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How fit people really find the time to exercise

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

The secret to finding time for exercise boils down to one really simple change

"I don't have time to exercise" is the easiest excuse people use for skipping their workout, but it may also be the easiest one to debunk, according to a new study.

Over 80 percent of adults in the U.S. don't get enough exercise, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control. The reasons why weren't studied, but it's not hard to guess. Too much work, family concerns, fear, cost of a gym membership, getting sweaty ruins a good blowout — there are as many excuses as there are people, but what many of them boil down to is time. Between helping kids with homework, finishing up all those work emails and binge-watching Jessica Jones, it's hard to carve out a solid 30-60 minutes to work out.

More: Don't let excuses get in the way of your workout

Yet what we often overlook when we talk about how many people don't exercise is how many people do. What are those 20 percent of regular exercisers doing that everyone else isn't? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so where is their free time coming from? Researchers decided to answer that question in a study fittingly called, "In search of lost time: When people undertake a new exercise program, where does the time come from?" published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

The answer to the time-crunch question is quite simple, it turns out: Exercisers were trading television for the gym.

Researchers divided 129 inactive adults into three groups: one group that did an "extensive" exercise routine, another that did a moderate routine and the control group, which stuck with Netflix and their couch. Over six weeks they monitored how each person spent their time. They discovered that for both exercise groups, invariably the time to exercise came from time previously spent watching the tube. Participants weren't slacking off at work, ignoring their families or letting their homes devolve into chaos so they could hit the gym. They were simply watching TV for about 52 minutes less, per day.

This busts the myth that many have about fit people: that they live in the gym and that working out becomes their whole life. While that may be true for a small number (and it's a problem when it does happen), the vast majority of exercisers just cut out a couple of shows a week. Admit it: There are some shows in your Hulu queue that you totally could miss.

More: How much exercise you need to actually get the healthy benefits

You don't have to choose between having a life and getting a workout — it's totally possible to do both. And thanks to the many proven benefits of exercise, working out will probably make you more efficient at your job, more energetic with your family and stronger for your hobbies. Oh, and then there's that whole living a longer, happier life thing.

In short: Watching TV will kill you; exercise will save you. So the next time you're tempted to skip the gym, ask yourself if you really need to watch the Real Housewives fake act.

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