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Balancing work and health has always been a challenge. Today, in the face of sedentary office and computer-based work, it presents a special dilemma for the modern adult. Individuals who spend most of their time sitting put themselves at higher risk of heart attack, slower metabolisms, and even a lower life expectancy. Recently developed standing desks may be the face of the future, but they aren’t standard office equipment yet. Exercise certainly helps, but between work, family, and leisure time, it can be difficult to find a few hours to spend at the gym. The good news is that with a little ingenuity, there are many ways to sneak healthier food, exercise, and sleep habits into daily life.
A busy work schedule may seem like an insurmountable barrier when the Department of Health and Human Services recommends an exercise routine of 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week. However, these minutes don’t have to be done all at once. Small, compressed activities of five to ten minutes each are enough to help make a positive difference. Instead of an hour-long lunch, cut the chow time down to 30 minutes and spend the second half-hour stretching or enjoying a walk around the block. A five-minute social media break could be better used performing lunges or wall sits. Opportunities for exercise are everywhere.
Cardiovascular exercise works the most important muscle in the human body: the heart. Typical cardio routines include running or jogging, but they can be done in the office, too. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a great way to raise one’s heart rate and strengthen leg muscles. Once at the desk, a quick one-minute standing jog, with knees raised high, can sneak in some cardio between emails.
If weight training is more enticing, try arm curls with a full water bottle in each hand. Leg lifts can be performed inconspicuously under the desk by raising and lowering the legs. Even the abs can get a workout by taking a breath, tightening the abdominal muscles for a few seconds, releasing, and repeating. Even if weight loss or muscle gain isn’t on the to-do list, it’s important to take a five-to-ten-minute break every hour to perform some stretches. Roll the head and shoulders to loosen tight muscles, and practice good posture when seated. Flex your wrists and arms to prevent cramps or undue pressure on nerves.
The last thing many people feel like doing in the evening is cooking an extravagant meal. Why waste the time when takeout is only a phone call away? In a similar vein, work lunches may consist of greasy pizza slices or fast food. It may be tempting to skip breakfast in an attempt to save a few extra minutes, but eating even a modest breakfast of grapefruit and toast can help curb the urge to snack later in the day. For work lunches, there are many options. Leftovers can be used, although the key to healthy leftovers is to begin cooking healthy meals at home.
No fancy culinary skills or hours over the stove are needed to whip up healthier recipes. A portion of baked salmon from the night before, combined with fresh spinach and a side of blueberries, can transform a humdrum lunch into something enjoyable and invigorating. A salad is always a popular option, since the same base of greens can be altered with different meats, cheeses, and vegetables, but not all salads rely on lettuce. Bean salads and fruit salads are a pleasant and tasty alternative with just as many nutritional benefits.
When it comes to establishing morning and evening routines, habit-stacking is one of the most powerful tools available. The goal of habit-stacking is to take several good habits, like turning on the coffee maker before making lunch, and string them together into a flow of productivity. When this includes something healthy, like taking a vitamin with breakfast or brushing teeth for the duration of a favorite song, it can make a huge difference. Waiting for coffee to brew in the morning can be a great time to sort mail, tidy up the house, or take out the trash for the day. Listening to music while getting dressed may help boost one’s mood.
In the evening, a calming bedtime routine can not only help you wind down from the day but may also make it easier to fall asleep. Try to get to bed at the same time every night to help your body establish a routine. Resist the call of the snooze button in the morning, since this can also mess up the body’s natural sleeping and waking pattern. Avoid computers and phone screens, as the light from these devices can confuse the brain. Trade caffeinated and alcoholic beverages for a cup of warm, soothing decaf tea, and wash your face with warm water. If you wear makeup, use a cleanser to remove the makeup and follow it with a moisturizer. Cleansing your face before bed can be a nice way to wind down for the evening, and it has the added bonus of making the skin feel fresh and soft.
Introducing new habits into a morning or evening routine may be difficult to get used to at first. Don’t worry if one or two are forgotten during the first few days. The more these new routines are practiced, the quicker they will transform into a natural part of the day. If it still seems like there isn’t enough time to fit everything in, consider waking up a bit earlier. The average adult only needs seven to nine hours of sleep, and an extra 30 minutes in the morning can completely change how you tackle the day.
For more information on healthy habits, how-to resources, and healthy recipes, feel free to explore the links provided below:
- Sleep More, Eat Less: Improving Sleep Habits Can Lead to Healthier Food Choices
- Change Diet, Exercise Habits at Same Time, Study Says
- Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Busy Schedules
- Breakfast Ideas for Busy Mornings
- Eight Ways to Find Time for the Seven-Minute High-Intensity Workout
- Busy Lifestyles vs. Health and Wellness
- An Office Workout: It Is Possible! (PDF)
- Easy Desk De-Stress Exercises
- The Lunch Hour Workout (PDF)
- Working Out Without the Workout: Stealth Health
- 31 Ways to Boost Your Mood and Health
- Adopt a Healthy Habit: Stack it (PDF)
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