Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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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.]
Tags: exercise, hooping, move more
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