your abdominal muscles and bend your right knee (your left knee will bend, too), then come back up.
Do 10 lunges on one side, then turn to the other side, and do 10 with the other leg.
While waiting on the checkout line at a store…on the phone with a friend…or while your dog does his business…
Rear toner. Squeeze your buttock muscles as you pull in your abdomen. Hold for five seconds, and repeat three times.
Calf toner. Slowly rise onto the balls of your feet, and hold that position for five seconds. Slowly lower your heels back toward the floor. Repeat three times. If keeping your balance is a concern, then be sure to do this exercise only when you have a cart or something else to hold onto.
Invisible balance beam. This exercise tones your leg and core muscles, improves balance and even works your brain. Place one foot directly in front of the other. Engage your abdominal muscles, and stay in that position with feet flat and legs straight for up to 10 seconds. Then put the other foot in front. This is harder than you might think—try it next to a railing, wall or counter for stability until you get the hang of it. Over time, increase the distance between the front and back foot.