Back to Fitness: Finding Time and Energy


By John Andersen

Every Wednesday at 5:04 a.m., my alarm clock goes off, typically blaring some obnoxiously rockin’ song on the radio – Here I am!  Rock you like a hurricane!  And every Wednesday at 5:04 a.m. I groan and start debating the million reasons I should really just stay in bed and skip the morning’s workout. I mean seriously, it’s 7 degrees outside and windy!  I’ll probably die!  Somehow, I manage to get myself out of bed, into some running clothes, and out the door.

Even after years of doing so, waking up early in the morning to exercise is never easy for me.  In fact, it’s pretty much always horrible considering that at 5 a.m. your bed is pretty much the most comfortable place on the planet. However, not once in my life have I ever regretted waking up and going on a morning run. No matter how little sleep I got, or what the weather was, I always consider at the end of my run how glad I am that I woke up and got to experience it.

I share this snippet of my week because the two biggest limits keeping us from staying active are time and energy. Lack of time and lack of energy. It often seems insurmountable, exhausting, and hopeless. Yet I argue that everyone has plenty of time to exercise, it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to trade. And I would argue that the energy comes when you make exercise a routine and start to feel the positive effects it has on your body. Lack of exercise makes us lack energy, while getting exercise gives us energy in our daily lives.

Working, parenting, cleaning, volunteering, organizing, networking, grocery shopping…there are many things that sap away any available time we have. Yet by making exercise—lots of exercise—a priority, we can find a way to get it done. That’s right; we need to think of exercise as a priority in our lives, not something we’ll do when we have enough time or energy.  Flipping this paradigm is the single most important thing you can do to get back to fitness.

Can’t quite muster up the energy to rise before the roosters?  Here’s some perspective:

Schedule it:  I have “scheduled” runs on Wednesday mornings (5:30 a.m.), Thursday evenings (8:15 p.m.), and Saturday mornings (5:30 a.m.).  These times interfere minimally with my family and work life and they anchor my weekly exercise schedule.  Though I will usually run on Tuesdays and Sundays too, those times change and allow me flexibility in my schedule depending on my family.  Also, by committing to exercise during these times, I get out there no matter how I’m feeling or how the weather is. It’s a life lesson–ride the waves and roll with the punches.

If you don’t have a few regular exercise days and times, make it happen. Otherwise, it’s very easy to not do anything at all, or you become just a fair-weather exerciser.

Get outside:  We humans need to get outdoors regularly, even in winter. When we don’t, we’re not right. I promise I am not anti-gym, but I do wonder about those folks on the treadmill as I run by the gym. Some of my most energizing, inspirational, and spiritual runs have been on some of the coldest, nastiest days. On a recent freezing cold, zero-dark-thirty run, I came to a spot where I had full view of our beautiful Crozet mountains, covered with snow and blasted with bright, full moonlight. It was stunning. I was definitely glad I woke up that morning! Get outside, explore the area, and breathe the air. This will energize you for your next activity.

Find some friends: The best motivator is a friend and exercise partner. Schedule some runs with a friend. You will hold each other accountable and exercising is always more enjoyable!

Get to bed on time:  Trying to wake up at 5 or 6 a.m.?  Your difficulty in getting up will be directly proportional to how late you stay up. I often make my mornings miserable by staying up until 11:30 when I’m running at 5 a.m. It kills me sometimes. Don’t forget, sleeping is training, too!

Turn off the tube:  I’m not a crazy person who says don’t watch TV.  But, admit it, it does suck up a lot of time and energy that could be doing a lot of productive things.

Talk with your spouse: Carving out time for yourself is going to take you out of the picture for a while, and this can be troubling in a busy family. If you’re starting up with exercise or increasing your exercise towards a goal, be sure to have a good sit-down with your spouse or family. Let them know your goals and why you are doing this. It may be difficult for your husband to juggle the three kids while you’re gone on a two-hour Saturday bike ride, but if he understands where you’re coming from, it will lead to support and not resentment. Also, don’t be the time hog. If you are taking up a lot of time exercising, be sure to reciprocate with your spouse. Last, after a hard long run, it’s not sit-on-the-couch time…it’s GO time!  Be prepared to be plugged in when you get home. No matter how epic your run or ride was, odds are your spouse doesn’t care, she just wants you to help!

Take the time and don’t feel guilty:  There’s nothing worse than feeling guilty about going on a run.  Many of us can’t help but feel like we’re abandoning our spouses and kids to take on a selfish pursuit.  Remember that exercise is not only important for your physical and mental health, but you are also modeling the importance of exercise for your family.  When you leave the door, leave those worries behind for just an hour.

Set a goal and declare it:  I definitely need a goal in front of me to keep motivated. Spend some time looking through race calendars, or thinking about an active vacation (hiking trip, etc.) and book it! Send in the check! It will change your outlook and get you motivated to stay on task.  And don’t keep it to yourself.  Tell your friends and family so they will hold you accountable.

Make it a goal to make exercise a priority in your life this year. You’ve only got one life, and this is it!