by Liz Neporent, M.A.
You're up for work at the crack of dawn and home long after the sun has set. When you get home there are bills to pay, dogs to walk, laundry to fold. How can you get in shape when it seems you're squeezing every possible minute out of your day? Here are some valuable tips to take full advantage of your lunch hour, that oft-forgotten, golden, get-in-shape opportunity.
You need to do less than you think: If you use your time wisely and efficiently, 30 minutes of exercise can go a long way and still leave you time to get changed and have a good, balanced lunch. For instance, a recent study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week offers plenty of healthy benefits including some weight loss, protection from heart disease, and bone density preservation. It also found that one concentrated weight-training session a week is enough to strengthen your muscles.
No gym cardio training: If you don't have gym at your disposal you can still take advantage of the time by quickly dressing into workout clothes and heading outdoors for a brisk walk. Walking is the most simple and basic workout you can do, and if you walk for just 30 minutes on your lunch hour you can burn 100-300 calories, depending on your body weight and pace. If you can throw in some hills, you'll not only up your overall calorie burn, you'll get a great butt- and thigh-toning workout as well.
Quick resistance: How about a couple of quick sets of forward lunges or squats to help define your lower body? These exercises take very little room to perform and can even be done at your desk. A couple of sets of pushups will go a long way in toning your upper body as well. You can also tote along some exercise tubing in your purse to do a full-body strength-training routine before you grab a quick sandwich.
Amp it up: When you have limited time, work out at a higher intensity. You'll get a higher calorie-burn bang for your buck. For example, if you weigh 135 pounds and you typically walk on the treadmill at 3.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes, you'll burn about 120 calories. But raise your speed to 4.0 miles per hour and add a 3 percent grade and you'll boost your calorie burn to 185 calories.
Higher-intensity weights: The same principle applies here. Moving through your weights faster with less rest between sets will not only help you finish up your workout in a shorter period of time, it will also burn more calories. If whipping through a weight workout is not your style, opt for heavier weights and fewer reps, a real time-saver that can also help build more muscle. For instance if you normally do 15 reps of a bicep curl with 10 pounds, try 12 or 15 pounds for 8-10 reps.
Break it up: There's no law that says you need to do your entire workout in one shot. At the beginning of your lunch hour, walk for 20 minutes and then try for an additional 10-20 minutes in the morning or the evening. You'll burn just as many calories, and studies suggest you'll get about the same benefits you would if you did all your working out at once.