You want to build healthy habits to feel better and get fit. So, you go online to do a little research and get sucked down the rabbit hole of expert advice, and 2 hours later are so completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to start! Should you focus on lifting really heavy weights, sign up for a 5K, go vegan, do a cleanse, what?! If you can’t eat clean all the time is there even a point? If you can get in an hour workout, but only if get 5 hours of sleep, is it worth it?!
While it’s nice to have all of this information, it quickly becomes a burden when your goal isn’t to become an expert, but to simply live a healthy lifestyle. There are only so many hours in a day, and not every day is going to be able to hold all the things you want to do. When you’re surprised by an hour of free time, what’s the best way to use it? When you have 3 things to get done but enough time for 2, what do you cut?
These are hard decisions, and some days you’ll choose differently than others because – as nearly every frustrating question is answered – It Depends.
If your goal is to improve your general health so you can have more energy and feel better in your body – as opposed to training for a Crossfit competition or running a marathon – here are the priorities what will serve you best.
#1 – Sleep
As I’ve said before, adequate sleep sets the stage for everything else. Aside from just feeling drained in the afternoon and making poor food choices, chronic lack of sleep can cause major problems you won’t necessarily feel, including; increasing your risk of the following: Heart disease, Heart attack, Heart failure, Irregular heartbeat, High blood pressure, Stroke, and Diabetes (WebMD).
Most of us don’t have much choice in when we get up. Either your work, your commute, your kids, or all of the above have you getting up before you’ve gotten those precious 7-9 hours. My number one tip for getting enough sleep is to go to bed earlier! It probably sounds obvious, but if it were that obvious and easy, you’d be doing it. Set an bedtime alarm and get your butt in bed so when your alarm goes off, you’re ready to take on the day! What are you doing past 10 pm that is more important? Read this post for more tips on creating a bedtime routine.
#2 – Nutrition
As a run coach and runner myself, I’m no longer surprised when people gain weight training for a marathon. Seem crazy? It’s not, and is actually quite common! While both exercise and nutrition are key to weight loss, weight management and general health, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Both exercise and nutrition are important, but placing a little more emphasis on improving your nutrition will get you to your goals more easily.
To workout, and for those workouts to positively effect your body, you need to fuel it properly. It’s like heading on a road trip and being surprised the car dies when you fill it with the wrong oil. Unless you follow certain dietary rules for moral or religious reasons, or are entering a figure competition, eating healthfully isn’t the rocket science some make it out to be. Nutrition is highly important, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is what to spend your energy and focus on.
- Eat more real whole foods and less packaged processed foods with an emphasis on protein (to build and maintain your muscles). Click here for my list of kitchen staples!
- Protein is your BFF! It keeps you full and builds serious muscle. Click here for 12 protein-packed delicious recipes to get into your rotation!
- Eat in more often then out. Click here for recipes, and here for tips when you dine out.
- Tune into your hunger cues, eating what your body needs – not craves – and stopping when you’re full. Click here for tips on tuning into your hunger and fullness signals.
#3 – Exercise
Surprised to see exercise down at #3? The concept that exercise is not the be-all-end-all to weight loss and weight management is gaining strength (no pun intended?). Studies show that when exercise is added, but no changes in diet are made, weight loss is minimal. Now don’t go thinking, “great, I can stop working out!” There are so many benefits of exercise, including:
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Reduce your risk of some cancers
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Control/Maintain your weight
- Improve your mental health and mood
- Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
- Increase your chances of living longer (CDC.gov)
Check out this post for 20 benefits for weightlifting!
My point is that if you are overwhelmed and chronically strapped for time, make shopping and cooking whole food meals more of a priority instead of stressing over not getting to the gym enough times that week.
If you do have time to formally workout, here is the best way to spend your time:
- 2-3 Full body strength training sessions of 20-40 minutes. Working major muscles in compound movements (think of how many muscles are involved in a squat or a pushup!) will save time, and using your bodyweight instead of machines means you can workout at home without buying a thing. Check out my workout section of the blog here for ideas, and click here for my e-book Strongher in :30 and get fit at home!
- 1-2 HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions of 10-20 minutes. The idea here is to go all out for a short amount of time and recover just enough to go again. Typical intervals range from 20 – 60 seconds each followed by a rest interval of equal or double that time. These workouts go by fast and can be done with anything from sprints to burpees to rope slams! Click here for more on the Tabata method which has rest periods of half the work periods, giving you a tough and effective workout in a very short time!
- Low Intensity activity throughout your day. There are times in your life when working out isn’t part of your routine, and that’s OK! You won’t become a couch potato just because you aren’t doing traditional workouts. For these times, your focus should be simply moving your body more. I am a huge fan of walking and you can read more here on how to easily incorporate this highly beneficial, low-intensity activity into your life. Click here for simple ways to move more and sit less!
Putting it all together
All of these pieces are important cornerstones for whole health, but this is real life, and there are times when taking a shower is a luxury, much less cooking a healthy dinner and spending an hour in the gym. When you’re in bare-bones-necessity-only mode, focus on the basics. Sleep is the foundation that sets everything in place, after that, what you put in your mouth will effect your waistline more quickly than working it off. Stick to challenging strength training if you’re pressed for time, and if working out is not in the cards, move more throughout your day.
If you’d like a more customized plan and personal accountability, let’s talk! My 4-Week Kickstarter Program is an intro into health coaching that will get the ball rolling and stop the overwhelm. Shoot me an email and we can explore if this is the right step for you!