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Exercising in a tiny space - Helen's journal and online home
In which an old dog attempts to learn new tricks.
Exercising in a tiny space
I've already written a couple of posts about my attempts to get more movement into my working day. Since being made redundant from my teaching job three years ago, I have been working part-time tutoring online from home, so a lot of the usual suggestions such as "take the stairs instead of the lift" or "get off the bus/train/tube a stop early and walk the rest of the way into work" just do not apply to someone who works in a tiny spare bedroom in a tiny house and whose commute simply involves a 3 metre walk from bed to desk.

For some tasks I now use the laptop on the improvised standing desk. This encourages me to move a little as I work, but for some things, including Internet, I have to use the desktop.

It may actually be possible to improvise some way of raising the keyboard and monitor on my desk so I can stand at it, but at the moment the in-tray is behind the monitor and so there isn't room. I am planning to do some rearranging in my study, but that's not likely to happen for a few weeks at least, so I went down a different route.

What I bought:

A mini exercise bike like this. This seems to be basically the same model on sale in the US under a different brand. The only difference being that mine has straps on the pedals to stop the feet slipping.

A mini stepper like this one. Here is something similar available in the US.

A hula hoop

Total cost, just under £100. Together they gave me three ways of exercising in very little space.

The mini-bike sits under the desk. I can't cycle whilst typing because there isn't enough clearance for my knees, but if I stop working and take a break to read a website or catch up on LJ, I just push the retractable keyboard shelf in and do some pedalling. Suddenly I'm not skiving off when I'm doing non-work stuff on the computer, I am virtuously exercising! :)

I haven't used the mini stepper much yet, but the plan is to use that while listening to the Welsh lessons on the iPod or learning sentences with flashcards etc. Also, the mini stepper is small enough to be easily picked up and moved to other parts of the house, so I'm not stuck in one place and could use it while watching TV.

The hula hoop was bought on a whim. I can't remember what made me think it might be a fun thing to do, but it has turned out to be a great success and provides a really good aerobic workout and lots of motivation to keep exercising. (More on this in future posts!)

However, the really interesting thing is not necessarily what I bought but how I've been using them. Some years ago I lost a lot of weight and got pretty fit by walking for 30 minutes each lunchtime on workdays and going for at least a 1 hour walk every non-working day. But good habits always seem hard to maintain and for various reasons since the redundancy I'd got into a whole negative spiral about exercise. My attempt to join the local leisure centre and use the gym was a dismal failure. I didn't go even once after the induction session.

Partly it was because work expands to fit the time available and it seemed difficult to justify taking an hour out of the day to do something non-productive when there was so much else I ought to be doing. Another reason was that being out walking on a lovely sunny day while G was stuck inside at work seemed unfair and made me feel guilty for enjoying myself. And of course when it was pouring down with rain, I didn't want to go out and get soaked!

There was also the boredom factor. I don't have an exercise buddy, so whatever I do I end up doing on my own. After several years of walking the same routes, it got harder and harder to whip up the enthusiasm to walk.[*] And finally, though exercise can be good for depression, walking alone, especially around routes that sometimes trigger memories, often led to too much introspection.

I decided to try a totally different approach using mini-exercise sessions of just 5 minutes duration with the goal of doing at least 6 per day.

So far it's working beautifully. I've been doing it for 2½ weeks (with a grid on a sheet of paper to record how much I do) and most days I've managed the 30 minutes of exercise without any difficulty. This week I have upped the length of the sessions to 7½ minutes and after two weeks at that level, I will increase again to 10 minutes per session, still with the goal of doing 30-60 minutes of exercise in the comfort of my own home. If I go for a walk or a cycle ride, that will be in addition. I have no intention of increasing beyond 10 minutes per session on the mini-biking and stepping, though I may with the hooping because that is proving addictive. :)

Overall, my strategy has worked. I already feel better, have more energy and have lost 2lbs! I haven't made any deliberate alterations to my diet, but counter-intuitively, I feel less hungry than when I slumped at the computer all day. What is more, when I do feel hungry, it's a proper tummy-rumbly kind of hunger, not the fuzzy-brain low blood sugar thing.

After doing this for about a week and already beginning to feel the results, I thought I'd look to see if anyone had done any research on exercising in short bursts rather than one long session per day. There wasn't all that much, but this paper seemed to be the one that fitted my situation best and the scientific research indicates that multiple short sessions are just as good as one long session, which fits my albeit limited personal experiment.

In terms of motivation, I'm finding it much easier to set a timer for 5, 7½ or 10 minutes and just do a short spontaneous session of pedalling or hooping at a convenient moment. Because I'm not working at high intensity for long periods, I don't get hot and sweaty, so changing clothes isn't required, beyond taking off and putting back on a layer when I do a session of hooping. It no longer matters what the weather is doing, so I don't spend the day waiting for it to stop raining, only to find that it never does and yet another day has gone by without exercising.

So my preliminary conclusions are:

1) If you have an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, adding some very short exercise sessions to your daily routine is beneficial. You do not need to set aside a whole hour at once.

2) A mini-bike is an excellent way of getting some movement into your day if you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer. They are so portable that I see no reason why you couldn't even take one in to the office if you work away from home. I'm not claiming that mini-biking will make you fit, but it provides enough movement for health and to improve blood circulation in the legs. I now combine cycling with arm waving exercises for a more complete work out. A mini-bike is cheap and as long as you don't hammer it -- remember, they're not intended for people who fancy themselves riding in the Tour de France! -- they seem durable enough. The "computer" on mine died after about a week, but I wasn't using it anyway. I just set a timer and pedal until it beeps.

[*] My idea of getting a dog to motivate me to go out for walks didn't work out either and though I haven't ruled it out entirely, it's probably not the right time just at the moment. We've got into the habit of taking little breaks away from home on the spur of the moment and adding a pet into the equation suddenly makes everything more complicated and expensive. If I ever find a suitable dog to borrow a couple of times a week, however, than that could be the ideal solution.

[LiveJournal is occasionally a bit wobbly so this was posted to Dreamwidth http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/9637.html and then crossposted to LJ. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

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17 comments or Leave a comment
fjm From: fjm Date: September 15th, 2011 10:10 am (UTC) (Link)
If there is a dog shelter near you, they would probably be very happy to take you on as a dog walker.

(I once had to find compulsory work experience for a very annoyed 63 year old student--I had wanted to ask her to give a talk to the students, but I was told that wouldn't count--so she volunteered for dog walking).
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 10:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately, the nearest animal shelter is about one and a half hour's drive and they aren't really supposed to have dogs, though there are usually a couple living on the premises. There was a shelter somewhat nearer, but it closed shortly after I discovered it. :(

This is the downside of living in a very rural community. Lots of things that are convenient in a big town or city are difficult to find in the country. The Welsh dog rehoming charities that do operate in the area rely on foster homes rather than having their own premises.

I have become a Cinnamon Trust volunteer, but no one has contacted me yet to ask me to help with anything. It looks like I will have to be more proactive and I'm not quite sure how to go about it. The trick would be to find one dog to walk without creating a demand that I can't satisfy! Fund raising and recruiting other volunteers is not something that appeals to me and I don't think that I would be very good at it.
fjm From: fjm Date: September 15th, 2011 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Just a thought but you could try Age Concern. It;s not unsual for older people to have problems walking their dogs and it means they can keep them longer.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
That's an idea! The Cinnamon Trust was set up to do exactly that, but they don't seem to have any people in this area yet. Age Concern, being bigger, might have a local presence. Otherwise I might try dropping some leaflets off at the doctor's surgery and the vet.
blackberry44 From: blackberry44 Date: September 15th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I now combine cycling with arm waving exercises

Oh, how I would love to see that!

Seriously though, I have been thinking for some time of getting one of those mini-bikes, because I could exercise sitting down since I can't stand for long, and you have made me decide to get one. Whether I shall wave my arms about at the same time is something I can consider at a later date.

Do you use the mini-bike while working at your desk?
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I can use the bike while reading things on the screen, but I can't actually work and cycle because there isn't enough room for my knees under the keyboard shelf. If I push the shelf in (I have one of those computer desks with a retractable shelf for the keyboard), it's fine and I can reach forward to use the mouse to a limited extent, for example just to scroll down or click on a link to move to another page. It therefore works well for taking breaks from actual work.

The mini-bike would also be ideal for in front of the TV and you could have an exercise routine where you pedal through the adverts and then relax to watch the programme. The trick really is to find some short spaces of time and then find some type of activity that gets you moving.

Re the arm waving, I may draw some cartoons to illustrate it! :)

Another way to exercise the arms is to put the mini-bike on a table and "pedal" it with your hands.
carl_allery From: carl_allery Date: September 15th, 2011 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Well done, sounds like a great solution. I think the shorter sessions is a great way of making it seem less of a huge thing. I've been trying to motivate my mother in a similar way to do little and often.

I use a cross-trainer, but I start by telling myself I only have to do 10 mins and then decide whether I think I can do another 10 or 5 or just to the end of the mile or the TV episode. ;)
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you have the space for full size exercise equipment, then that is no doubt much better than the mini versions I have bought, but whatever the activity, if you think you're only going to do it for 5 or 10 minutes, then it's much easier to get started.

As the Welsh proverb has it: "Deuparth gwaith, ei ddechrau" (Beginning is two thirds of the work), so the easier it is to begin, the more likely something is to get done! :)

carl_allery From: carl_allery Date: September 15th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
One of the joys of living alone is the freedom to prioritise furniture vs exercise equipment. The cross-trainer folds to more the size of an exercise bike, but it's having a 2'6" bed that lets me trundle it out for use. :)
readthisandweep From: readthisandweep Date: September 15th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. *Thinks* How very interesting...

This morning I was thinking about my bicycle & how I hardly ever ride it. (Lampeter isn't particularly bicycle friendly.) I do need to get more exercise & a mini bike might be the answer.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 12:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
As I said above, I'm not sure that the mini-bike is doing more than keeping my circulation moving, but if you spend a lot of time on the computer (as I do), then it's something to consider. However, it's the hula hooping that seems to be the thing that's really giving me a work out. But more about that later... :)

PS Do any of the women at WIT do hooping? There is quite an association between hooping, poi and music, especially at festivals.
la_marquise_de_ From: la_marquise_de_ Date: September 15th, 2011 11:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Those are really excellent solutions. I find the gym mostly works for me except when I get really busy (then the whole thing of finding a whole hour cuts in) but short bursts are a good idea. And yay on how well it's working for you.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yes. If the gym works for you, then it's fine. I've never had a gym available and it just felt like an alien place when I went for the induction, so this was my attempt to find a more workable solution.
rymrytr From: rymrytr Date: September 15th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Unplug the computer and hook it to a Charger that hooks to your Bike. Then, you will have the ride to charge. And maybe a mini tread mill for the dog. It can provide electricity for your computer as the dog walks... ala Rub Goldberg style :o)

heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: September 15th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know about powering the computer, but it would be a nice idea to have the mini-bike connected to a dynamo that would charge small things, like mobile phones and iPods. :)
dendrophilous From: dendrophilous Date: September 17th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've also read about the benefits of small exercise sessions. I try to do extra walking/stair climbing at work, getting up every hour or so for a break. I don't know if I do "enough" but it keeps my legs from feeling so stiff.
From: mossfree Date: September 17th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another solution to this problem, if you have a bit more room can be seen here: http://fitdesk.net/ - note, this is a cheap folding exercise bike with a place across the top to place a laptop on. I cycle to work in summer, it's winter that is the problem, and the boredom factor. I found it was easier to do a session on a cheap folding exercise bike with a timer, and playing a game on the Nintendo DS. I have one of those mini bikes, I used it for rehabilitation after the knee replacement. They are a help, but not as effective as a full sized bike. And yes, several short exercise sessions seem to be as good as one long one.
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