Don't let time run away with your fitness


Fitting exercise into a busy life is a challenge – but the physical and mental benefits far outweigh the effort, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

TWO OUT of five Irish people say they never or rarely exercise, according to recent EU research. And of these, almost half say that they simply don’t have the time.

Fitting exercise into a busy life is a challenge with which even the most motivated among us struggle. Yet, people who exercise routinely will testify that they are mentally more able and physically fresher as a result. So, how can you fit exercise into a busy life?

Anne O’Leary, business and enterprise director of Vodafone Ireland, is an example of someone who has a demanding work life yet manages to fit regular exercise into her week.

“The first thing to remember is that you need to be disciplined and you need to decide that you want to be fit,” she says. “When I’m fit, I sleep, feel and look better and it gives me confidence and energy.”

O’Leary exercises five days a week. Three mornings a week she swims, runs or does spinning exercises on a stationary bicycle in the gym. “Like everyone else, I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning, but if I do a 45-minute run before work, I feel great afterwards.”

O’Leary was a swimmer as a child and although, like many teenager girls, she let it go for a while, she took it up again at 18. “I also started back into it by running for 20 minutes once a week and built that up to an hour.”

O’Leary now competes in triathlons (swimming, cycling and running) and encourages members of her staff to get involved in sports. “A group of people at work did the Connemara half-marathon recently. I’ve been mentoring them and it’s great to see the sense of achievement they feel.”

Some people might find O’Leary’s level of exercise difficult to reach, but the key is to build it up slowly and celebrate your progress. Parents of young children are often exhausted by the demands of work and home life, but sometimes finding half an hour for exercise can make the rest of the day seem less demanding.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t get around to fitting in exercise. But now that I’ve two children, I put it first and the difference is amazing. I’ve more energy to play with the children. The thing is if you don’t do it, you get into a more relaxed zone and don’t realise the benefits that you are missing,” says one mum.

The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) runs motivational exercise programmes in workplaces and community settings. These include specific challenges that workers can set themselves. “Time is the biggest barrier to exercise for people, so we find that these programmes allow people to incorporate exercise into their working days,” says Ann Scanlon, health promotion officer with the IHF.

The IHF’s step challenge has proven to be particularly popular. “Over 5,000 employees in 54 companies take part in it,” she explains. “You wear a pedometer and set yourself weekly targets for the number of steps. We encourage people to form teams and to climb a virtual mountain over time. There is also a five-week walking challenge and a heart points challenge,” she explains.

The IHF encourages workplaces to designate a staff member as the exercise co-ordinator. This person will then send employees e-mails to encourage them to exercise throughout the day. “Even things like always taking the stairs and walking to someone’s desk instead of sending them an e-mail helps,” she says.

The IHF also has what’s called a desk workout, which is available on a CD Rom. It includes an innovative series of exercises that can be done while sitting at or standing near your desk. “We find that it has been good for community groups and smaller organisations,” says Scanlon.

The IHF’s colourful Slí na Sláinte signs, which measure distances in outdoor settings so that people can track their progress, have also been incorporated into 60 workplaces throughout the country .

When you’re unemployed or affected by depression, you may have all the time in the world to exercise but lack the motivation to do so. “We have clients who find the thought of exercise feels like climbing Mount Everest,” says Peter Connolly, occupational therapist at St John of God hospital in Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

“In the early stages of recovery from depression, you might not feel the benefits of exercise, but we advise clients to get up, stay up and start eating again for energy. Moving itself can become the motivation and you can build up short intense periods of exercise into your daily life.”

Some local sports partnerships are also starting to provide incentives for unemployed people to exercise. South Dublin County Sports Partnership (SDCSP) created links with 20 sports facilities including gyms, swimming pools and pitch putt courses in the past year to provide reduced rates for those who are unemployed.

“We realised that in the last two years, there has been a huge increase in the numbers of people unemployed – particularly young men – and this was a low cost and sustainable way to provide them with opportunities to keep fit,” says Thos McDermott, the co-ordinator of the SDCSP.

Other sports partnerships in Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Monaghan, Mayo, Meath and Sligo are now looking into replicating the Link 2B Active programme available in South Dublin County Council area.

See the Irish Foundation at and South Dublin County Sports Partnership at


1Get up earlier and go for a walk or run before breakfast.

2Plan your lunch break carefully and fit in a 20-minute walk or swim if you’ve got facilities close to you.

3Join a yoga, pilates or aerobics class. Some workplaces organise these classes during lunchtime or at the end of the working day. The latter can mean that you also avoid rush-hour traffic and arrive home more refreshed.

4If you’re dropping children to sports activities, take the opportunity to run or walk while they are at the class instead of trying to get the shopping done.

5Get a dog and take it for daily walks.

6Join a running or walking club. Or check out the circuit training activities that take place in local parks or aqua aerobics classes in swimming pools.

7Cajole a friend into joining you for a routine walk or run two or three times a week.

8Walk or cycle to and from work a few days a week.

9Find out what’s available in your area at weekends via your local sports partnership. Try out a new team sport or take up something you enjoyed as a child.

10Bring the family on weekly or monthly hillwalking outings. Some family members may complain, but you’ll feel a shared sense of achievement afterwards.