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How to fit exercise into your schedule

When we decided to write about the right amount of exercise a person needs, we wondered how many people on staff actually get it. So we made our colleagues fess up and take the quiz here. While just about everyone on staff exercises, few actually hit the expert-recommended marks. So we challenged our staffers to answer this question:

How can you fit the right amount of exercise in each week?

Participants committed to total-body strength training 3 times a week, doing cardio 3-5 times a week and following a flexibility routine such as yoga, Pilates or stretching, 1-2 times a week for 4 weeks. Here some of them share the lifestyle changes they had to make and what lessons they learned from this experiment.

The At-Home Exerciser

Lindsay Morris, 27

Associate editor, Shape

Biggest obstacle Motivation. Lindsay doesn't belong to a gym, and she finds plenty of excuses not to exercise when she gets home from work. "If I haven't been lured into hitting happy hour with my friends, the first thing I do when I get home after a long, stressful day is crash on the couch with a magazine," she says.

Exercise strategies Wake up 15 minutes early to squeeze in a mini strength session; find effective cardio exercises she can do in her apartment building's tiny, outdated, equipment-challenged gym.

How she did Lindsay started out strong, missing only one strength workout the first two weeks, but then found it hard to keep up the cardio schedule without belonging to a real gym. She also started doing Pilates once a week and has made it a permanent part of her fitness regimen.

Lindsay's fit-it-in tips

• Fifteen minutes is enough to do your body good. "It was tough to convince myself that I actually can spend at least 15 minutes each morning exercising -- whether it's lunges or squats or a Shape DVD workout session -- it's not only possible, it's really effective."

• Make the most out of equipment you have access to. Lindsay's building gym only had one piece of cardio equipment: an old exercise bike. "But I figured out how to do intervals [upping the intensity of the workout], which made it a lot more fun to jump on that dilapidated '80s-style bike," says Lindsay.

• Change into your workout wear immediately when you get home. That way you won't be tempted to just laze around on the couch.

The On-Again/Off-Again Exerciser

Brenda Laham, 28

Sales assistant, Shape

Biggest obstacle Inconsistency and boredom. Brenda rarely changed her cardio routine, so she would get tired of doing the same old thing and skip workouts when a better offer came along.

Exercise strategies Try new activities such as yoga and Spinning to add variety to her workouts; find a local fitness studio that offered strength and cardio classes at convenient times.

How she did Brenda hit the right amount of exercise every week of the program. "I felt fatigued at the beginning, but the thrill kept me going," she says. "I quickly learned how to balance exercise with my daily regimen. It is totally possible!"

Brenda's fit-it-in tips

• Find group classes that are convenient for you. Putting a class on your calendar is like having an appointment you can't cancel. Brenda found a yoga and Spinning studio just blocks from her house that offered morning and evening classes.

• Do activities you actually enjoy. "This may sound like a no-brainer, but I had been a competitive swimmer until I quit six years ago," she says. Missing the sport, Brenda joined a masters swim program. "Returning to the pool has brought back lots of fabulous college memories," she says. "Plus, I am meeting new people who have common interests."

• Change your mind-set. "There is no excuse for missing exercise," Brenda says, "The way I've learned to see it is I have 10 opportunities to exercise between Monday and Friday, mornings and evenings. As for the weekends, well, I have all day!"

The Frequent Flier

Leslie Ryan, 32

Senior editor -- fitness, Shape

Biggest obstacle Travel. In four weeks, Leslie not only moved into a new apartment, she also had two long weekend trips planned with friends.

Exercise strategies Aim to work out on nontravel days, focusing on strength training in the gym because she prefers to use free weights and take classes; squeeze in exercise while on vacation.

How she did Since she just moved to the beach, Leslie started running on an ocean-side path, eliminating travel time to the gym. The one week she was in town the entire seven days, she passed with flying colors and even managed to get in five cardio workouts. The rest of the time, she was at the mercy of poorly equipped hotel gyms and friends' schedules, so her strength training took a big hit.

Leslie's fit-it-in tips

• Tell your friends you can meet them for a drink -- after you work out. Because she was out of town so much, Leslie's social life competed with her fitness plan when she was at home. "I have trouble saying no to cute men who want to buy me dinner," she says. But she found she didn't have to give up her plans if they started after 8:30 p.m.

• Make exercise part of your vacation. On a trip to Napa Valley, Calif., "I signed my friends up for a 'Sip 'N' Cycle' bike tour," she says. "We got to taste wine at four vineyards -- and we rode almost 15 miles."

• If you don't feel like exercising, plan an easy workout for the minimum time. "Telling myself I only need to do a low-intensity half-hour on the elliptical trainer gets my butt to the gym," she says. "And more often than not, once I start, I end up pushing myself at a higher intensity or doing 10 extra minutes."

The Gym Goers

Sarah Smith, 25

Research editor, Natural Health

Bethany Gumper, 25

Associate editor, Shape

Biggest obstacle Finding gym time. Bethany and Sarah both prefer to exercise at the gym, but neither of them is a morning person and they don't like to be cooped up in the gym on weekends. That pretty much left lunchtime and evenings to fit in the majority of their workouts.

Exercise Strategy Become each other's workout buddy and instead of socializing over lunch, catch up at the gym instead.

How they did Mission accomplished! Sarah never missed a workout, and Bethany only missed one when she was out of town on vacation. Plus, both women added flexibility work, which they hadn't been doing before, and Bethany enjoyed yoga so much she plans to keep going to classes.

Bethany and Sarah's fit-it-in tips

• Get a workout buddy. Sarah and Bethany went to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during their lunch hour. "It's so much easier to go to the gym when you go with a friend," Bethany says. "Getting there is the hardest part -- but once you're there, you'll want to work out."

• Take it outdoors. Since she was tired of the gym after the workweek, Sarah headed outside on weekends for her cardio. "I played tennis with my boyfriend more often," she says. "And I found a great running trail near my house that made cardio more fun."

• Strength train on your lunch hour. "If you do compound moves that work more than one body part at once, you can squeeze in a full-body workout in just under an hour," Bethany says. Plus, you won't sweat as much as if you did cardio, which should make your co-workers happy.

• Schedule the majority of your workouts for Monday through Friday. "That way if I missed one or two of my scheduled sessions, it was easier to fit in to my weekend since I didn't have any other exercise obligations," Sarah says.


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