I was recently contacted by the team at TheLadders about a project offering tips to stay fit and active despite a busy work schedule. I thought it was a great topic so I happily offered to contribute.
Okay so, who’s got loads of free time that you’re just not sure what to do with? Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller?…Bueller?…. That’s pretty much what I thought.
We are all busy. Seriously. I don’t know a single person who isn’t busy. Even my 85 year old grandmothers keep busy – taking classes, fixing up the house or yard, or as my one grandmother recently announced, working on her stand up comedy routine. I know – I’ve got some seriously cool grandmas. My point with this, is that we are all trying to fit as much as we can into each day, and there’s never enough time to get to all the things we want to do. With each day’s To Do list as long as your arm, it’s tough to find the time (and energy) to prioritize heath and wellness. Being healthy is hard work! However, despite the demanding input required, focusing on your health (through diet, exercise, and mental wellness) will make each day more enjoyable, productive, and you will reap countless other invaluable benefits. Sounds great, right? I know, I know, easier said than done. So let’s break this down into 5 simple concepts to get you on your way to optimal wellness, even when you’re working full time, taking care of the kids, volunteering at the library, and making that weekly book club meeting….
1. Meal Prep
Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep. I can’t say this enough. The old adage of “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is so true when it comes to eating well. There’s a reason that all fast food and convenience food is junk food. Real food spoils. Fast food and covenience foods are full of preservatives, chemicals, and artifical and unnecessary ingredients like added colors. They’re jam packed with sugar, salt, and fat – the three tastes that all humans are innately drawn to. Food manufacturers know this, and they exploit it. They use it to their advantage – to create hyperpalatable food-like products, that trigger our brains to have a drug-like response (like a little high), which means that the more we eat these foods, the more we crave these foods, and these foods are completely devoid of the incredible antioxidants and phytochemicals found in real food – like fruits and vegetables. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare you that long tangent.
I’m not saying you need to spend 10 hours each weekend shopping, prepping, and cooking your meals, but try to pick a weekend (or non-work) day and devote a few hours (say, 2 or 3) to thinking about what you want to have to eat that week, grocery shopping, and preparing as much as you can ahead of time so that when you’re exhausted after a busy day at work, you can come home, throw that marinated chicken on the grill and throw together a salad from those veggies you already sliced up. Although I love cooking, when I get home from work, it’s the last thing I want to do. But by having my food prepped ahead of time, most days dinner only requires heating something up in the microwave or throwing a few prepped ingredients into a skillet to sauté, and I’ve got a healthy meal in anywhere from 2-15 minutes.
If you’re new to meal prepping, check out a few posts from the Queen of Meal Prep herself, Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean. Each Sunday she shares meal prep ideas and inspiration. You can also use downtime throughout the day to browse for new recipes or quick meal/snack ideas to try. Pinterest is your best friend for finding new recipes, and of course, feel free to check out my Recipes Page for more healthy eats. It might take you a little longer at first, but ease into it and soon you’ll get in to a groove. Remember, something is better than nothing. So pick at least one thing to prep ahead of time, and add something new each week till you’ve got the hang of it.
2. Pack Lunch
Unless you’re working at a really cutting edge, health savvy office that provides a fresh and healthy lunch each day (and if you are, know that I’m super envious…), you should really pack. I know it’s tempting to go out to eat during the workday, but you’re going to end up eating more calories and less nutrients than you should be – yes, even if you order a salad. Make your own salad, and throw on a quick mix of olive oil, vinegar, and spices for a quick and much healthier alternative to any salad dressing you’ll find at a restaurant or even at the grocery store. It’s shocking how many salad dressings have added sugar, soybean oil, MSG…..sorry. I’m venting again.
3. Plan time to move EVERY DAY
I’m not saying you have to hit the gym for an hour each day – that sounds terrible. What i’m saying, is that you should block out at least about a half an hour most days for “physical activity”. It could be walking the dog. It could be running around with your kids. It could be playing Wii Fit. It could be running 3 miles. It could be doing a workout DVD. Honestly it doesn’t really matter too much what you do – just do something. Be strict with planning that block of time in your schedule, but be flexible with what your exercise is that day. Some days you might feel like getting in a good weight lifting session. Great – do it. The next day you might be feeling tired or stressed and just want to take a 20 minute walk with your headphones on. Brilliant – do it. Physical activity shouldn’t be a burden. I think we so often set a strict goal for ourselves, like: tomorrow, I’m going to go to the gym and run three miles on the treadmill. Then tomorrow comes along, and we had a rough day at work, we didn’t sleep well the night before, and there’s a million and one things you’d rather do instead of going to the gym. That’s fine. You have the time blocked, so use it, but use it for something that you will enjoy. And if in that moment, that day, you would really hate to go the gym, but you would really enjoy some quiet yoga for 20 minutes - there’s nothing wrong with that. Do the yoga. It will be good for your body and your mind. There’s no point exercising if the whole time it’s just making you angry because you really didn’t want to go to that Zumba class today. Do whatever type of physical activity makes you happy.
4. Utilize resources at work
More and more companies are starting to offer resources to their employees that help you to stay fit and active. Many companies offer employees discounts on gym memberships, or the company may have on-site fitness classes that you can sign up for – talk about convenient!
In addition to these types of fitness programs, look to your coworkers for help. I’ll bet you’re not the only one at work who wants to work on their health. See if you can get a health and wellness group started. You can do a “Biggest Loser” type of competition if you’re all interested in weight loss, or you find someone (or a group of people) to walk with you over your lunch break. You can share recipes, tips and tricks, or simply offer support and encouragement. No matter what your health goal is, be it weight loss, more energy, cleaner eating, increasing exercise, etc – it’s always easier and more enjoyable to achieve when you’ve got a strong support system.
5. Practice Mindful Eating when Faced with Unhealthy Foods
Okay, so now you’ve read numbers 1-4 and you’re feeling (I hope) pretty motivated and excited to start putting some of these suggestions into practice. But what happens when someone decides to throw a wrench into your healthy plans by having a birthday. I mean seriously! The nerve of this person! I’m just kidding, of course. (Birthdays are awesome, and mine happens to be next month…).
But my point is, you’re not always in total control of your environment. For example, your boss surprises everyone by bringing in cupcakes one day for a co-worker’s birthday. What do you do? I’m not going to tell you not to eat the cupcake. That’s your decision. But what I will tell you, is that before you simply impulsively reach for it, scarf it down in 30 seconds, and then instantly start to regret what you just did, just take a minute to slow down and think. Is eating this food going to help me achieve my goals? (And unless your goal is to develop diabetes, the answer to the cupcake conundrum is probably “no”). However, sometimes it’s worth it to splurge and indulge. It’s just important to do it mindfully. Take a minute to think it over. Do you really want the splurge item? Or are you actually just bored, tired, stressed, etc? If you think about it, and you decide, yup, I’ve considered it, and I really want to eat this cupcake because cupcakes are my absolute favorite dessert (I’m looking at you, Lindsay – my cupcake loving bestie ) and I haven’t had one in ages – then that’s wonderful. Have your cupcake, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Once the cupcake is done – be done with the cupcake. Don’t think about wanting another cupcake, don’t dwell on the cupcake, don’t stress out over going “off plan”, don’t feel upset or regretful. You made a mindful decision to eat the cupcake, and you enjoyed each morsel of that cupcake, and then you went on with your day and went back to healthy habits. But if you think about it and decide, no, it’s really not worth it because I just had a cupcake last week and I know if I eat it now I’m just going to want to eat a second one or crave junk food all afternoon – then clearly it seems like it’s not worth it for you to choose this cupcake as a worthy indulgence.
Now, hopefully your boss doesn’t bring in cupcakes multiple times every week creating a tempting situation. If you’ve got a group of people in the office that are like-minded in wanting to work on being healthier, you can all ask other office members to be respectful, and to please keep junk food out of sight. Because there’s nothing harder than sitting next to a dish of kit-kats all day while you’re trying to lay off the sugar. Amiright?
So there you have it. Five simple tips for making your health a priority, even in the busiest of times.
*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the team at www.theladders.com and asked to write a blog post about staying fit and active despite having a busy work schedule. I thought it was a great topic so I agreed. I was not compensated for my time nor given any free products/services. All opinions are, as always, 100% my own. If you’re currently searching for a job, feel free to check out their Career Search page to see what you can find.
Now that you’ve heard my ideas, I want to hear yours! Leave a comment letting me know how you like to stay healthy and fit while working a busy schedule