This week I'm all about working efficiently, since every day I have found myself needing more time on the tail end to make it farther down my "to do" list. I'm constantly striving to get more done in less time without compromising the quality of my work. It's about working smarter and being creative, not always working myself into the ground- sometimes I get out of balance with this!
You will never hear me say there is a magic pill or an easy road to health and wellness. You have to commit to your health and fitness goals, then do the work. However, as you work towards your goals, there are certain behaviors you can implement to help you feel stronger and improve your overall well being faster. I refer to these behaviors as "health hacks," and the ones I am going to share with you have boosted my physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing through the years, and continue to on a daily basis.
You can incorporate these hacks TODAY and you will notice a difference in your health and mental state in a short amount of time. In some cases, within a day or two! If you can't incorporate all of them at the same time (that may be overwhelming), pick a few. And if all goes well, slowly incorporate more hacks as you adjust.
To honor my motto of efficiency I am going to be (somewhat) short and sweet discussing each hack. These topics are (individually) loaded for me, so in the weeks to come, I will go down the list and talk about each subject. I will educate you more on the topics and delve into the science supporting what I am saying. So, although some of this blog may read off the cuff, I assure you it's not!
Let's get into it!
Get your sleep
I can't stress this enough. Sleep is essential for physical and mental health. During sleep, our minds and bodies repair. When we sleep, our systems are busy flushing out toxins, replacing cells, repairing damaged tissues, and restoring our energy supply. Sleep deprivation can lead to long term health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, depression, high blood pressure, obesity, cognitive decline, a dampened immune system, and type 2 diabetes.
I realize now is an exceptionally stressful time for so many. There is SO much going on in the home and outside the home. I get it. I have days that I feel the stress hovering like a weighted blanket. Stress can make sleep seem impossible!
If you're not getting enough sleep, try and make it a priority. Turn the devices off, meditate, make a warm beverage, read a book; do whatever you can do to calm your nervous system and relax. A good night sleep makes everything feel better and allows your mind and body to repair, making you overall stronger the next day.
Sleep will always remain at the top of my health hack list!
In elementary school, we learned that trees use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to breath. According to research published in the journal Environmental Pollution, in just one year, the presence of trees had a national reduction of more than 850 incidences of mortality. Other substantial health benefits include the reduction of more than 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms, 430,000 incidences of asthma exacerbation, and 200,000 school loss days.
Trees remove pollution form the air, making it healthier for us to take it into our lungs. Fresh air does the mind and body good in other ways too. A blast of fresh air can give you more energy, boost mood, and even boost the immune system. And if you're outside, there's a greater chance that you're moving around and you know how I feel about incorporating physical activity through your day!
Which brings me to hack #3.
You ARE going to get tired of hearing me say this, but get MOVING! If you think it has to be a grueling process, go back and read last week's blog on exercise "snacks."
Exercise has so many benefits for your mind, body, and spirit. Exercise reduces your risk of a variety of chronic diseases, improves memory and brain function, lowers blood pressure, aids in weight management, improves joint pain and stiffness, improves sleep (remember my first hack!?!), helps manage blood sugar, boosts mood, and slashes stress, anxiety, and depression. Last but not least, exercise enhances components of fitness such as muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness, which solely is associated with a reduction in all cause mortality.
Pack your lunch
Brown bagging it to work or school has positive effects on your wallet and your health.
I know from studying nutritional content in a variety of foods, that many foods bought outside of the home can be laden with excessive fat, sugar, salt, and calories. Truth is, you're never really sure what, exactly, goes into your food from a restaurant or take out place.
Restaurants and take out foods nutritional content may surprise you. I will delve into this more at a later time, but if you want some pointers on eating out, I really like these tips.
Packing your lunch daily can save you from the guessing game of ingredients and has potential to save you $10-12 a day. Take that amount times 5 days over the course of 52 weeks and you have a potential savings of $2600-$3120 per year!
I realize during the pandemic people may not be dining in restaurants as much, but according to an analysis of Google search volume and a survey of 2,000 Americans, 65% of people were reported ordering takeout more (equating to 2.4 times per week) and spending about $67 weekly, since the start of the pandemic.
Track your food intake for one day, even better- ONE week or ONE month
Tracking works best when used with a food scale, which can be purchased relatively cheap from Amazon. Weighing food gives you a more accurate understanding of portion sizes and ensures you're not consuming more calories than you think you are. If you aren't able to buy a scale, here is a handy chart you can use to assist you with eyeing the appropriate portion sizes when eating out or at home.
Our technology allows for us to have the world at our fingertips, so why not use it to benefit our health. Many apps such as Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, MyPlate Calorie Counter, Calorie Counter- MyNetDiary, Super Food, and Nutrition Facts, are a few of the most popular food trackers in 2020. Many of these fitness apps have been working on their nutritional databases for some time, so they have a hefty database of foods from grocery stores, restaurants, take out establishments, and personal "custom" items which users enter based off their home recipes.
Maintaining weight is about the energy balance equation. Calories in and calories out are a part of that equation. There are also complex inner workings of the body, as well as external factors that impact "calories in" and "calories out."
Energy in and energy out are also influenced by exercise, age, hormones, sleep, stress, medical conditions, pharmaceuticals, and more. These factors will also influence how many calories we take in and burn. Due to a variety of factors, you may be out of balance! Tracking is one tool that can be used to help shift you towards a more balance state. Tracking can also be done with a food diary if you don't want (or have access) to use technology.
There is so much debate if tracking food is effective or not, so I understand it can be confusing.
In my experience tracking your food is a game changer. It is not easy to do. Actually it is a total pain and tedious. But, WOW! A real eye opener. Once you have your own food database built up in the app you're using, it gets easier, since many of us eat the same foods on a daily basis. Once I get clients into tracking their food, they're always amazed how quickly their food intake adds up. I also understand why tracking may trigger unhealthy habits that don't suit you, so please do what is best for YOU!
My "take home" - When used together, tracking and weighing can teach you a lot about nutrition.
Take the stairs
Yup, I'm back to moving your body!
When you climb stairs, your heart rate elevates and pumps oxygenated blood through your body to your tissues and organs. This done over time strengthens your heart and lungs. It's so easy to do, no equipment is required, and the kickback over time has beneficial impacts on our health. Taking the stairs may help protect against high blood pressure and may lower the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and conditions that increase heart disease risk. Stair climbing has also been shown to lower mortality from all causes.
Something else to think about. When you use the stairs you activate muscles in the legs, abs, glutes, and back. All these muscles working together, helps with balance, which is a component of fitness that starts to deteriorate as we age due to a loss of sensory elements. The dissipation of these sensory elements contributes to the loss of balance and increases the risk of falling, which is the leading cause of morbidity and disability in the elderly.
Also, when you walk the stairs you use your joints and hips, which is a movement that can translate into improved function with daily activities and quality of life. And if I didn't give you enough reasons to take the steps, climbing stairs is a weight bearing activity, therefore it can strengthen your bones and combat Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bone to become weak and brittle and impacts women the most since estrogen levels influence the quality of the bone and bone mineral density.
Double your water intake
Humans are made up of 60% water and our blood is 90% water. To function properly all the cells and organs of the body need water.
Water lubricates the joints, forms saliva and mucus, cushions the spinal cord and brain, keeps airways lubricated, and regulates body temperature. Water flushes our body waste and improves eliminations through sweat and feces. Our digestive system requires water to prevent dehydration and enhance waste removal. Water makes minerals and nutrients easily accessible as they dissolve in water and get transported through the body.
Water has also been shown to enhance weight loss by satisfying dehydration signals that can be mistaken for hunger and increase skin health by reducing wrinkles.
Guzzle the water!
Let's talk about what NOT to guzzle.
Stop drinking your calories
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the average American drinks about 400 calories a day. Sugar-sweetened beverages are leading sources of added sugars in the American diet and linked to a variety of health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
If you drink soft drinks or sugar laden beverages, I recommend switching to a lighter version of the beverage, or water all together. A 12 oz. soda contains 140 calories and 12 grams of sugar. If you're pouring from a 2 L. chances are you're doubling those numbers. Check out the sugar content of some popular items to the right! WOWzers!
Frappe, skinny, no whip, soy, chai, call it what you want, these tasty cafe style beverages are loaded with calories, sugar, and fat if you're not opting for the skim milk!
Starbucks offers ideas how to slim down some of their popular drinks, so if you want a treat try one of their suggestions. Remember when suggestions are given as "light", double check the size their advertising if you're trying to mimic the nutritional content. Most often advertisements that market nutritional content choose the "standard" size, which is not what the general public orders. When looking at Starbucks' sizes, grande and venti will double or triple the nutritional content, providing you with a meal in a beverage cup. If you want a meal in a cup, try something more nutritious like a smoothie (I recommend making smoothies at home to control the sugar content in them.)
I understand many people enjoy drinking alcohol for social reasons, and often those that drink like the taste and the "feeling" they have ending their day with a drink, glass of wine, or cold beer in hand. I'm not going to discuss the calorie and sugar content in your favorite beverage, but there is something worth mentioning.
When alcohol enters your body, it is in your blood stream and taken to all organs of your body. In most healthy people, blood circulates through the body in about 90 seconds, thereby allowing alcohol to affect your brain and other organs in a short amount of time. The full effects of one drink can be felt as soon as 5-10 minutes. Alcohol is not recognized or treated like other nutrients that enter your body. Unlike carbohydrates, protein, and fat, there is nowhere to store alcohol in our body. Your body recognizes alcohol as a toxin (because ethanol is a toxic chemical compound), therefore it will make metabolizing, and clearing it out of your body a priority over anything else. Which means whatever you ate right before you drank, when you were drinking, and after you were drinking, won't be metabolized until alcohol is gone from your system.
Watch the drinks! Next....
Eat your veggies
Make your plate as colorful as you can! A variety of colors on your plate, not only ensures a variety of vitamins and nutrients, it makes a more visually appealing plate. No single veggie provides all the vitamins and nutrients you need to be healthy, so diversity is key. A diet rich in vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which helps prevent type 2 diabetes as well as keep appetite in check.
If you don't want to eat a plain side of vegetables, mix it in what you're making, or make the veggies a main dish such as in stuffed peppers. Some ways to incorporate veggies in your meals are in a sauté, omelette, soup, salad, veggie medley, vegetable lasagne, and veggie sauce to put over pasta, steak, or poultry.
I saved the next hack as last for a reason. It's what I need to do next after finishing writing this!
Give your mind and body a rest! Unplugging can put you in a present-moment awareness, increase productivity and learning, improve sleep, and deepen the connections of those around you.
Shut down phones, computers, and TV's as often as you can, and I recommend an hour or two before bed to avoid the blue lights.
Your brain reads the blue lights as daylight, thus messing with your circadian rhythm. You'll not only sleep better, but it can help with weight control since since you won't crave mid-day sugar jolts to stay alert.
Unplugging is not easy. I get it. However, your body and mind calm down if you can step away and have a "technology fast" from from time to time.
Well that concludes my healthy hack list! I have more nifty hacks that I will share with you at some point. I want to explore more of each of these topics first.
Next week I will delve into sleep! My favorite.
Please feel free to share your hacks below and let me know if you incorporate any of these going forward. I love the feedback and hearing from you!
Stay well and talk with you soon!