By Katherine Ragland, aka VEGGIELADY4LIFE
If you struggle with an insane work or home routine, I can certainly relate. As a married fourth-year medical student with two very demanding dogs and a food and nutrition blog, I often struggle with fitting everything into my schedule. After ten plus years of juggling intense academic work with outside jobs, relationships, and hobbies, I have honed in on three areas crucial to maintaining my sanity in a “mad, mad world.” If your to-do list seems to be ever-expanding and your energy level is constantly crashing, my advice to you is to focus on these three things: sleep, nutrition and exercise (in that order!) Maintaining healthy habits in these key areas will provide you with the energy and enthusiasm to tackle nearly any life challenge.
Closing thoughts: Invest in a good planner. I believe this is a vital step to maintaining sanity in an insane world. If you’re a high-tech gal, play around with your smart phone and figure out how to sync your phone calendar with your Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar. There are tons of online tutorials, and this simple step makes life so much easier! You only need to update one calendar for your planned activity to show up on all three!
- Sleep – Often an overlooked area in many people’s lives, good sleep hygiene is perhaps the most important component to a healthy lifestyle. While we sleep, our body repairs muscles, reformats memories, and essentially restocks our energy reserve. Sleep is crucial to optimal daily function!
- Decide today you will get AT LEAST 7 hours of sleep every night. Many people require 8, but 7 should be your bare minimum. This is not going to happen immediately if you have been depriving yourself of regular, adequate sleep for a long time. Plan to turn the lights out, turn the television off, and snuggle down for a good night’s rest at whatever time allows you 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you struggle at first to nod off, be patient and calm. Relax, breathe deeply, and realize you are already letting your body rest.
- If you are finding difficulty falling or staying asleep, my first advice is to analyze your exercise routine (see item #3). Are you primarily sedentary all day? If so, increasing your daily activity to at least 30 minutes/day will significantly improve your sleep. Moderate daily exercise has been shown to decrease time to fall asleep as well as increase overall sleep duration. Get moving!
- Nutrition – Once we are properly rested, we must then properly fuel ourselves for the day ahead. Nutrition is perhaps one of the more popular means of handling a long, difficult work schedule. However, we can choose one of two routes for this fueling process: 1. packaged, high-sugar carbohydrates or 2. nutritious whole foods that pack a much greater energy-boost. As you might guess, choice 2 is the smart option.
- Make your morning easy, and pack (or at least partially assemble) your lunch the night before. In the AM, you should only have to grab a few items and toss them into a lunch tote with an ice pack. If you pack your meals in a Bento box or similar container, go ahead and portion them into the different compartments. Reheat them in the AM if necessary.
- If you are still losing weight, roughly plan out not only lunch but breakfast, snacks and dinner for the next day using the Nutrition Tracker. This little step will really help you stay on track with your calorie intake. Otherwise, you might be tempted at or between meals to eat larger portions of less-than nutritious food.
- Invest in sturdy, BPA-free containers to store homemade veggie burgers, leftover stir-fry, precooked brown rice, etc. Having healthy, already prepared food in the refrigerator is a huge step in making better nutrition choices.
- If your schedule allows, learn to grocery shop multiple times/week without breaking the bank or wasting precious time. I prefer this method of shopping because it lets me take advantage of multiple produce sales, and I am able to buy fresh ingredients more frequently. Your grocery bill does not have to double if you do this, and you do not have to spend hours in the store! Make a list and stick to it! Focus on the perimeter of the store, avoiding the processed center aisles except for necessary items, and make it a marathon! Walk quickly and stay focused. Your wallet, waistline, and packed schedule will thank you!
- Exercise This is often the easiest of the three areas to neglect. Our bodies literally require sleep and food, but they can function without forced daily activity. We do not have to walk thirty minutes each day, take an aerobics class, or download a workout from Netflix in the same way that we must eat or sleep. However, including exercise into our three-point plan makes a tremendous difference in our overall energy level. As I mentioned in #1, exercise improves sleep. This has been shown in numerous studies.
It also curbs our appetite post-workout and releases feel good endorphins that particularly help during the premenstrual period or on especially stressful days. So… how can we squeeze in that morning or evening workout, and what steps can we take to make it more enjoyable?
- Pencil workout time into your schedule like you would an important business meeting. If possible, exercise in the AM before daily activities weigh you down. Waking up thirty minutes early is often much easier than finding motivation after a long day at work. I promise!
- Lay out clothes the night before (or even sleep in workout clothes). This includes work/school clothes and also gym clothes/shoes/bag if you plan to stop by the gym on the way to or from your day’s destination. Even if you plan to work out in the AM before you leave home, I still suggest laying out your clothes. It is great motivation to know your gear is waiting for you!
- Forget calories counts or structured plans when it comes to working out. Do what feels good for your body! If you love to run, thank the good Lord above and run! If you would rather die than run a mile, try walking briskly or using the elliptical trainer. Both activities are often preferred by people who dislike running. If you live in a beautiful area with hiking trails, take advantage of that opportunity! Research outdoor activities in your area online, and vary your workouts seasonally! Change is good, especially in regard to work outs.
If you’re a paper and pen fan (like me!), invest in a nice, large, old-fashioned planner. I personally prefer one with a month page as well as weekly pages. I like to see the whole month in one glance but write details on the weekly pages. Most importantly, remember, if the absolute worst happens, and you do not manage to fit everything in today, the world will not stop turning. It’s a humbling, but liberating, thought.
Katherine Ragland is a 26-year-old fourth year medical student currently interviewing for residency positions. She has a passion for healthy living and physical fitness, and she maintains a blog at http://veggielady4life.com dedicated to those topics. Her other hobbies include web design, photography, cooking, running, traveling and spending time with her husband and two wonderful dogs.
What tips help you keep your schedule and your healthy habits in check?