11 sneaky ways to get more movement into your day

Regular physical exercise is good for your body and your brain. Here are some easy ways to move more.

Two women dancing together in their home

You probably know that exercise is good for your physical health. Maybe your doctor advised you to drop a few pounds. Or you’re trying to work on your flexibility and strengthen your bones and muscles, so you don’t fall.

Just as important, exercise boosts your brain health. It can help you think better and solve problems. It can improve your mood and your memory. Staying active may even protect your brain from cognitive decline.

Yet less than a quarter of American adults get enough exercise. If you’re 65 and older, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. You’ll also want to do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. That’s the recommendation of the government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

It may sound like a lot. But you don’t need to schedule 30 minutes or an hour for exercise. Even small bursts of activity add up — and count toward your weekly goal. The goal is simple: Sit less and move more.

If you’re fresh out of ideas, we’ve got you covered. Here are some easy ways to up your activity throughout the day, no matter where you are.

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1. Add quick “exercise snacks” throughout your day

Exercise snacks are quick bursts of vigorous exercise that last a minute or less, according to research in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. And they’re effective. Researchers say that exercise snacks can improve heart health in adults who are inactive. Studies show that a healthy heart promotes brain health, too. Some ideas: jumping jacks, marching in place, walking up and down stairs.

Need a reminder to get up and move? Set alarms on your smartphone or put a few five-minute meetings on your calendar to remind you to take a “snack” break.

2. Learn a new TikTok dance with your grandkids

Yes, having fun can count as exercise too! Your grandkids will think you’re cool and you’ll improve your health. Dancing is a great cardio workout that can also strengthen your balance and coordination. (Not to mention the mood-boosting powers of bonding with your grandchildren.)

Dancing can also benefit your brain health by lowering your risk of dementia, according to the National Library of Medicine. Here are some other key perks of dancing:

  • It gives your memory a workout, because you have to remember all those steps.
  • It (literally) keeps you on your toes, keeping you balanced while you do-si-do your partner.
  • It sharpens your ability to follow a rhythm (think waltz, samba, cha-cha-cha).
  • It requires you to coordinate your movements.

A senior man enjoying using his smart tablet
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3. Turn errands into mini workouts

Any time you’re out of the house is a chance to get in more activity. For example, to enhance your next trip to the grocery store, you can:

  • Park far away from the entrance and power walk to the door.
  • Take the scenic route through the store, walking up and down every aisle.
  • Do bicep curls (yes!) with your grocery bags as you carry them to your car. Add in a leg workout by doing lunges as you carry your bags from the car to the house.
  • Unload the groceries at home one bag at a time. You’ll rack up more steps with multiple trips.

Bonus brain-health points if you memorize your grocery list before you go.

4. Get in a workout while you’re cooking

When you’re in the kitchen, you’re on your feet, moving around, reaching for things in cabinets, and squatting to look at what’s in the oven. It’s basically a workout routine! Spice up this active time by skipping the shortcuts: Mix that cookie dough by hand instead of using a stand mixer. Or make bread (kneading the dough is a great arm workout).

5. Engage your core whenever you can

You can strengthen your abdominal muscles and back muscles while you’re doing routine daily activities, says Mark Slabaugh, M.D. He’s a sports medicine surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. These core muscles are good for your posture, movement, and balance.

“Just focus on tightening up the muscles of the back first while you’re walking around,” says Dr. Slabaugh. “And then also try to tighten up the abdominal muscles at the same time to work on your core.”

6. Give your smartphone a permanent home base

If you have a smartphone, try keeping it in the same spot, so you have to walk to it when you need it. Some research suggests that the average American checks their phone 96 times a day. That’s a lot of extra steps if you don’t keep it parked right next to you.

7. Switch to audiobooks and podcasts

A smartphone isn’t just for texting with your friends. It’s a personal entertainment device too. And it can be a lot more fun to move around when you have something to listen to, such as an audiobook or podcast.

Most local libraries allow you to check out audiobooks for free. Listen while you take a walk, strength train, or ride a stationary bike, and exercise time will feel like an escape. Getting to the next chapter can also motivate you to exercise more.

And while you’re browsing the e-stacks, check out a podcast or audiobook for beginner’s-level language skills. It’s never too late to pick up a foreign language, which can also build brain health.

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8. Get outside and garden

Have a green thumb? It turns out that gardening is a great way to keep your body and brain fit. In one study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, older adults did gardening-related activities — picking up leaves, planting, watering, weeding — twice a week. After eight weeks, their hand-eye coordination improved.

According to another study published in the same journal, gardening is great way to sprout brain nerves in older adults — the ones that help improve or maintain cognitive function.

9. Walk away your worries

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to clear your head, taking a walk is one of the best ways to relieve anxiety. Even better, do it outside. According to a meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, nature walks can improve mental health by reducing depression and anxiety.

10. Try wall squats

Here’s a quick exercise that you can do almost anywhere (even the lobby of your doctor’s office): Stand with your back flat against a wall or other solid surface. Slide your back down and bend your knees so that you are in a sitting position (without a chair).

Dr. Slabaugh recommends this exercise for strengthening your legs and core muscles. “This is a great exercise and can be done with the knees at any angle,” he says. If you have knee problems, you don’t have to squat all the way down; just go as far as you can.

11. Host a party

This is the most fun way to move more! All the prep work, socializing, and cleaning up afterward will most definitely keep you off the couch. Plus, it’s a chance to connect with friends, which can boost your mood and keep your brain sharp.

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Additional sources:
Physical activity guidelines: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Research on health benefits of sitting less: Nature Reviews Cardiology
Research on exercise snacks: Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews
Benefits of dancing: National Library of Medicine
Benefits of walking in nature: Journal of Clinical Medicine
Gardening and hand-eye coordination: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health