Health & Wellness Articles

Finding Time for Healthy Living

20 Ways to Squeeze in Healthy Habits

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You've made the decision to get in shape, lose weight or just live a healthier lifestyle. But you're worried about how you'll manage to find the time to get to the gym, shop and cook healthy foods, or even how you'll keep your goals in mind with so many other things already on it.

Your concerns are certainly valid. As a matter of fact, one of the most common statements I hear from colleagues and friends is, "When things calm down, I really need to start taking better care of myself." Here's the thing: If you are living a full and happy life, it is more often busy than not. And when you have so much to do, doesn't it make sense to take care of yourself and feel well?

There's no debating that you will need to dedicate some time to self-care, but it shouldn't mean you will have to drop your friends, ignore your family or neglect your business. Here are some suggestions of how to create more time for healthy living.

Eating well for good health and/or weight loss requires you to have nutritious foods available and make wise choices when eating out. Here are some ways to make the most of your meals when you're short on time.
Take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to think through your upcoming schedule. How many days will you be home for dinner, and what will you prepare? Do Monday morning meetings always last through lunch? If so, it makes sense to bring a brown bag lunch that day. Will you head to the gym straight from the office and need to bring a healthy snack to fuel you through your workout and hold you over until dinner? Once you have a picture of your week, create your grocery list and plan when you'll head to the store. This extra step will save you tons of time by avoiding multiple trips to the market, or standing in line at the take-out eateries on your way home.

At the market, consider purchasing healthy convenience foods. There are so many to choose from these days. Fresh vegetables, salad greens and fruit are available pre-cleaned and cut. Old-fashioned frozen dinners have been recreated to be low-cal, low- sodium, even vegetarian or gluten-free. Check the labels and know which ones to keep in your freezer for nights when you don't have the time to cook. Although you may think these options cost more, they are less expensive than eating in restaurants, buying take-out, or high blood pressure and high cholesterol medicines that often are required after years of unhealthy choices.

If you prefer to avoid the expense of pre-cut fruits and vegetables, invest in crisper storage containers. Spend a little bit of time washing and cutting produce on the weekends, in order to save loads of prep time during the week.

Call your local supermarket in advance of your visit and give the deli, meat and fish counter your order over the phone. They'll have everything ready and packaged for you, saving you time from waiting in line.

If you really don't have the time to shop, many supermarkets now have online ordering and delivery options. Not only will they save your weekly shopping list so you can go back to check off your frequently purchased options, they'll let you know which of your favorites are on sale.

Check out online food co-ops, produce and dairy markets. Many have memberships that will deliver fresh and/or organic goods on a scheduled basis.

Equip your kitchen with time-saving devices. A slow cooker allows you to quickly throw together ingredients the night before. Plug it in to cook in the morning and a hot prepared dinner is ready when you return home. A microwave will reheat leftovers or frozen healthy choices. An immersion blender quickly makes soups from frozen veggies or smoothies out of frozen fruit.

When you do cook, double the recipes. Keep old take out containers or purchase freezer-to-oven pans and create your own TV dinners or a second meal for the following week.

On days when you have a meal out, keep in mind that the average restaurant serves two to three times the appropriate portion size. Ask for a take-out container and pack away half for lunch or dinner at another time. Now you've kept to a healthy portion size and you don't need to take time out to prepare another meal the next day.
Fitting in movement and exercise requires the same proactive thinking as eating healthy.
If you are going to join a gym, make sure it is conveniently located near your home or office. No matter how fabulous the gym in the next town is, if it takes too long to get to, you won't go when you're pressed for time.

Home exercise equipment is the best investment for the truly time pressed or those who simply dislike the gym atmosphere. You won't waste time traveling back and forth, and could pair your daily sessions with another activity you enjoy. Addicted to the evening sitcoms or news? Do your exercise while watching. You know you would take the time to get that one episode in anyway, what a great way to multitask! Need to catch up on trade journals? All cardio equipment today is equipped with a reading stand.

When squeezing in a formalized exercise session still seems impossible to do, know that several short bursts of activity has been shown to add up to great benefit. Whenever possible, take the stairs rather than the elevator, walk to your co-worker's office to deliver messages rather than emailing. Use the restrooms on another floor. Purchase and wear a pedometer. Measuring the number of steps you take each day can be highly motivating. Without even thinking about "taking the time out to exercise" you might just reach the 10,000 steps a day to achieve health benefits.

Suggest business meetings at the local walking track rather than the boardroom. Your colleagues may be delighted to squeeze in their activity as well, plus fresh air and being in nature has been proven to improve mood and creativity.

Combine exercise with family time. Rather than an outing to the movies, consider the roller or ice skating rink, miniature golf course, park or town pool. You and the kids will both get your exercise and quality time together.

You don't have to sacrifice time with your friends to get in a workout. Suggest an active happy hour after work rather than heading to the local bar. Go bowling, or join a baseball, basketball or soccer team. For the really ambitious, train together for an upcoming race.

Let go of your "all or nothing" exercise attitude. If you think a 10 or 15 minute workout is "pointless" when you don't have time for a full hour, think again. Every minute counts toward improving your fitness level, reducing stress and strengthening your heart and muscles. Plus a minute spent exercising always beats a minute spent sedentary.
Stress reduction and sleep are important to self-care and a healthy lifestyle, but too often neglected when life is frantic.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to ease stress and takes a mere 30 seconds. Begin to notice the physical signs you experience when stress is mounting. Neck tension, back pain, and queasy stomach are common. Stop what ever you are doing and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. A mantra such as "breathe" or "stay calm" may help. Stress leads to inefficiency and mistakes that then take more time to redo and correct.

Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, exacerbate illness and injuries and lead to lots of time spent at the doctor's office or home in bed. Take time regularly to manage your stress to avoid massive loss of time later. Experiment with what works best for you. Ten minutes of daily meditation, a weekly massage or just an evening out each week with your honey can go a long way to keeping you healthy. When you find yourself thinking "I don't have time for this" remind yourself how time consumed being sick or depressed is!

Many people believe they can gain more time by skimping on sleep. I hope you are not one of them! Just as too much stress will lead to more mistakes, inefficiency, depressed immune system and increased injury and illness, so will lack of sleep. Although an occasional night of reduced sleep won't have long lasting effects, a constant diet of sleep deprivation will. Trying to function on too little sleep will end up causing you to waste time rather than save it.

Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have also been proven to hinder weight loss. So if you are in hurry to see the pounds melt away, get your sleep and take time to relax, unwind and rejuvenate.


With some proactive thinking and creativity, creating time for healthy living should not be an insurmountable problem. Self-care can compliment and fit seamlessly into your lifestyle.

Sources:
American Heart Association. Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York. "Fitting in Fitness: Hundreds of Simple Ways to Put More Physical Activity into Your Life."

IL: Human Kinetics. Tribole E. "Eating on the Run—Third Edition."

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Siobhan Banks, Ph.D. and David F. Dinges, Ph.D. Banks S, Dinges DF. "Behavioral and Physiological Consequences of Sleep Restriction," Accessed August 2011. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

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Member Comments

  • Take notice of how great you feel and how many improvements you have made so far!
  • So many words to reach a simple statement: If you need more time, just say NO to what is not important. You don't need to do everything all the time. You do this and your day is less stressful and more productive.
  • JMB369
    Great article, although not totally relevant to my current life as a retiree, and probably not relevant to SAHM&D! The one suggestion I could implement is to set a day aside for food prep. My DH is my sous-chef, and I often ask him to chop extra onions, peppers, celery, etc. The best one I already do is pre-planning meals depending on the day's activities.
  • k I am definitely one that needs to work on the "all or nothing" attitude...
  • When I started to make changes I didn't have time (or thought I didn't) to do a 30 - 45 minute workout so I started taking several 10 - 15 minute walks. It works!
  • Very good article. Something worth reading on a weekly basis. We all need reminders to keep us on track.
  • ANNIDAV
    Some good points here and some good reminders of things I used to do and have let slip. One of these was to always have a large container of salad greens in the fridge which made it so easy to put together a salad lunch or salad for tea. I often added vegetables to this - ones that did not spoil easily which includes carrot sticks, celery sticks, capsicum, bean sprouts. Don't add cut tomatoes or cucumber though as these tend to go soggy.
  • TRISHMO1
    interesting about chronic stress weakening your immune system that may explain my bout with cancer
  • I try to focus on what I CAN do instead of what I don't have time for. I can generally get to the gym Fri-Sun, so that's my goal. Other days become bonus. Why setts elf up for failure by saying I'll go every day? That's just not feasible with my schedule. I also know I don't have time to cook on Thurs, so I plan the rest of my food that day around going out that night.
  • It's unbelievable how much money I can save by bringing my healthy lunch from home to the office. Besides that, I do not need to waste time/gas during lunch time. By knowing that I have my lunch ready I better go to the gym or go out for a walk during my lunch time and then I can have my lunch when I come back to my desk.
  • I walk at a park,it's not close to my house, but I pass it everyday going to and from work, so I try to leave early and stop and walk. If I can't get all in I stop on the way home. It is my me time, I was so busy with everything else I never took care of myself or had anytime for me.Now I always fit it in .
  • When I use Peapod, our local online delivery service, I buy healthier choices. Only go to "aisles" where I really need products. I am also not tempted by end caps products or tempted down the cookies, crackers and snacks aisles.
  • AVOCADOFAN
    I like to walk to work and back- I get 50 mins walk for the price of 20 mins (I would have spent 30 mins waiting for the bus/on the bus) and I save bus fare. It gives me some "me time" as well. At first I would get off a stop or 2 early and worked up to walking home and then to work as well. An added bonus is that now if I am running late or just REALLY need a lie in then I can get the bus if I need to.

About The Author

Ellen Goldman Ellen Goldman
Ellen founded EllenG Coaching, LLC to help individuals struggling with health issues that can be impacted by positive lifestyle change, such as weight loss, stress management, exercise, and life/work balance. As a certified professional wellness coach and certified personal trainer, Ellen holds a BS and Masters in Physical Education and is certified by ACSM, AFAA, and Wellcoaches Corporation. Visit her at http://www.ellengcoaching.com/. Get her complimentary report, 52 Tips, Tools & Tricks to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet, at www.endtheweightlossbattle.com.