I have a few friends who are longtime habitual exercisers but still look at me like I’m on a different planet when I talk about the finer points of moving from five to six workouts a week. Why? They currently feel in “survival mode” with seemingly 24/7 work demands, business travel, and school-age kids in the house. The time when they can work out five-plus times a week seems somewhere down the road.
Fair enough. I’ve been there. But no matter what, when survival mode conditions last more than a week, you simply need to figure out how to maintain at least basic fitness.
There’s a minimum threshold below which “postponing fitness” is not the answer, even for short-term productivity, let alone long-term thriving.
So here are a few simple but powerful fitness and Wellness tactics to adopt when life puts you into survival mode.
Giving Physical Exercise its Appropriate Priority
You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or getting dressed because you’re busy. In this same way, though exercise takes longer, the first step is to think of 3x-per-week exercise as an inviolable requirement for yourself. And for those who count on you to stay healthy, productive and be the best you.
I’m not talking about that “crunch period” a few times a year where you’re under the gun for uber-important stuff with unforgiving deadlines, constant travel, etc. I’m talking about the other 48-50 weeks per year. (If you have more than a few of these “not even time to work out three times” weeks every year…that’s something to evaluate, man).
In longer-term survival mode beyond an exceptional crunch week here or there, you should treat a baseline level of exercise as your #3 priority, behind sleep and work/family things you simply have to do. This means some nice-to / should-do work things are lower priority (such as repeated, protracted business dinners). And time with media/social media.
Baseline Exercise Plan: 3x per Week
The American Heart Association and others identify a minimum level of exercise for basic fitness as “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.”
They don’t explicitly mention strength/resistance training, but maintaining muscle tone and some strength is also key for long-term health. And, I’ll admit at least for myself, at an ego level. Are we not men?
So, putting all that together equates to a minimum of three days per week.
Which three days? If you need to minimize weekday impact, make it Saturday, Sunday and one of Tues-Weds-Thurs. But if at all possible, space things out so there’s no two-in-a-row. One thing that’s worked for me: call it quits on a Friday just a bit early to work out…then work a little Saturday to make up the time. That way, you can have a three-day pattern of Tues/Weds, Fri, Sun.
Which activities? Under these circumstances, the best ones overlap endurance and whole-body muscle work. Swimming and high-intensity interval training (“HiiT”) are probably the best examples of this.
Here’s a tool to find a pool near where you live, work or travel. For HiiT workouts, you can do them on your own based on a simple web search for routines, subscribe to an online source of led classes (Beachbody-on-demand has a ton), or attend a live class (here’s a starter list of HiiT-oriented classes in major US metro areas).
Or, do combo workouts where you get 30 minutes of cardio and then a 15- or 20-minute “mini-strength” session with multi-muscle exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and core work.
If you really like lifting, you can get away with two days a week made up of things mentioned above, and one all-over day hitting the weights.
Seven Days a Week: Seek “Movement” and Time Outdoors
Research continues to find health benefits of simple movement throughout the day. So get up and move around (activity trackers from FitBit, Garmin and others help with this, if you want).
Find opportunities to take a walk, especially on the four days you’re not more-vigorously exercising. Maybe walk to grab lunch instead of driving…if you have kids still young enough to be in a stroller, use it…or still young enough or old enough to agree to take a walk with you, walk with them!
Studies show walking outside isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your mind and soul. You’re too busy? Walking will help you be more productive, so the time invested pays for itself. Perhaps even have a walking meeting with a colleague – it’s not that weird, and once you start this, I bet you’ll continue.
Finally, take the stairs. I ride an escalator fewer than ten times a year (for this reason and many others, my family thinks I’m kind of nuts). But these little opportunities to use your body add up to something positive (or…failures to do so add up to something negative, dude).
Nutrition: Even More Important When You’re in Survival Mode
Please remember: in times of low-exercise-by-necessity, it’s even more important to eat well (and not overeat). This is hard to do, because fitness and nutrition tend to affect each other in a symbiotic way. That’s either positive (“I’m making so much progress working out…don’t want to undermine that with bad nutrition”), or negative (tendency when we’re not exercising as much as desired to think “f**k it, I might as well pig out”).
Brothers, do everything you can to resist this! Compounding lower-than-ideal exercise with poor nutrition and overeating is what leads to the high school reunion observations about how much weight certain guys have gained (or the “scary doctor visit”…or worse).
So maybe you’re in survival mode. Don’t let that make you totally surrender fitness, guys. While understandable and totally human, this should not be a tolerable outcome for an OlderBeast.
“Well, we made a promise we swore we’d always remember. No retreat, baby, no surrender.” (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, No Surrender – click to listen)
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