What to Do When Life or Age Interferes with a Good Workout

A Marine works out on a rowing machine.
Gunnery Sgt. Chad Trebil, the 2nd Marine Division (Forward) intelligence section operations chief, uses a rowing machine aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Aug. 18, 2011. (Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

No matter what your age, life has a way of getting in the way of the time you budget for your daily workout routine. Whether it is school, work or family commitments, or a combination of these, you will find that commitments increase with age. Your ability to recover decreases, leading to aching muscles and joints and often skipped workouts.

In honor of many of my friends who are bringing home new babies this year while my family is dropping ours off at college this week, here are ways to get around busy schedules, getting older and commitments in order to fit in a workout more than a few days a week. From personal experience, here are my go-to answers for getting something done and avoiding all the aches and pains that age, rigorous activity and training hard typically cause.

Work Out First Thing in the Morning

Most people tend to be more successful sleeping 30 minutes less in order to wake up for a workout first thing in the morning. The plus side to exercising first thing in the morning is that there are very few distractions. Starting the day off strong will build daily mental toughness. It is difficult to get out of a comfortable bed before sunrise, but you will feel so much better after the workout. 

Doing so will help you start your day by being highly productive and wide awake when at work. If you put off a workout until after work or later in the day, which is another option, the day can get bombarded with other tasks that you tend to juggle to finish the day. See some Go-to Workout Ideas.

Work Out in Your Living Room

Many people like workout videos to get them through a day when the gym or outdoor activities are not possible. There's nothing wrong with that, if such videos can get you moving when the other option is to skip exercise that day. 

When your little children take naps or the weather is not conducive to going outside, try adding a quick 15- to 20-minute circuit of calisthenics, dumbbell exercises and stretches to your day. There will be those days when you prefer to nap alongside a sleeping infant, and you should if you are missing out on regular sleep, but try to mix in a quick workout when you can. You always will feel better after a quick workout (even if just stretching) than if you skip it again.

A combat-wounded Marine works out in the base gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Cpl. Rory Hamill, a combat-wounded Marine, works out in the base gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Dec. 4, 2017. (Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

Do a Quick Gym Workout

When you get to the gym, you often do not have time to mess around, so looking for a quick and effective workout is critical. Before work or during lunch are great times to get to the gym, as the gym tends to get crowded after 5 p.m. Quick Tabata intervals on the cardio machines (20-second sprints/10 seconds easy) for 10-15 minutes is highly effective as a quick workout. A quick circuit of several machines works well for a set number of reps (10-15) or time (30-60 seconds). 

If you are not into machines, pick a weight exercise and follow it up with calisthenics of opposing muscle groups or rest with a core exercise. I like the combinations of bench presses and pull-ups for 3-4 heavy sets, followed by a lightweight shoulder routine as a cooldown for a quick upper-body workout.

Take Your Workout Outdoors

If you take your children to the park, or just live near a park with monkey bars and swing sets, you have all you need to squeeze in a quick outdoor workout. I always used to do PT Pyramids or Supersets at playgrounds while the kids played. If my children wanted me to push the swing, I would mix in a burpee or squat between swings. That got real -- real quick. You also can use the swing as a TRX suspension trainer and do some Atomic Push-ups and Rollouts while your kids swing.

Keep It Interesting

Don't get stuck doing the same old routine. We all have a favorite workout and set of exercises, but should change the choreography of the workout regularly. For 20 years (starting as my wife was pregnant with our first baby), I have been using this periodization plan. Changing the area of focus each quarter has helped prevent stale workouts and refreshes the mind and body with different elements of fitness to master through the year. This has made all the difference and has kept many people moving at a high level of fitness throughout their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

A senior airman uses a foam roller for his back.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Kochlany, 39th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, uses a foam roller during a physical therapy session at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Feb. 2, 2018. (Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson/U.S. Air Force photo)

When in Doubt, Get the Foam Roller

If you push yourself hard or have regular aches and pains from being sedentary, the foam roller is a godsend. Minor muscle soreness, overuse pain and stiff joints can get near immediate relief with what I like to call the poor man's masseuse. There are many videos available to help walk through the methods to use the foam roller. Here are a few of my favorites: Lower Body | Upper Body.

Add a Mobility Day

Stretch, take a yoga class, get a yoga book or follow your favorite warmup and cooldown stretches that you have done all your life. Working in flexibility is smart as we age. The other side to flexibility is its more active relative: mobility. Dynamic stretches, treading water and general full range of motion in your joints are great ways to add mobility to your aching joints, helping tendons and ligaments heal or loosen up if they're tight. If your go-to cardio exercise is running, adding mobility and /or a foam roller to your life is essential and will help you keep moving as you age.

Stress-Relieving Cardio Events

Let's face it -- whether you work all day or stay at home with your newborn, life as an adult is stressful. You need to work it off but smartly. A quick 10-minute walk after every meal or during your work break is a great way to do such a thing. Focus on your breathing. Take big inhales and exhales while moving to help you relax and walk off some stress easily. Whether you go for a run, bike, row or swim, the stress-busting benefits of breathing in more oxygen than normal is real. For general health and wellbeing, take advantage of any time you can engage the parasympathetic nervous system when life is going 100 mph.

I hope you keep moving and enjoying life now and on the back side of 50. I will see you there soon.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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