With demands of work and family at this time of the year, life can become so busy that one day seems to fade into the next. Because of this, wellness essentials like eating well, exercise, and restful sleep can fall by the wayside. A busy lifestyle not only makes it hard to be healthy, it increases stress in your life as well. This in turn leads to increased blood pressure, as well as increased inflammation in the body. Before long a busy lifestyle, although it may seem productive, can rob your body of what you need to be healthy. And that’s where illness can creep in. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
To preserve your health without preventing you from taking care of the things and people you love, you must learn how to simplify your life – no way around it. Finding balance is key. Balanced meals, a work-life balance, and a balance of being active and resting is vital for being your healthiest you. But like most things, it’s easier said than done. So, let’s talk about some simple life hacks that make it more practical for you to live a balanced, healthy life, while still enjoying the active lifestyle you love.
Plan and prep meals ahead of time
A healthy lifestyle may bring to mind lots of work in the kitchen and lots of money spent at the grocery store. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. By meal planning and prepping, you can not only save time and money, you can also lower your risk of obesity and improve your overall health. Follow these simple steps to make meal prep and planning easier, and in turn make healthy eating less of a chore.
- Start a running list on your fridge for foods you need for meals and snacks. You can visit the local office supply store or dollar store for a magnetic to-do list to place on your fridge. As you run out of foods needed to prepare your healthy meals and snacks, write them on the list. When it’s time to go grocery shopping, take the list with you or take a picture of it with your phone and stick to just your list. That way you can avoid impulse buys that may include unhealthy snacks.
- Pick one day to prep foods. For many people, there is more available free time on the weekends. For others, you may have extra time in the evenings after work. Whatever time of day and week it may be, set aside 30 minutes once a week to wash, rinse, dry, and prep fruits and vegetables for meals and snacks. You can also separate the prepped produce into smaller portion-friendly containers for an easy grab-and-go snack or meal addition.
- Plan meals for the week: Put a small white board on your fridge, that you can probably find at the same store you found your magnetic to-do list pad, or download a meal planning app on your phone. Using one of these tools, set aside 10 minutes or so one day each week to write down what lunches and dinners you plan on having that week. This will help you put together a grocery list that includes all the food you will need to make these meals. It also allows others in the family get involved in meal planning.
Fit exercise into your errands or workday
Exercise is so important to your health, but it can seem impossible to fit into your busy day. Our intentions are almost always better than actual execution. So, instead of thinking you must engage in a formal workout class or visit to the gym, change your perspective on exercise. Look at it as a consistent routine of “moving” more each day throughout the week.
You should get in at least 30 minutes to an hour a day for optimal health, but it doesn’t have to be all at the same time. Break your activity into smaller segments throughout the day and fit it in whenever you can. Wearing a pedometer, a fitness watch on your wrist, or adding a step counter app to your phone and carry it around during the day to help you track your movement. Every now and then, check your tracker to see your progress, and try to beat your personal record at least once a week. Remember that for every 2000 steps you take, that is equal to about one mile. Strive for at least a few miles a day of walking or running most days of the week, to help improve your heart health.
Not only is exercise great for heart health, but it also helps your mental health and lifts your mood. When you are stressed, the body releases a hormone known as cortisol. This same hormone is also released during exercise. The difference is that when you exercise consistently, the body also increases dopamine levels in the body. Dopamine is a hormone associated with happiness and can improve cognitive function and mood.
Create a bedtime routine
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that most adults should have at least 7 hours of sleep every day for optimal health. This is because poor sleep behaviors can lead to increased risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as low immunity, increased pain, and impaired mental and physical performance. Therefore, it is important to put sleep on your to-do list, just like you would work or errands.
Now you may be saying to yourself something along the lines of… sleep is impossible when you have kids, or sleep is a luxury when you have a work schedule like mine, or I don’t have time to sleep because work or family is more important. These are all understandable, but this way of thinking is also the reason why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you are not well, then you can’t take care of the responsibilities and people you want to take care of. Try to change your paradigm; it is not selfish to make time for sleep and healthy habits since your long-term health directly affects the lives of others.
Creating a healthy bedtime routine can help you get more sleep each night. Start by setting an actual bed time each night to strive for. Figure out what time you have to wake up in the morning to get ready for the day. Take that time and subtract seven hours. The resulting time will be your bedtime goal. Set an alarm two hours before this time each day to remind you to start winding down the day before your bedtime. Turn down the lights, finish up any evening tasks, and perhaps diffuse some lavender essential oil, since research shows that this essential oil can help improve sleep quality. Also, as bedtime approaches, turn off screens such as televisions, phones, or tablets. This is because research shows that screen use before bed stimulates the optic nerve and tells the brain it is daytime – increasing the risk of poor sleep quantity and quality.
It may take time to make your bedtime routine a regular thing, so don’t expect to fall into a healthy sleep routine overnight. However, just like with any behavior or habit, consistent reinforcement will eventually lead to a regular habit. If you have trouble sleeping, you may need to visit your doctor for a sleep supplement like melatonin or other sleep medicine to help you sleep. If you snore, it may also be beneficial to ask about having a sleep study done to see if your sleep quality may be affected by a condition like sleep apnea.
Lists were already mentioned when it comes to food planning, but lists can also be used to organize and simplify the rest of your life too. Lists can be a lifesaver when it comes to saving time and money. For example, if you go to the grocery store without a list, you can end up buying things you don’t need and spending a lot more money than you need to... not to mention that you might forget something if you don’t write it down.
The same thing goes for your daily tasks. As soon as you hear about an appointment, task, or special event, type it up on a note on your phone, add it to your phone calendar, or write it down in a paperback planner. This way you can remember what is on your schedule and make changes as needed if other things come up. Otherwise, you could run the risk of overbooking your schedule and burning yourself out.
As you start making your lists, try to see where you can cut out unimportant tasks in your schedule that may be wearing you thin. Then, prioritize what is truly vital to your everyday routine such as work hours, picking up loved ones from work or school, or doctor’s appointments. This brings us to delegation.
If your daily list at work or home seems overwhelming, and there are not enough hours in the day, then consider delegating where possible. There are some tasks, such as doctor’s appointments and work, that you must do yourself. However, tasks like grocery shopping, picking up friends and family from work or school, or other tasks can often be delegated. Grocery shopping lists can be entered online at certain grocery stores to be picked up or delivered at your convenience. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to pick up your loved ones from work or school as a favor. Phone calls for making appointments can be scheduled for another day, or phone calls at work can be done by a trusted co-worker, if appropriate.
Research shows that a higher degree of task delegation leads to increased job satisfaction. This result would likely be seen at home as well, since delegating tasks can free up time to focus on self-care, which can lead to a healthy mind and body.
Simplifying your life is essential to your best health. It may seem like some work to implement these five simple tips, but in the long-term it will be worth it. Simplifying your life will lead to a happier and healthier you, and allow you to enjoy life to the fullest. Your mind and body, as well as your loved ones, will thank you!