Column: Health Hacks That Fit A Busy Lifestyle

October 8, 2015

Jacqueline[Written by Jacqueline Perreault]

Time scarcity – that feeling that we do not have enough time – is substantially impacting our health behavior patterns. From the food choices we make to lack of exercise, we are just getting by on the time we have, making quick decisions that do not typically optimize our well being.

While it’s one thing to tell you to schedule your work out and prepare your food every night, the reality is that other priorities and societal roles such as mother, daughter, boss, take over throughout the day. 24 hours simply is not enough time in the day and the convenience brought to us by fast foods make it the easiest choice.

Thankfully research has shown that quick burst of activity throughout the day will benefit our health. Couple that with designing the environment around us to have access to healthy choices, and we will be on the road to better health. In their bestselling book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein described “choice architecture,” or the proactive designing of environments that “nudge” people to make healthier selections while still retaining freedom of choice.

Here are a few pointers for fitting in physical, nutrition and emotional health related activities when we are under time scarcity and designing our environment to nudge us into making the healthy choice.

Physical Activity

  • When you only have 30 minutes: All you need is a simple set up with minimal equipment for an effective work out. Body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups and planks are as effective as expensive gym equipment and can be done at home or outside. Full body circuit training workouts can be found in various apps, with one of the best being Nike Training Club.
  • When you only have 15 minutes: Never underestimate the power of a walk. It protects against disease, dementia, osteoporosis and more. The best thinkers of our time spent a lot of their time walking. Charles Darwin took three walks per day, while Aristotle’s students followed him around the garden for lessons. Take a 15-minute walk at lunch or host a walking meeting and you will be surprised how clear you feel.
  • When you literally have 0 minutes: Make sure you are wearing a tracking device or have a tracker installed on your phone to count your steps. Walk around the office between emails, go outside quickly for a breather, walk home if possible – just move around enough so that you tracker hits 10,000 steps by the time you hit the hay. Even though you didn’t get a traditional work out that day, you can sleep easy knowing that you were active and achieved the health benefits that come along with it.

Nutrition

  • Drink water. Lots of it. Water will keep you hydrated throughout the day, controlling calories, energizing muscles, and flushing out harmful toxins. Keep a water bottle on your desk, in your bag, and on the counter at home. The Swell bottles keep your drinks hot or cold and will help you stay hydrated.
  • Prepare for the week ahead. On your day off, bring out your blender and/or juicer and make green juices, smoothies and soups. These are all transportable and quick to drink on the go. Bottle all that goodness. Check Zipango for some delicious, well-balanced recipes. Throw healthy snacks in your bag such as nuts and fruit to avoid making bad choices throughout the day.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption during the week. For those that work in the office environment or are networking, it may be difficult to stay away from the after work drink throughout the week. By the time the week is up, we’ve had over the recommended amount that week heading into the weekend – that is 1 a day for women and 2 a day for men. Try substituting your alcoholic bevie for a sparkling water with elderflower or fresh muddled berries.

Emotional

  • Do 5 sun salutations to start your day and get you in the right headspace. The sun salutation is a sequence of poses designed to be completed in the direction of the sun and helps us stay grounded and focused. Make a habit out of hitting the floor when you get out of bed and performing a few yoga poses to open you up and power you for the day. Keep a yoga matt by your bed or in a dedicated spot that will prompt you to drop and pose. You can find a guide to sun salutations here.
  • 5 minutes of mindfulness: Having roots in Buddhist meditation, mindfulness has become mainstream in North America in the past few years. It’s about bringing awareness to our thoughts, feelings and environment without judging them. Mindfulness connects us to how we are feeling now in the present moment, without the worries of the past or future. Several studies have documented the health benefits of being mindful, including reduced stress, depression and better focus. There are millions of resources on the web to start your practice and also apps – I personally like Headspace – and here is a few more in a review.
  • Replace coffee with green tea: Coffee gets us going, however it can also put us on edge and shoots up our cortisol level [stress hormone] causing us to retain belly fat. Try drinking green tea instead. It contains less caffeine than coffee and also contains EGCG [Epigallocatechin gallate] a metabolism boosting substance that can help us lose weight and flush out toxins. Keep some green tea bags at work. You will save on coffee expense and be healthier for it.

- Jacqueline Perreault [pictured] is the Corporate Wellness Director for Colonial Medical Insurance.

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