Take a new approach. Rather than wait for a large block of time to magically free up, get your fitness in five-minute spurts. It's not a cop-out; recent studies prove that every little bit of movement counts. "We've found that short bouts of exercise can add up to the same benefit as if you had done it continuously," says Maureen MacDonald, Ph.D., who conducted numerous studies on the effectiveness of bite-size bursts of exercise at McMaster University in Canada. To make the most of your limited time, MacDonald suggests engaging multiple muscle groups, working with intensity, and varying activities, which will help keep you motivated.
To that end, we asked two fitness experts to help us develop a range of exercises that provide a big impact in a limited amount of time: Mary Tedesco, owner of Mary Tedesco Fitness in Cross River, New York, and Martha Stewart's personal trainer, and Jennifer Kries, a New York City Pilates instructor and creator of the Hot Body Cool Mind fitness DVDs. The plan covers six time frames: Choose one activity for each time of day, and give it your all for five minutes. By the end of the day, you'll have 30 minutes under your belt -- and be well on your way to a healthier holiday season.
Start Your Day
Get out of bed, roll out your mat, and use this move to release accumulated back tension and work your abs. Sit with knees bent and soles of feet touching. Holding ankles, roll onto your back, then roll back up to sitting. Keep chin tucked into chest. Repeat.
Jog in Place
Before you get in the shower, work up a quick sweat by jogging in place. You'll rev your heart rate and increase circulation. A simple jog will do the trick, but to boost intensity, try bending your elbows and pumping your arms, or bring your heels to your buttocks.
Walking Bicep Curls
Waiting for your coffee to brew? Grab some cans or light dumbbells and take a few laps around the inside of your house, doing bicep curls as you walk. You'll work several major muscle groups as you get your circulation pumping.
Shake the Tree
To build and circulate energy, stand in place with knees soft and bounce for a minute. As you build momentum, gently shake your wrists, arms, and head, keeping knees and elbows soft. After a few minutes, slowly come back to a bounce and, eventually, a full stop.
Park and Walk
You've heard this before, but now's the time to do it: Park several blocks away from where you work and speed walk there. Or run an errand on foot. Either way, bend your elbows and swing your arms straight back and forth to boost the cardio benefits.
Tone legs and buttocks while you are on the phone. Stand with feet wide, toes turned out, hands on hips. Inhale and bend knees, lowering as far as possible; exhale and squeeze inner thighs and glutes as you come back to standing.
Get energized before a meeting with a jump-rope simulation. Stand with your weight on the balls of your feet, heels slightly lifted, knees softly bent. Take small hops, rotating your clenched hands by your hips as if jumping rope.
Stand against a wall. Keeping your back on the wall, bend knees to a 90-degree angle (walk out a few steps). Raise arms against the wall until elbows are shoulder height; arms form a 90-degree angle, fingertips pointing up. Hold 1 minute, rest 30 seconds, and repeat.
On your way to pick up lunch, hit the nearest staircase and climb two flights, taking the stairs two at a time to maximize the cardio workout while also building leg strength. Head back down the stairs with quick, light steps, then repeat until five minutes are up.
Boost energy while working your legs, obliques, and back with side crunches. Stand with arms straight above your head. Lift your right knee out to your right side as you bring the right elbow to meet it. Return to starting position, then repeat on the left. Keep alternating.
Before you dig in to lunch, take some time to tone the lower body and raise your heart rate. With hands on hips, step your right foot out 2 feet and bend both knees into a squat. Return to start, then step and squat to the left. Repeat.
Don't settle in for the afternoon just yet. Stand a foot away from a wall, arms outstretched and palms on the wall a bit wider than your shoulders. Inhale and bend your elbows, lowering yourself to the wall; exhale, draw your navel in, and push the wall away. Repeat.
Focus and energize before a big meeting: Hop feet out and raise arms to shoulder height; pause. Jump feet together and lift arms above your head; pause. Hop feet out and lower arms to shoulder height; pause. Bring feet together and arms down to sides. Repeat.
When the afternoon slump hits, boost your circulation and release shoulder stress. Standing or sitting tall, extend arms out to your sides and start making large circles, working down to small circles. Reverse direction. Repeat with arms to the front and above the head.
Refresh your mind and body with a fast walk around the office, outside the building if weather permits, or up and down the hallways. Walk quickly, pump your arms, and resist the temptation to stop and chat until your five minutes are up.
In lieu of a coffee break, banish back tension. Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart; fold over so you're hanging toward the floor. Bend right knee and sway torso to right; return to center, then repeat on left. Continue, and slowly roll up to standing. Repeat.
While waiting for the pasta water to boil, work your major muscle groups. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift arms forward to shoulder height and lower into a squat. Reach up with arms as you jump straight up, landing in a standing position with knees soft. Repeat.
Everyday activities count as exercise, too: You can burn more than 200 calories an hour -- and scratch a to-do off your list -- by vacuuming. Tackle one or two rooms, bending to pick up stray socks and moving quickly as you clean.
Make good use of the time you spend waiting in long holiday shopping lines by working your butt. Squeeze your glutes for a count of five, then release. Keep repeating. This action tightens and strengthens your backside.
Turn your holiday gift buying into an exercise stint by taking a full lap around the mall before starting to shop. You will not only add another five-minute interval to your day, but also get a preview of all the stores -- so you'll know where to go and shop more efficiently.
To help digest your evening meal and leave the day's stresses behind, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a beautiful, snowy landscape. Keeping your stomach drawn in, bring your knees up one at a time and swing your arms as if walking through deep snow.
Shake It Off
Release tension as you bump up your heart rate by putting on a favorite five-minute song and dancing however the mood strikes. Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman," Justin Timberlake's "Senorita," and Madonna's "Vogue" all fit the bill.
Spine Stretch Forward
Sit with legs slightly bent and feet just wider than hip-width apart. Inhale, sitting tall. Exhale and draw your navel in to the spine, making a C shape with your back as you fold forward, reaching for the toes. Inhale and roll back up. Repeat.
Single Leg Pulls
Lie on your back, head and shoulders curled off the floor. Hold bent right knee with both hands; keeping left leg straight and 6 inches off floor, breathe in and pull knee into chest. Switch to left leg and exhale as you pull it in. Repeat. This strengthens legs and abs.
Text by Kate Hanley