Can You Balance Your Fitness and Health Habits with a Busy Workday?

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I don’t even want to think about how much chocolate I consumed in the month of December. Don’t get me wrong—it was delicious. Would I take it back? Of course not; that’s what Decembers are for, after all. But with the start of the new year, comes our inevitable desire to get a little healthier. For me, that means saying goodbye to my little “chocolate a day” habit for a while.

Whether your resolution is getting into shape, or just eating a bit healthier, it can feel a little daunting to try to integrate healthy changes into a busy workday. That being said, if you establish a plan, it’s pretty easy to do.

Let’s go over the big three: healthy eating habits, staying fit at work, and maintaining good mental health.

What’s your new year’s health resolution? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

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Part 1: Healthy eating habits

The best way to ensure that you’re making healthy food choices while at work?

Plan ahead.

This can’t be overstressed; you know the cheesy phrase, “fail to plan, plan to fail”? As eyeroll-inducing as that aphorism may be, it really rings true here.

So, how can you plan ahead to make sure that you don’t end up gazing longingly at the vending machine at 3pm?

Prep healthy meals beforehand

Bringing your own food to work is potentially the best way to prevent yourself from choosing food options while at work that you’d rather avoid. 

It’s partially convenience, but also partially strategically-placed guilt; after all, you don’t want to just throw away that nice salad you brought, do you?

Some folks are into doing a full-on, Sunday night meal prep, in which they make enough for an entire week.

Me, I get tired of eating the same thing every day; instead, I’ll plan out a grocery list on Sunday, and then make sure I have the right ingredients to throw something together easily the night before.

Map out local restaurants or stores where you can put together a healthy lunch

Maybe you didn’t have time to pack a lunch before heading off to work, or you didn’t have time to get groceries over the weekend—it happens!

In this instance, it’s good to have a decent working knowledge of the areas around your work where you can get a healthy meal.

Nearby healthy grocery stores like Whole Foods are a great option, as they usually have a salad bar and nice prepackaged meals. Beyond that, I’m a big fan of the Google Maps “search nearby” function: just type your office location into Google Maps, and search anything from “food” to “healthy food,” “salads,” and so on. You’ll be able to look into what restaurants nearby offer the healthiest options.

Bring healthy snacks to work to stash in your desk or office kitchen  

Sometimes it’s easy to eat healthy all day—until a mid afternoon slump has you heading over to the vending machine.

Hey, it’s not the end of the world, but if we’re trying to start the new year off on a slightly healthier foot, there are plenty of options for snacks that won’t leave us feeling the effects of a sugar crash.

Planning ahead is key here, too. Before the work week starts, make a list of some of your favorite healthy snacks (preferably non-perishables, unless you plan to store them in the office fridge) and bring them to work with you on Monday.

Some of my favorites? Nuts, dried and fresh fruit, Larabars or Quest bars, string cheese and hardboiled eggs (if you have access to a fridge), and apples and nut butter (try these great individual packets from Justin’s Peanut Butter).

However, my ultimate favorite snack are these protein cookies from Lenny and Larry’s, called “The Complete Cookie.” While they’re the caloric-equivalent of a mini meal, they’re filling and have a great ingredient profile (vegan, no refined sugar, no preservatives, and so on). Plus, they’re delicious—I get a little evangelical about them. 

Tricks and tips to make eating healthy at work easier:

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Part 2: Get moving  

So, you’ve got a plan for how to make sure you eat healthy while at work. But what about getting enough exercise?

Here are a few ways to make sure you stay active throughout your workday, whether that means squeezing in a full workout, making sure you hit the gym at the end of the day, or simply getting into the habit of incorporating more movement into your day at the office.

Take a quick lunchtime run

Even if you’re a slower runner (like me!), it’s completely doable to fit a short run into an hour long lunch break.

Come prepared with your workout gear and a packed lunch, and you’ll have no problem being back in the office by 1pm.  

Squeeze in a class over your lunch break

Is your office building close to a yoga studio, gym, or other fitness center?

Many yoga studios and gyms offer classes over the lunch hour, with the intention that they will fit nicely into a workday.

While an hour-long class might be pushing it for those on a very tight schedule, if your office offers more flexibility, try coming into work half an hour early, or staying half an hour late, to accommodate the longer lunch break.

While the idea of staying late might not be the most appealing, it might be a great way to add exercise to your day effortlessly.

Pack your gym bag and bring it with you to work

If you’d rather save your workout for the end of the day, bringing your gym bag with you can be a huge motivator.

Building an exercise habit is all about eliminating the little stumbling points that trip us up; if you have a hard time motivating yourself to head back out to the gym after coming home from work, make sure you don’t have to.

Take the stairs

Beyond fitting in a whole workout into the workday, there are plenty of ways we can get more exercise in the course of our daily activities.

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is the perfect, well-worn example. While it might not seem like much, little bursts of exercise throughout the day can be a great way to keep energy up.

Integrating more movement into my day has been a big goal for me already this year. For Christmas, I was given a Garmin Forerunner 15, as I wanted something to log my runs and measure my progress. However, like the Fitbit, my Garmin watch is also equipped to track my steps. Setting step goals to hit each day—like the much-discussed 10,000 daily steps—has become increasingly popular, and can be a great way to encourage more daily movement, as office workers can often be extremely sedentary.

If I wasn’t sold on the idea before, I certainly am now—I’m a sucker for a little gamification and competition.

Walk to grab lunch or coffee

Just like opting to take the stairs, taking a quick walk to get an afternoon cup of tea or pick up a snack from the grocery store can be a great way to get moving while at work. Not only can it be another added bit of incidental exercise, but it can have benefits beyond the physical (see part three for more on that).

Tricks and tips to make exercising at work easier:

  • Invest in a gym bag; you’ll be able to bring your running shoes for a mid-day run, a change of clothes for a lunch-hour exercise class, or your gear for hitting the gym after work.
  • If you’re taking a class, try booking a spot online ahead of time—it will decrease the likelihood that you’ll skip it!
  • Running at lunchtime? Enlist a co-worker to join you. It will help pass the time, and you’ll be more inclined to follow through.
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Part 3: Check your workday mental health

So, we’ve covered eating right and exercising at work, but health is about so much more than that. Are you paying attention to your mental health while at work?

Here are a few ways you can make sure you don’t leave this important aspect of your overall health unattended.

Get your team on board with meditation (or start your own practice)

I recently went into great depth on whether or not meditation can help make you a better entrepreneur, and the research pretty clearly indicates that meditation can have a huge impact on our ability to focus, work efficiently, and even potentially improve our overall intelligence.

Consider devoting a portion of your lunch hour to meditation; even 10 minutes will do. If you’re in a position of influence, why not set up a dedicated space where employees can meditate during the workday?

Take a quick afternoon walk

Not only can walking be a great way to add some extra exercise to your day, it can have huge benefits for your mental health.

A new study covered in the New York Times wellness blog found that workers who walked on their lunch breaks experienced mood improvements and were more able to deal with workplace stress—all from three, 30 minute lunchtime walks a week.  

Eat lunch outside

As workers, we aren’t taking enough lunch breaks, period—and when we are, they’re often taken at our desks, as sort of a tasty extension of the workday.

Making an effort to eat your lunch outside can potentially reduce stress and make us think more creatively, making it easier to return to the remainder of the workday, as well as making our days more enjoyable.

Tricks and tips to make improving your mental health at work easier:

  • Download a meditation app or check out a book on meditation—I’ve included several of each in my article on meditation for entrepreneurs.
  • Pick a coffee shop, park, or other destination about 15 minutes away, and walk to it. Bring your lunch, grab a latte, or simply relax outdoors. Suddenly, Monday afternoon doesn’t look so bad.

What is your health goal for the new year? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Goals & Productivity
  • I will continue drinking matcha green tea and taking weekend walks. I will take shorter walks during the workweek.

    • Candice Landau

      Martin, those sound like good, healthy resolutions! I’ve resolved to run on my lunch breaks whenever possible 🙂 The thing that works best for me is taking a friend!

  • Taking a friend to the gym makes all the difference for me. Not only does it make it fun but also it makes the experience competitive so you can push one another.

  • I would be more determine & health cautious in the upcoming year. Apart from the workout & diet i will take good sleep too 🙂