The three areas that seem to get the least attention when you are stressed are exercise, sleep and eating healthy. Not doing one or more of the three properly and on a continual and routine basis sets you up to eventually end up with health problems.
When pressed for time, making time to exercise is usually one of the first things to go. After all, not only is the time required to exercise itself, but it takes additional time to change into your workout gear, shower and change back into your street clothes. And then there is the energy aspect. If people are already taxed mentally and physically, the last thing they think about doing is expending more energy to go exercise.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, that is exactly what they should do. Exercising releases several hormones of which one is dopamine. Known as the natural “happy drug”, it creates a feeling of euphoria which in turn raises one’s happiness level.
Plus, another benefit of exercising is it has been proven through several studies to reduce one’s stress level, something that most people could use more of in our chronically stressed world. Lower stress means less cortisol in our systems, thus reducing the risk of it causing health problems later on.
When stressed to the max, many people turn to food (unhealthy food at that) for comfort and end up gaining weight. But by exercising, you burn off calories that otherwise would not have been burned through daily activities not involving exercising that helps offset some of the calories consumed from emotional eating.
One great way to get more into the habit of exercising is to team up with a friend or co-worker. It keeps you accountable because you don’t want to miss a workout and disappoint your workout buddy.
Another “trick” that works is to use the personal trainer app Sworkit. It works on either iPhones or Android-based smartphones and suggests exercises and routines from over 300 workouts and 400 exercises based on how much time you have to devote to exercising … so you can get the most benefit from the time you have to exercise, whether that benefit is to lose weight, tone muscles, improve flexibility or increase endurance.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each individual should get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. As a general-rule-of-thumb, that breaks down into five 30-minute sessions per week, leaving two days per week to rest, recover and rebuild your muscles.
Your exercise plan should include routines that include cardio one day, strength training the next or ideally a combination of both. When strength training, just be sure to have at least one day in-between exercising the same muscles again meaning you must have at least two different routines (or more).
Don’t overlook including at least one yoga class in your exercise repertoire. With exercises to increase flexibility and balance, and a focus on breathing techniques and meditation, not only is it good for you physically but mentally also. It clears out the mental and emotional “cobwebs” and allows you to see things more clearly. There are several different styles of yoga, so try a few to see which one fits you the best.
When you are burning the candle at both ends, sleep is usually one thing that suffers. Either we stay up too late or get up too early to work or things are swirling around in our head keeping us awake when we should be sleeping. Or sometimes our sleeping environment isn’t comfortable to sleep well. And if your sleep loss becomes chronic, you are at an increased risk for some serious diseases including:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
That does not even address an increased risk of having an accident from being sleep impaired which studies have proven is as dangerous as other types of mental impairment, including drugs and alcohol.
Things you can do to cut your workload and clear your head are addressed later in this series – watch for “Make Room Foe Joy”.
However, if your sleeping environment is not comfortable, here are some tips to make it more conducive to getting a good night’s sleep:
- Keep your room cool. Ideally, 68 to 70 degrees is the most comfortable for most people.
- Keep your room dark. If you have light coming in your window that you can’t control, hang up some darkening shades.
- Make it quiet or change the noise. If outside noise is a problem, wear earplugs. Or change the noise to one that is more soothing. Most sound machines have a range of sounds from “white noise” to a gentle rainfall, or waves lapping at the shore. Pick whichever one is the most calming to you.
- Change to lighter bedding. Sometimes people can’t sleep because they are hot, even if the room is cool. If that is your case, then change to lighter bedding. For example, swap out a comforter for a lighter coverlet. Or get one of the newer “cooling” mattresses. If it has been eight years since you purchased your mattress, it is time to get a new one anyway.
- Don’t eat too late. Some people can’t sleep because their digestive system is trying to break down the food they ate too soon before going to bed. Refrain from eating anything two hours before retiring for the night.
- Avoid blue light-emitting machines before going to bed. While conventional wisdom recommends reading in bed makes you tired enough to fall asleep, they are talking about printed books. However, if you read using a laptop, e-reader or off your phone, all those things emit blue light which stimulates the brain into thinking it is daylight and you should be awake.
Making some small changes in your sleeping environment can make a world of difference in how well and how long you can sleep as long as you have addressed the other non-environmental things that can keep you awake at night.
When tired and pressed for time, it is easy to hit a drive-through or stop and pick up some fast food instead of cooking something healthy and eating it once home or making a healthy lunch and bringing it with you. The problem is that most fast-food or processed food is not healthy. In fact, it is bad for you because it is loaded with sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats all leading to weight gain.
And because 80% of losing weight is about the food you eat (and only 20% of the calories burned through exercising), you will never win the weight loss game if you continue to eat unhealthily.
Instead, focus your diet on whole foods – foods that are not processed meaning they are in their natural state as much as possible. This includes fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grain, nuts, and seeds.
To make it easier, plan out a full week’s worth of meals. From that plan, figure out what must go on your shopping list and go to the grocery store and get those things. Once back home from the store, or the next day, cook up some of your planned meals for the next week and freeze some of them. That way you have meals ready to go once you get home from a hard day. Shopping and cooking on your two off days of exercise per week is a good use of your time.