null 15 Minute Challenge: Exercise for Couch Potatoes
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15 Minute Challenge: Exercise for Couch Potatoes

Some of the best things in life come from spuds. French fries. Gnocchi. Even vodka. But fitness? Not so much.

It’s easy for anyone to slip into a sedentary routine over the course of a long winter, but caregivers are at an even higher risk of lethargy: Half of adult caregivers say it’s difficult to balance work and caregiving, 75% find the effort to be at least moderately stressful, and more than 50% find it to be overwhelming. It’s no surprise, then, that many caregivers simply can’t find the time to exercise.

Baby steps

Here’s the good news: If you aren’t exercising at all, anything you do is a step in the right direction. We’re not suggesting you sign up for a marathon, or even a 5k. A 2007 study of 464 older or overweight women showed that they improved their fitness by riding an exercise bike for just over an hour each week. That works out to less than 10 minutes a day.

It’s also worth noting that the women who worked out harder (about three hours per week, or 25 minutes a day), enjoyed even greater boosts in stamina. To get the most out of exercise, try to gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate activity four or five times per week. Put in couch potato terms, that’s three episodes of Tiger King each week. Heck, you could even lift some hand weights while watching Tiger King!

A few of our favorite things

We dislike running. No, “dislike” is too mild. We loathe running. But for years, we signed up for “couch to 10k” programs, then berated ourselves for quitting two weeks in.

A few years back, we committed to never running another step, unless we were being chased or something was on fire. Instead, we hike, or if we’re too tired, we walk. Sometimes we simply amble. The most important thing is that we get outside, whether it’s for 15 minutes or an hour. We feel the sun and breathe fresh air and move our bodies, even if we don’t want to. And we always, always feel better afterwards.

Don’t like running, hiking, walking, or ambling? Dust off your bike. You can start by simply riding around the block. If that feels good, try two blocks. The next time, go even farther.

Not able to leave the house? Try indoor rowing, a stationary bike, or one of the hundreds of exercise apps out there. Some of our favorite fitness routines are free on YouTube. We can find everything from gentle yoga designed for seniors to a full, intense seven-minute workout that tires out even our most energetic teenager.

Go easy on yourself

Your body may be desperate for exercise, but fitness can’t be hurried. Don’t try to make up for years of inactivity with a few frantic bursts. Doing too much too soon is a recipe for a quick flameout.

Keep your mental expectations in check, too. Think realistically about your goals. If you expect to transform your body instantly, you’ll be disappointed. The benefits of exercise build slowly over time, and you may not feel especially fit when you first start. That’s okay.

You should also consider your motivation. If you’re exercising purely out of guilt, you aren’t likely to stick to it for the long-term. Instead, try to view exercise as a gift to your body—a gift you truly deserve.

As always, talk to your doctor if you have an underlying condition, are extremely overweight, or have been completely inactive for a prolonged period of time. Make sure you pay attention to any nausea, dizziness, or chest pains, which are all signs that your workouts are too difficult.

And if anything passes the level of discomfort and begins to actually hurt, stop immediately. Remember: Your goal is to feel better, not worse.

Having written for companies ranging from MTV to the Olympics, Valerie Henderson spearheads Carewell's communications and PR efforts. A resident of Park City, Utah, Valerie enjoys four of the things her region is famous for: hiking, independent film, a house full of kids, and weak beer.

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