Don’t let exercise be the first thing to fall off your busy schedule. Learn how to work in a workout―and make it really effective.

1. Exercise in quick spurts. A new study has found that people who did just four to six 30-second sprints reaped the same heart-health benefits as those who logged a moderate 40- to 60-minute workout. Two ways to get your heart racing: Jump rope for three minutes, or sprint to and from the mailbox three times (ignore the neighbors’ curious looks). If you live in an urban area, sprint blocks sporadically (just pretend you’re running for the bus).

2. Make your home a fitter place. To help you flex your muscles more often, leave a set of dumbbells near your microwave and do curls while heating up dinner. Put a yoga mat next to the bed so you can do downward dogs when you get up or at bedtime. Hang a resistance band on the bathroom doorknob and strength-train while the tub fills up. Or use a stability ball as a desk chair to engage your core when paying bills.

3. Inconvenience yourself. Instead of always doing things the easy or fast way (standing on escalators, using valet parking), rethink the services that curb your activity level. Even tiny changes can make a difference. So don’t have someone else run upstairs to grab your sweater, for example; fetch it yourself.

4. Reinvent date night. If your usual evening out consists of dinner and a movie (read: sedentary), consider bonding in a more active way, like dinner and dancing or taking in a museum exhibition.

5. Or make a date with Michael Scott. You wouldn’t dare miss your favorite office-set comedy. So schedule regular workouts at your gym during your must-see TV shows and you’ll work up a sweat and watch the time fly. If you have equipment at home, slide it into TV-viewing position―a workout in itself.

6. Deskercise. To squeeze in a few moves at work, download Break Pal, a program that pops up on your monitor every 30 minutes with a three-minute routine ($20, breakpal.com). When the phone rings, take the call standing up to burn 10 percent more calories than you would chatting in a chair.

7. Brave the outdoors. During the winter, for instance, in 30 minutes, you’ll burn about 182 calories shoveling the driveway (while saving money by not outsourcing it), 205 sledding, or 191 ice-skating.


More from Real Simple:

The Secret of a Better Workout

15-Minute Jump-Rope Workout

Fitness New Uses for Old Things


8. Put it in ink. You stick to the doctor’s appointments and work meetings that are on your calendar, so why not take the same approach to exercise sessions? Every Sunday night, schedule them into your weekly planner (or your PDA). To make sure your family members are on board, place the calendar in a common area so they can see it. That way, workout times become public declarations and nonnegotiable parts of your routine.

9. Be a coach. Find a youth league in your area and put your old athletic skills to good use. Running laps or teaching techniques will get your heart rate going. Plus, it’s a great strategy for those who find treadmills a slog. To find a team, check with your school district or the Positive Coaching Alliance (positivecoach.org).

10. Enlist Fido. Exercising a dog will get your arms and legs pumping. (A Canadian study found that dog owners spend about 300 minutes a week doing canine-related physical activity.) No pooch? Help a neighbor or volunteer at an animal shelter.

11. Don’t let travel derail you. Instead of returning from vacation feeling flabby, plan a week filled with hiking, biking, walking, or an activity you’ll train for. Visit Gorp Travel (gorptravel.away.com) for ideas. Many hotel chains also have programs to help you. Most Westin Hotels and Resorts offer rooms that contain fitness equipment. And Hilton Garden Inns will give you a free Stay Fit Kit, which includes a Pilates band, a yoga mat, and hand weights.

12. Put a personal trainer in your pocket. If you own an iPod or some other MP3 player, download complete audio or video workouts from iTrain.com or PumpOne.com. To go that extra mile or work out longer, download podcasts of radio shows, like National Public Radio’s This American Life, or add a few new songs to your playlist every two weeks.

13. Look at yourself. No, really. Put a mirror in front of the treadmill. Researchers have found that people who watch themselves while working out exercise faster with less effort. Eyeing yourself can make a new exercise routine feel easier.

14. Increase the beat. Listen to faster music and your feet will follow suit. And, says a new study, you may also exercise for up to 15 percent longer. Try BeatScanner, a free PC-compatible program at bestworkoutmusic.com that searches your music library for upbeat tunes. Or use the Yamaha BodiBeat, an MP3 player that adjusts the music to your pace ($300,yamahashoponline.com).

15. Track your steps. Wearing a pedometer will log your progress and may motivate you (aim for at least 10,000 steps a day). Log on to pedometersusa.com to find one. Simple pedometers measure just steps; sophisticated models track calories burned, distance, and more.