This week got me thinking about my personal routines and systems for making health and fitness feel automatic.
I haven't felt myself the last several months and need to get back on track.
Yes, stress, overwhelm, and depression may all be contributing factors, but the reality is that the pandemic broke my usual “system.” This broken system is making it harder to be productive, regularly exercise, eat appropriate amounts of nutritious foods, and engage in other healthy behaviors. You may be feeling similarly. A healthy lifestyle is never effortless. For many of us, it feels unusually hard right now.
Before the pandemic, a consistent work schedule, regularly scheduled rec basketball games, consistent lunch and dinner times all served as reliable anchors that organize my entire week. Now, without these anchors, I have had to try out new ones to create a new "normal".
Think about your day from beginning to end.
What would make staying active, eating nutritious foods, getting restful sleep, and other priorities easier and more automatic? Here are some aspects to consider that have helped me find new anchors.
Could consistent wake times, meal times, exercise times, meditation time, or bedtime help?
Sound super simple but this is the first step back to feeling "normal".
Our bodies run on an internal clock that regulates metabolism and hormones involved in appetite regulation and sleep.
Setting consistent wake-up times will help regulate a healthy cortisol spike in the morning to get you up, alert, and energized. That consistent morning cortisol spike will then create a large spike of melatonin, helping you fall (and stay) asleep at night. Morning movement—even if it's just some light stretching, yoga, or a walk—will additionally help with this process.
Many metabolic processes in the body—such as appetite, digestions, and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol, and glucose—follow patterns that repeat every 24 hours. Eating inconsistently may affect our internal body clock and that disruption might lead to weight gain, a higher sensation of cravings throughout the day, and digestive issues.
There is also some interesting research out now that people who ate their biggest meal at breakfast lost two and a half times more weight than those who had a light breakfast and ate most of their calories at dinner. They also slept longer and had better sleep quality.
What changes could you make to your kitchen, workout space, and other aspects of your physical environment?
A clean kitchen, living room, and bedroom is a good place to start. I always feel less stressed and anxious when my surroundings are clean and tidy.
Organize the pantry, fridge, and counters in an attractive and convenient way. Have pre-cut veggies, hummus, a water filter, and yogurt front n' center in your fridge. Place a fruit bowl filled with your favorite whole fruits on the counter.
Invest in cooking appliances that make cooking more convenient and enjoyable. The Insapot cooks rice perfectly in less than 5 minutes. Slow cookers are the best at making bulk dishes like stews and chillis that require very minimal effort to make and you can store the extras in the freezer for future quick dinners. Air fryers make cooking meats and seafood a breeze. A quality high-powered blender is perfect for making smoothies and soups quickly.
Even if you aren't physically going to the gym, layout your fitness clothes before bed to prompt you to exercise first thing in the morning.
Sounds silly, but pack your lunch the night before (even though you'll be eating at home).
How might setting alarms, using a to-do list, or time-blocking make things easier?
I've found that when I time-block, I get more done and spend less time on things that weren’t important to me. To stay on track, try blocking out time to study, work, read, journal, exercise, and even eat lunch. And while the time-blocking technique’s upside is pretty clear for busy people, this method can be just as helpful—perhaps more so—when you have lots of free time.
It’s even more important right now to wake up with a purpose and daily reminders have a huge impact on establishing your "why" when it comes to your personal health and fitness.
Could you lean on people around you for motivation, accountability, and help? How about trying exercise or playtime with your family, so all of you can stay fit together?
I've recently been in a training funk so I started scheduling time to train with my girlfriend three mornings out of the week. Working out with her has helped me stay more consistent and has helped me prioritize both strength training and spending more time with my girlfriend.
Maybe try to schedule a morning zoom workout with a friend or join an online group exercise class.
I know money is tight for many of us but investing in a personal trainer or nutrition coach may be the perfect move to gain additional support, accountability, and education.
I've had several clients in the past train with me for only three weeks just to create the habit of workout out, to create a structured training program, and to make sure they were moving correctly. After the three weeks, they asked for personal plans that they would complete on their own moving forward. That might be a good option for most!
How might you stack healthy habits on top of something you already do? For example, could you take work calls while going for a walk?
You know you're going to watch that episode on Netflix. How about watching it while you cook a healthy dinner....
...or at least chop up veggies and fruit to store in your fridge to make the week's cooking that much easier.
If you are having a hard time blocking out time to exercise or a 50 minute workout seems unmanageable, try "chunking" your workout to fit within the shorter breaks you have between meetings or calls.
Spend 5-10 minutes foam rolling and stretching in the morning, take a 15-minute brisk walk at lunch, and do 20 minutes of training anywhere else in the day – maybe an actual lift, maybe just some bodyweight work of pushups, pull-ups, plank variations, squat and lunge variations. By the end of the day, you would achieve just a much exercise (or even more) in your day.
It’s hard sometimes to find a whole hour. But anybody can manage 10 minutes chunks.
Test it out
Think of your new system as an experiment.
The only way to know for sure whether your new system will work is to try it. Give it seven days. See what happens. After seven days, reassess.
Ask yourself: “Was that working for me?”
This can help you determine if you need to make an adjustment. If it worked great, keep it up. If it didn’t work, see what you can learn. Make a few changes and test again. Besides helping you get back on track and be more consistent, the structure and familiarity of a routine can help you feel more grounded.
This weird, scary, unprecedented time will eventually come to an end. When it does, your new practice of building and testing your new healthy systems will help you transition back to work and other old “normals” much more smoothly.