Everyday Tools to Improve Health

We can’t all dedicate full-time committment to health activities. Realistically, most of us have work schedules that prevent us from gym visits 2-3 times a day with a well-scheduled eating routine. Meetings come up, your boss has a deadline, or there’s a family commitment that falls right when you would normally hit the gym. Has anyone else noticed that most family functions revolve around meals? I’m thinking of you, Thanksgiving!

When I worked in retail and food service, I was on my feet all the time, often for 8 or more hour shifts at a time. I was running around filling orders or stocking shelves. I was at my leanest when I had those active movement jobs. I also learned I could eat what I wanted without gaining weight.

When I got my first office job, that changed. Quite quickly I noticed that the food I would eat was not shedding as fast as it had been. It’s not surprising since my activity level had dropped significantly. Here I am, almost 6 years later, and still working in an office and still looking for ways to make the lack of activity at work impact my health less.

So how do you accomplish that? Most of my changes are not exercises but changes that help with blood flow, stress level, and nutrition. Since all of those tie into overall health, they’re still going to have a positive impact on you.

  1. Take regular walk breaks– My watch beeps every hour on the hour. I set it that way to help me as I can easily lose track of time when working on projects (even still I’m almost always late for lunch). Since it’s already beeping, the logical step was to merge something with that beeping. Enter walk breaks. Statistics show that most static job workers should be taking breaks from computer tasks, and sitting specifically, once every 45 minutes to an hour. These breaks should be no less than 2 minutes in length and, ideally, you are walking or moving around for those two minutes (no standing in one place!).How I approach that is to take a quick 2-minute walk around my floor, or down to the main floor and back, when my watch beep goes off. This helps keep my glutes engaged and awake as well as giving my brain a chance to relax. Don’t forget, our glutes shut down with too much sitting. I speak from experience, waking those muscles back up from hibernation is not fun!
  2. Drink water as a habit– Does anyone else find, especially in the winter, that homes and offices can get very dehydrating? I’m always thirsty in the winter no matter how much water I drink. Keep in mind, often the feelings of hunger is masking thirst. This suggestion breaks down into two parts:
    1. When hungry, drink waterIf you feel the pangs of hunger, try drinking a small-medium cup of cool or cold water. Wait 15-20 minutes and see if that helps with your hunger. The body often mistakes thirst for hunger, resulting in over-eating and dehydration (which can lead to water retention).
    2. Drink when you can – My building at work has no good sources of drinking water. It’s old, the pipes are poorly maintained, and the water fountains don’t work. It’s very easy to become dehydrated at my work as the nearest source of drinking water is 2 buildings over. Luckily for me, the route to the mail room passes no less than 4 newly updated water fountains. To ensure I was getting a solid amount of water each day, I would always bring my work water bottle (I have one for work, one in my car for the gym, one for the gym when not using my car, and 2 for running that I keep at home) with me on my mail route. The other rule with that mail trip is that I always drink a big serving at every water fountain I pass. That’s 4 on the way to the mailroom, 4 on the way back, and a filled water bottle to last me until the next day’s trip.
  3. Take the stairs – Yes, this is an often-mentioned suggestion, but how many of us actually do this? I do, but I have no choice, there are no elevators in my building. This option is not feasible for everyone, so only do this if it doesn’t cause you pain! Two years ago, when I started at the gym, I couldn’t take the stairs at work without finishing out-of-breath and exhausted, but every day I would repeat that until it became less challenging. Then, my trainer told me to take it to the next step. Two stairs at a time! That was a whole new challenge. I treat stairs as the opportunity to work on my lunge form and to engage both my glutes and my hamstrings (weak spots for me). Focus on pushing up, through the heel of the foot in front and contracting with your glute to push through the motion, just as you would a normal lunge.
  4. Spend your lunch outside – I’m guilty of not always doing this step. Sometimes I like to just lock myself inside and catch up on my social networks. It is always refreshing when I do get out for lunch though. Take a quick walk around, or just sit in the sun/shade and forget you’re going to have to return to work in half an hour. The mini mental break will do wonders to cut your stress, which can be a contributing factor to visceral fat (the fat around our abs), and allow your mind to relax. When we focus too hard and too long, we can’t always think through problems as well, so this break allows your mind to recoup some energy to increase post-lunch productivity.
  5. Find outdoor routes around work – The above mail route can be completed through a series of building connections or a more direct route outside. I always choose the outdoor route (even if it means missing 2 of my water stations, in which case I double up on the 2 I do pass). Like the lunch break suggestion, taking a walk outside has a freeing effect on the mind and can really rejuvenate the psyche. This option could be challenging for some work environments, so feel free to adapt this to just going outside and visiting nearby businesses. The

So there you have it, my steps to adding some health-increasing habits to the everyday lifestyle. Remember, you have to adopt any task on a regular basis for a minimum of 2-4 weeks before it becomes a habit and begins to produce results.

Feel free to share more tips and tricks to adding health to a busy lifestyle in the comments!

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Breaks

There’s a whole variety of breaks, but the ones I’m thinking about right now are the unanticipated days where no matter of good intentions will either get you to the gym or give you the strength to get a work out done.

Fatigue/Lack of Energy
Sometimes it’s fatigue or lack of energy. Those days I feel the worst about since it’s usually my fault some how. Maybe I stayed up too late when I knew I shouldn’t have. Maybe I ate a lot of grain carbs and blew out my energy and sugar levels causing them to sag later on. These are the types of break days I try to minimize.

Usually, the lack of energy sensation passes once I force myself into the actual building. Even planning my work out gives me a little boost to overcome this. I do find, if I don’t get myself into the gym, even the parking lot, I know I won’t overcome this challenge.

Illness/Unwell
Then there’s the sick days. I was told once, if it’s above the neck, work through it, and if it’s below, rest it. I don’t know that I would fully agree with this. There are times when the issue below the neck can be worked around and the issue above the neck could easily hinder my ability to perform an exercise safely.

A good example of the above neck rule not working for me is migraines. I become light sensitive and often very disoriented. Doing a chest press would cause me to be staring into bright lights or, when raising my heartrate through cardio or resistance training, the pressure might build to increase the pain. Neither of these scenarios is a good one.

Will I take a painkiller and re-assess later? Yes, I will and do, but in terms of what pains to work through, the above rule is not tried and true for me all the time.

The same goes for below the neck. Sure, if I have a strained or pulled muscle, I won’t necessarily work that one. But if there’s other things Ican work out in the mean time without adding to it, then heck yeah I’ll do it. Often, after a particularly joint-stressing uppeer body work out (usually involving chin ups, bicep curls, and push ups), my elbows get a mild form of joint pain (similar to tennis elbow, minus the tennis playing).

I will ice my elbows the night of and maybe the following night as well, but I still work out. I never work a group of muscles two days in a row anyway so the next couple of days might be leg strength resistance and then a day of running. When I do return to arms, it’s when my elbow no longer has discomfort or with a routine that doesn’t put as much strain specifically on the elbow (seated rows, for example).

Mental
Yes, I go mental sometimes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I define mental break days as the days where you aren’t in a good headspace to be pushing yourself. It takes time, in my experience, to know when is a “Mental Break” Day and when is a “Need an Outlet” Day. The difference between these two for me is usually the nature of the issue.

If I’m angry, frustrated, mad, boiling over, etc., those days I go to the gym and work through my frustration. These days often include medicine ball slams. I can’t tell you how GREAT that feels on those days. I can’t recommend enough doing that exercise on these days. By the third set, if you have any energy left for frustration, you’re either not doing enough reps (and need another set) or you’re the Hulk and you’re going to be smashing everything anyway.

The way I tell if it’s a “Mental Break” day is when the nature of my ‘mentalness’ is being down, in an extreme way. I take medication sometimes to treat an internal physical problem, but the medication is based on hormones and as such, sometimes in the course of this medication, my moods will fluctuate. Other times it might be I get some really bad news.

Whatever the reasoning, I’ve tried to work through those days before. Everyone is different, but for me, those days are the days where I would be best to be at home, processing whatever is going through my head. I’ll be processing it where ever I am, and if that’s the gym, that means my mind will wander, and most likely when it shouldn’t. I can tell you I have had it wander at the worst times (at the peak of a chess press, when the dumb bells are right above my face, for an example, that was scary). I also find I don’t push as hard and even a moderate work out that I normally would have no trouble with, I trod through at best.

So what does this all mean? In the end, it means that break days are sometimes necessary and the reasons can vary. Everyone needs to mess around to find out what works for them, but don’t feel discouraged if you have to take an unanticipated break day, because it happens. It doesn’t mean you ‘fell off the wagon’ or ruined your work out routine. It means that you recognized that either your body or your mind was not going to be in a place to give its all and most likely whatever you would have done, would have been risky/dangerous or wouldn’t have been up to par (possibly also adding to your mental state of mind). We all need them sometimes, so don’t be afraid to use them when you do. You’ll be rewarded the next day with more motivation and energy for having allowed yourself to rest.