Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs
September – for most – is a time of transition. And when change is already in the air, it turns out it’s easier to adjust other things too, including our priorities, our behaviours, and, ultimately, our habits.
Environments are powerful influencers of our behaviour and motivation to act. Working from home every day might have made it easier to pour a drink at 5:00pm. And while running and cycling were easy enough to fit in, maybe your strength training and mobility work lost some ground.
Whatever you’d like to add in to your life, take a careful look at how your environments are going to shift. As well as what your schedule realistically is going to look like. Then, carefully orchestrate that schedule and those environments so they facilitate fitting in important priorities like exercise and eating healthfully as well as help start, reinforce, and, ultimately, entrench new, healthful habits.
Here are our top tips for tweaking your schedule and environment to facilitate a healthier, less stressed, more fit, more fulfilled, and balanced you. (We’ve listed LOTS. Acknowledging that everyone’s different, we wanted you to be able to pick the ones that resonate and fit best for you.)
Focus what you can add. Notice two paragraphs up I referenced what you’d like to add in to your life. Focusing too much on what you need to take away can suggest loss or negative restriction. Adding things feels more positive, purposeful, and research shows ultimately ends up being more sustainable!
Determine and stick to a consistent wake time. Even on the weekends try to adhere to waking within 45 minutes of your scheduled time. This keeps your body in sync with your circadian rhythm. Which means your metabolism and digestive systems are better in balance. Your learning, memory, and concentration are optimized. And you are more likely to be good and sleepy at your bedtime. Encouraging successive nights of powerfully restorative sleep.
Plan time to go grocery shopping or schedule grocery delivery. Plan your meals. Eat more vegetables and plants, as well as unprocessed, fresh food. You likely will need to plan for 2 shops a week. Pick vegetables and other nutritious foods you actually like. And with soup, stew, and stir fry season around the corner, remember that some vegetables cook up really well even if they are a little wilted. Greens like arugula, kale, and spinach, for example, are beautiful in salads AND delicious cooked. Keep your vegetables clean, prepped, and VISIBLE in your fridge so they are top of mind whenever you are hungry or prepping food. Frozen vegetables are a terrific, healthy option. Tofu stays fresh longer than meat and fish. And chickpeas are a perfect high protein staple to keep on hand in the pantry.
Drink water throughout the day. Being properly hydrated boosts athletic performance, keeps your heart rate and blood pressure stable, helps reduce food cravings and maintain a healthy weight.
Book your workouts in. You could even book more in than you plan to do. For example, book 6, with the goal of completing at least 4. Plan them so they make sense with everything you have going on. Working from home on Wednesday? The perfect day to go for a run. At the office Thursday? Take a slightly longer lunch or GO Train in early and get to the Club for some heavy lifting! Place your shoes and kit somewhere visible in the morning to remind you of your workout plan.
Every sweat droplet counts. Whether you completed 12 minutes or 62 minutes, you got the workout in. Your brain stays motivated by the fact that you did it. People who adhere long term – forever! – to their exercise routines focus on getting it done – whatever “it” happens to be on any given day. They also – incidentally – focus far more on how the activity makes them feel instead of how fast, how much, how far, how many calories…
Choose days of the week when it’s realistic to drink zero alcohol. Create a late afternoon or evening booze free ritual that you will look forward to. If you are currently enjoying summer happy hour every day, start with 2 days and slowly work your way up to 4. Play pickle ball with your kids one of those evenings. Take a walk by the water with your dog (everyone has a dog now, right?). Call a friend while you prepare dinner. Remember alcohol significantly disrupts your sleep, making it more difficult to manage your weight, keep your stress in check, and rebuild your muscle and brain tissue. Sunday night is a really clever night to pick. Starting Monday clear headed and well rested will help you start on track and stay motivated the rest of the week. Move your booze where it isn’t visible. Trim your options down.
Make time for lunch. Better yet PACK a lunch which saves you money, time, AND is likely healthier. Plan some dinners that facilitate leftovers that are good to pack for lunch. My favourite is oven roasted chicken thighs or firm tofu cubes rubbed with chili, cumin, onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I slice the thighs or serve the tofu as part of a taco dinner. Then I add the leftover protein to salads or wraps throughout the week. (Did you know that people who eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner are more likely to maintain a lean, healthy weight compared to those who skip lunch in favour of breakfast and dinner only and those who simply snack throughout the day?)
Make resistance training a priority. Two times a week for 20-40 minutes. That’s all you need. 2 full body workouts a week will improve strength, stamina, mobility, and brain function. It makes all the things you love to do better. Hire someone to teach you how to train yourself effectively and safely. This will give you the confidence to commit and will ensure you get the results you want.
Be your own best cheerleader. Curate an inner voice that is patient and supportive. Don’t make excuses, and be firm with yourself. And recognize that defeatist attitudes are typically self-fulfilling. “I only ran 3km because I was so tired” becomes “even though I was tired from such a crazy day yesterday I still managed to run 3 km and now I feel better than when I started”. Celebrating what you do accomplish – be it 6 minutes or 60! – and the progress you make, increases the likelihood you will exercise again tomorrow, next week, and for the years and decades to come. Moreover, keeping the lens focused on what you managed to do – rather than what you missed – boosts your self-esteem, confidence, and makes exercise in general more enjoyable.
Finally – wherever possible, take note of how exercise, eating well, and sleeping make you FEEL. Recognizing and celebrating that you feel powerful, mentally sharp, and more patient is one of the best ways of reinforcing that behaviour and making it an integral part of a wonderful you.