How to Trick Yourself into Exercising

How to Trick Yourself into Exercising

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If you’re like me (and the majority of Americans), given the choice, we’ll always pick takeout and Netflix over Ironmans and Soul Cycling. At the same time, we know how important physical activity is for our heart health. So what’s a self-professed couch potato to do? Trick yourself into exercising, of course. Read on to find out how to drop the dread, and find the fun.

Hate to hit the gym? Here’s good news: The AHA defines physical activity as “anything that makes you move your body and burn calories.” If you’re not ready to start training for your first marathon or swim the English channel, don’t worry—every bit counts. The key is to get out of your chair and move your blood, regardless of how much you break a sweat.

According to The American Heart Association, “Being physically active is important to prevent heart disease and stroke, the nation’s number 1 and number 5 killers.” For overall cardiovascular health improvement, they suggest at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise or one hour and fifteen minutes of vigorous exercise each week, which equals about thirty minutes a day, five times a week.

These shorter segments seem more manageable, and getting your daily dose becomes a no-brainer. Literally. Because you’re not even thinking of the following cardio-pumpers as exercise. So do your ticker a favor, have some fun, and follow our lead.

Walk and Talk

Instead of catching up with your BFF over a cup of joe or a glass of wine, take it to the streets. Gossip, gab, and chin-wag as you traverse your ‘hood, and thirty minutes will melt away. Bonus: You’ll know you’re exercising vigorously as opposed to moderately when breathing is a challenge while conversing. Still want that beverage treat? Make that your reward for working out, and you’ll be more likely to lace up your sneakers next time as well.

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Rediscover the Playground

Even as an adult, it’s important to get in touch with your inner child once in a while. Drive or walk to a local playground midday when the kids are in school or after dinner, and step right up to the swing-set. An adult can burn up to 200 calories an hour swinging, with the added bonus of relieving stress and reducing anxiety. While you’re there, climb to the top of the jungle gym to remind yourself of muscle groups you forgot you had. Head home and take a bath with your long-neglected rubber ducky, and we guarantee you’ll sleep like a baby.

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Rollick with Rover

On days when you can’t imagine rolling out of bed and leaving the house, man’s (and woman’s) best friend can be just the inspiration you need. Knowing you’re responsible for providing poochie with her aerobic exercise can launch you out the front door in all kinds of weather, nipping excuses right in the bud. Don’t have a dog? Volunteer to walk a neighbor’s hound a few times each week. Studies show that having a regular workout on the calendar, as well as an obligation to another person, helps you stay accountable and stick to your workouts.

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Get Fit with the Family

Do your kids always have their faces buried in screens? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… but with a healthy twist. Bring family game-night to its feet, and work out with your Xbox or Wii. There’s even a word for this living-room fitness regimen: Exer-gaming. It might surprise you to get a side stitch slicing giant melons playing Fruit Ninja, or getting winded snowboarding with Shaun White, but swinging a virtual bat or racket burns real calories. Top game-console choices for sustained heart-rate acceleration include boxing, cycling, and dancing.

Do the Deed

Yes, sex can indeed be helpful to the heart. According to a 2014 article on Health Essentials, it can reduce stress and make you happier and more relaxed. Plus the longer you spend in the sack, the greater the benefits are. “Your blood pressure will go up during sex, typically to a peak of around 160/90. That’s comparable to what happens during a brisk run for a few minutes.” A National Institute of Health study showed that men who engage in sex at least twice a week are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who only hit the sheets once a month. They would guess that it’s the same for females as well. So, while sex won’t burn all your daily calories, if you are with someone you love, it’s a much more pleasant way to stay active than, say, swinging a medicine ball or doing jumping jacks.

Make Music

Listening to music can be a great stress-reliever, but did you know that when done right, playing music can actually be considered a light workout? An article on The Violin Channel lists the calorie burn of an average hour of violin playing as approximately 175, the equivalent of about two glasses of wine. The same amount of time spent playing the violin’s giant cousin, the cello, will burn about 140 calories, or about the amount found in a standard homemade brownie. For a bigger burn, consider pounding on a drum set to shave off 280 calories in an hour, or some high-speed trombone sliding to sizzle away 245 calories in an hour.

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Want more ideas to help you rack up the minutes toward your activity goal and whittle away calories? Here’s a short list of easy activity bursts that won’t feel like exercise:

  • Park at the back of the lot, and walk to the mall doors
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Do laps of your office while you’re on a call
  • Clean your house: Scrub, vacuum, mop, do laundry
  • Help a friend move
  • Paint a wall
  • Hand wash your car

When you think of all the enjoyable ways you can pump your blood and break a sweat, burrowing on the sofa might have less of a draw. You may not transform into a marathoner overnight, but if you trick yourself just a little, you could be on the right road to fitness without even realizing you’ve revved up your engine.

Lynn Marie Hulsman

I'm a New York City-based novelist, cookbook writer, and ideation agent whose former jobs include stand-up comic, bookseller, and medical editor. Interests include nutrition, pop psychology, British culture, and dogs. My very favorite thing is reading.
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