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Putting the 'Fun' Back Into Fitness

Top athletes and movie stars have the time and motivation to stay in great shape. The rest of us, though, often find it a challenge to fit fitness into our lives.

"It's a matter of attitude," says Antonia P. Williams, M.S., a personal trainer and nutritionist in Alexandria, Va. "If you view exercise as a chore or punishment, that makes it hard for you to do what's necessary. You'll secretly try to avoid it."

Instead, start thinking of fitness as fun. If it's something you want to do, then you'll figure out ways to find time for it.

For example, if the word "workout" sounds too much like work, think of it as "recreation," says Williams. "Who said you had to suffer and sweat on a treadmill?"

Use fitness as an excuse to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature -- or as a chance to play with your children or your dog, she says. When you see how much it adds to your life, you'll make time for it.

It also helps to focus on health, "not vanity," says Williams. "Looking good is really a short-term goal. As soon as you lose those pounds or get your abs looking tight, you say, 'OK, I'm done.'"

But your health is with you forever. And if you devote a little bit of every day to feeling good, pretty soon you're going to start to look better, too.

Time out for health

Once you view fitness as a priority in your life, it's easy to come up with ways to fit it in.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Break it up. If you don't have a half-hour or an hour block of time to exercise, that's OK. Studies show you'll still get benefits by working out for just 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Find two or three such periods during your day.

  • Make an appointment with yourself. If you're a slave to your schedule, schedule time for fitness on your calendar, too. "Put it in ink," says Ms. Williams.

  • Make it easy on yourself. Find a place to work out that's close and convenient. "If you have to drive 40 minutes to your gym, you'll soon say, 'The heck with this,'" says Williams. For ultimate convenience, you can exercise at home with a simple set of hand weights or on a staircase.

  • Do it early. If you leave your fitness routine until the end of your day, it'll fall victim to every overlong meeting and traffic delay. "Get out and get going first thing in the morning. That way, it's done -- and it's a great way to start your day," says Williams.

  • Do more with less time. For example, if you're strength training, lift heavier weights for shorter sets with fewer reps. Or, do compound exercises, such as squats, that work several muscles at the same time. Strength-trainers can also save time with "supersets." Simply work back and forth between opposing muscles -- for example, your chest and your back -- without resting in between.

  • Lunch on fitness. Instead of spending your lunch hour at your desk or in the cafeteria, brown bag it and take a brisk walk.

  • Make weekends count. If you struggle to squeeze in short periods of exercise during the week, schedule one hour per day on Saturday and Sunday to build endurance.

  • Double up. If you simply can't turn off your favorite television show, do floor stretches or step-ups in front of the TV. Grab a hand weight and do some bicep curls while you read your morning newspaper.

  • Work out with the kids. Bicycle with your children, or, if they're younger, trot alongside them while they bike. When you take them to soccer practice, do laps around the field or climb the bleachers a few times instead of just sitting and watching.

  • Ask a trainer. Even one or two sessions with a professional trainer can help you assess your needs and figure out how to meet them safely and effectively.

Take a look at your day and ask, "What's in it for me?" says Williams. "Believe that better health is something you deserve -- and go for it!"