Life is a smorgasbord to me -- so many things catch my interest, and there are so many great things to do in life! As a result, I have a tendency toward getting overbooked at times. When I'm not super busy, I am good about eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, exercising, taking time for myself. But when I am fully scheduled, things can slip a bit.
At times like this, I remind myself that when I take the time to take care of myself, I feel better, and am more effective and I'm nicer to be around!
Here are a few things I have learned to do to make healthy habits a relatively painless part of my routine that you can do too:
1. Drink water throughout the day. Water is the ultimate beverage. It’s great for your skin, your digestive system, and circulatory system, and aids in weight loss and cellulite reduction. If you feel fatigued during the day, it’s often because you aren’t hydrated properly. Keep a big bottle of water with you and sip it throughout the day. If you have it nearby, it’s easy to remember. If you don’t like the “taste” of water, keep a supply of lemon so that you can add a slice to your water – it cuts any bitterness, adds a bit of vitamin C and makes it taste more festive! 2. Cut back on the amount of soda and coffee you drink. Sugar and caffeine dehydrate you and create energy rushes followed by crashes, which are ultimately energy-depleting. Substitute with drinks like green tea or 100% fruit juice watered down 50/50 (water or sparkling water to juice).
3. Replace high-sugar foods with low-sugar versions. Cutting back on the amount of refined sugar you consume helps reduce calories and weight gain and also helps you avoid the energy slumps that come from sugar withdrawal. Items high in refined sugar include most soft drinks, cereals, baked goods, and of course, candy and ice cream. Try opting for healthy snacks instead. And stay away from artificial sweeteners -- they are energy depleting, and can cause a host of other problems.
4. Stock up on healthy, portable snacks. When you are grocery shopping, pick up bags of baby carrots, string cheese, nuts, fresh and dried fruit, single serving packs of applesauce, yogurt, wholegrain crackers, peanut butter, turkey jerky, etc. Having healthy portable snacks around will help you avoid unhealthy, impulse food choices.
5. Take the time to plan healthy meals for the week. Spend 15 minutes or so to map out your meals. Keep it simple. Then, when you shop for groceries, make your purchases based on the meals you will make during the week. This will help you avoid relying on less healthy take-out or fast food choices.
6. Purchase frozen, ready-to-cook ingredients. Frozen fruits and vegetables have high vitamin and mineral content because they don’t sit around losing these nutrients for long before they are preserved. Although you’ll want to keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables around, it’s great to have frozen produce available for quick meal additions and smaller servings. Also, some grocery stores (I'm a huge fan of Trader Joe's) offer frozen boneless chicken breasts and a wide variety of seafood items in re-sealable packages. These are great for quick, healthy meals.
7. Give yourself some slack. If you are stressed out about preparing healthy meals every day, use what some experts call the "80/20" rule in your eating. If 80 percent of what you eat is healthy, then allow yourself to take it a little easier for the remaining 20 percent. I, personally, try to make sure I eat healthy during the week so that I can indulge a bit on the weekends.
8. Fit in exercise whenever you can. Experts recommend that adults exercise a minimum of 30 minutes three times per week. Aim for this amount, but don’t kick yourself if you can’t meet this goal. Any amount of exercise is better than none. If you don't have the time (or desire) to go to a gym, you can build a stock of exercise tapes – many have routines that you can complete in 20-40 minutes. Use hand weights or do crunches, leg-lifts and lunges while watching television. Or invest in an exercise bike – you can pedal while catching up on your reading. Think of what would be most interesting to you and what best fits your schedule and budget.
9. Whenever possible, walk. Increase the amount of time you can walk, versus sit or drive, take the stairs instead of the elevator. It doesn’t take that much extra time to park a bit farther from the store entrance. Or take a walk break during the day. Even 20 minutes can make a difference in your energy level, plus it gives you time to clear your head. If you walk with a friend, it also gives you time to socialize.
10. Get enough sleep. Even if you gain more time in your day by cutting back on sleep, you will be less effective throughout the day, as your energy level and cognitive functioning will be reduced. Insufficient sleep also makes you more susceptible to illness. By getting enough sleep, you become more efficient during the time you are awake.
Begin integrating as many of these habits as you can into your life today. Make them part of your normal routine. Once you start doing them, they'll become second nature. You’ll be surprised at how little time is involved and how much better you’ll feel!