We’ve all been there: it’s the peak of busy season, you’re working late into the night, and you’re facing yet another office dinner of takeout food and energy drinks or coffee. It’s been weeks since you saw the inside of the gym or had a full night’s sleep. You know this path isn’t sustainable, but how can you change your habits?
When I first began my professional career, I also struggled with the same unhealthy habits. I quickly realized that if I didn’t prioritize my health, however, I wouldn’t be able to meet high performance demands or effectively manage stress. I started by making just a few simple changes to my daily routine. These changes formed the foundation for a new, healthy lifestyle that’s continued to this day.
No matter your age, it’s never too late to course correct. Making diet and fitness a priority during busy season will support your physical health, emotional well being, and on-the job success. Start with these simple changes:
1. Schedule exercise. During busy season, if you don’t put a meeting or call on your calendar, it won’t happen. The same goes for exercise: if you block an hour each day to be active, it’s much easier to follow through on that commitment. Schedule your workout for midday day or early morning: most busy professionals are drained by the end of the day and don’t have the energy to work out, or find they’re stuck working late and can’t make it to the gym.
For me, I block an hour over lunch every day to exercise. If your office isn’t close to the gym or doesn’t have access to showers, a sweaty, midday workout might be a no-go. You can still use this time to clear your mind and get moving. Take a walk outside or ask permission to use conference room space for a short yoga practice. Invite your coworkers to join you and make it an office routine.
2. Keep it quick. Even if an early morning workout makes the most sense for your schedule, the prospect of getting up at 5am to squeeze in this workout before your morning commute may be a non-starter. In this case, consider how you can maximize your workout benefits while minimizing the time commitment. An effective workout can easily be completed in 30 minutes or less.
I enjoy HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, like Tabata. The Nike+ Training Club App offers free, step-by-step workouts, many of which can be completed in 30 minutes or less. Studies show that short interval workouts are actually more effective in achieving sustained weight loss and improved cardiovascular health than low-impact-stead-state training and can be applied to any exercise activity, regardless of your level of fitness. Don’t let lack of time be an excuse for not exercising!
3. Prep food on the weekends. When you have food ready-to-go in the fridge, it’s easy to grab a healthy breakfast or lunch option rather than defaulting to office takeout meals. Don’t love to cook? Not a problem: even preparing some healthy basics over the weekend will balance out your diet during the week. For example, I steam or cook vegetables in bulk and then divide them into five containers for weekday meals. Sauté chicken or cook quinoa over the weekend and then mix in with a kale salad for a healthy, protein-packed lunch.
If you don’t have time to hit the grocery store, consider a meal prep delivery service that provides all the ingredients you need to prepare a healthy meal in 30 minutes or less. Or if you don’t have time to cook, consider a pre-cooked meal service. Most cities have prepared meal providers to meet your dietary needs. While the upfront cost may seem high, when you compare this with the daily cost of covering takeout meals, you may find that the meal prep kit or service actually saves you money– not to mention improving your diet.
4. Stock your desk with healthy snacks. When you hit a mid-afternoon energy lull and don’t have anything on hand, it’s pretty tough to resist those cupcakes sitting in the office break room. My strategy: always keep a variety of healthy, minimally processed snack bars and nuts right at my desk so I don’t even have to enter the break room of temptation! Check labels and steer clear of anything with added sugar and oils. My favorites are Larabar, Kind Bar and Epic Bars. Nuts and nut-butters from Trader Joe’s are packed with clean proteins and healthy fats. Keep fresh fruit in the office fridge: apples are inexpensive and can last all week.
5. Rethink your commute and daily routine. What opportunities exist to integrate activity into your daily commute? During warmer months here in Denver, many of my colleagues enjoy biking or walking to work. Even something as simple as choosing to park at the back of the park lot, opting for stairs over the elevator, or using a standing desk can help integrate extra movement into your day.
During busy season, it’s easy to fall into an unhealthy routine. You’re working long hours, living off caffeine, sugar and takeout food, and can barely find time to get a few hours of sleep each night, much less work out. Putting personal care on the backburner, however, can not only increase the risk for weight gain and chronic health problems, but also hurt your on-the-job performance.
If you’re struggling to stay committed to these changes, seek support from your coworkers. Invite your coworkers to a midday yoga class, sign the office up for a healthy precooked meal delivery service, or start a daily step challenge.
How do you stay healthy and cope with busy season stress? I invite you to share your tips in the comment section below.