Over the years, I've heard a common complaint from my patients, who say they don't seem to have time to take better care of themselves. Their jobs, families, and friends keep them so busy that there just isn't a spare moment left. Getting to the gym? Not possible. They work crazy hours during the week and spend their weekends with their children. Go food shopping, and plan healthy meals? They wish, they'll say, but they're too exhausted during the week, and out with friends all weekend. The excuses can line up, but unfortunately, the end result is the same. We need to make time for ourselves.
1. Plan Ahead.
The best way to start making time for your health is to plan ahead. I always love this quote: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Once you get the hang of it, planning doesn't really take up much time. And the more organized you are, the easier it becomes. Start by planning your meals and snacks for the day, and then progress to the week. Keep grocery lists, and set a designated day for food shopping. Set aside some time on Sunday evening to prep your meals for the week.
2. Schedule your fitness.
Unfortunately, exercise doesn't miraculously occur in our busy lives unless we plan for it. Just like you make an appointment to see a doctor, or schedule a date with a friend for dinner, you should do the same thing with exercise. Mark it on your calendar, and don't cancel. If you are making plans to go out for dinner midweek, meet up after the gym. On the weekends, spend one less hour in bed so you can spend one hour devoted to fitness. And besides, fitness doesn't only have to happen in a gym. Put on comfortable shoes, and go for a walk.
3. Create a healthy eating schedule.
No matter how busy your days are, you need to eat regularly. Skipping meals is a sure way to miss important nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy. And besides, most people who skip meals end up overeating later on in the day. Commit to eating three meals a day, for starters. If you claim you don't have time for breakfast, get up five minutes earlier and, all of a sudden, there is time. Too busy at work to get lunch? Pack a sandwich the night before, and problem solved. If you order in at night because you are too tired to cook dinner, simply place a healthier order.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but not getting enough sleep is one of the complaints I hear most frequently. And unfortunately, the more tired you are, the harder it is to take care of yourself. It just seems today that everyone's lives have become busier, and there is less time for sleep. Or, maybe insufficient sleep is due to so many nighttime distractions, like Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging. Personally, being able to DVR my favorite programs leads me to stay up too late watching TV. What I suggest, and what I am trying to do myself, is to go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, with the aim of sleeping at least seven hours per night.
5. Be a role model.
Many of my patients who are parents say that the demands of caring for their children leaves no time left in the day for exercise. One solution is to take turns with your spouse or partner, so one of you can watch the kids while the other exercises. Another option is to start doing exercise as a family. Consider bike riding, hiking, or walking, for example. If your children are still in strollers, then strap them in, and go out for a walk together. And when it comes to healthy eating, your kids should never be an excuse not to eat well. Rather, they should provide an incentive to eat healthfully. When your kids grow up in an healthy and active environment, that positive influence will permeate their lives. Plus, if you feel good about yourself, that good energy will spread to your child.
6. Carve out time for yourself when you're caring for others.
Some of my patients are caretakers for an aging parent or ill spouse. Taking care of yourself during these times, no matter how difficult it may be, is just as important. You can't take care of someone else for very long while letting your own health slide. In this instance, I try to prod my patients by asking them who will take care of their loved one if they get sick. Sleep, diet, and exercise all still matter.
I regularly refer my patients to this great quote by Deepak Chopra: "If you don't take care of your health today, you will be forced to take care of your illness tomorrow." Truer words have never been spoken.
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Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.