When you can't get to the gym, exercise the way our ancestors did: move throughout the day. At first, this might feel inconvenient and bothersome.
But real-world fitness—walking, standing, raising and lifting grocery bags, cutting vegetables or climbing stairs—isn't just cheaper than going to a health club. It's easier to incorporate into your daily life and works the body naturally.
obesity expert Dr. James Levine, who directs the Active Life Research Team at the Mayo Clinic. Instead, we should be in constant motion, using our own body weight and gravity to burn calories and build strength.
That means we need to stand when we could sit and walk when we could stand, said Levine. When motion becomes a habit, you can add leg lifts while talking on the phone or squats against a bus shelter. Soon, you'll be able to squeeze fitness out of ordinary moments, from sunrise to sunset. Here are some ways to get started:
In bed: 6 a.m. Before getting up, pull your right knee up toward your chest to help warm up a stiff lower back. Switch legs and then pull both legs in. Hold each position 30 seconds. "A bit of side rocking mobilizes the sacroiliac joint," Vella said.
In the bathroom: 7 a.m. In the shower, fold forward to release tight hamstrings, calves and hips, keeping your knees slightly bent. Forward folds can also help with fatigue, anxiety, headaches and insomnia. Towel dry your hair and use a manual toothbrush.
Taking the train: 8 a.m. Walk or bike to the station. Take the steps two at a time, and if the train isn't there, pace back and forth on the platform. On trains and buses, stand and try to balance without holding a strap or handrail to work the core stability muscles and help prevent lower back pain.
At your desk: 9 a.m. Stand while listening to phone messages or checking e-mail; it burns three times as many calories as sitting. Also do several sets of Kegel exercises, which consist of contracting and relaxing the muscles that form the pelvic floor.
At a meeting: 10 a.m. Work your abdominal muscles by tensing them and counting to 20, 30, or 60, said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Conn. "You can selectively tense muscles in your legs as well—while driving or flying," said Katz.
Feeding the parking meter: noon. To lift your butt, brace your left toe up against the base of the parking meter and keep the heel planted on the ground, said Tina Vindum, founder of Outdoor Fitness. Lace your fingers around the pole (navel height), hook your right foot around your left ankle and lean back. Press up through your left foot, raising your tailbone about 3 inches. Repeat.
Waiting in line at the post office: 1 p.m. Stand in "mountain pose," a balance posture. Think about evenly pressing your body weight onto the four corners of your feet: big toe, little toe, inner heel and outer heel, wrote Sage Rountree in "The Athlete's Guide to Yoga" (VeloPress, $21.95).
In the office: 2 p.m. Use the printer farthest from your desk. Schedule "walking meetings" rather than sitting ones, suggested Levine. Take stairs instead of elevators.
Picking up children: 3 p.m. While driving, "you can work your whole upper body—biceps, triceps, deltoids, pectorals—by tensing your arms against the steering wheel in various ways," said Katz. You can also do this while pushing a grocery cart.
At the playground: 4 p.m. Hang from the monkey bars (or find a tree) to release the kinks and tension. Run, jump, dodge, crawl and climb with your kids, all motions that our bodies learned—and loved—decades ago.
Winding down: 6 p.m. On days when she can't work out, Elizabeth LaPlante of Mt. Prospect, Illinois, will do 50 squats while holding her son James (50 pounds) or daughter Mary Catherine (42 pounds). "I kiss and hug them after 10 reps to keep me going," she said.