Do you ever feel like you’re just short on time? Like there are things you want to do, that you should do, or even that you need to do yet your everyday tasks leave you with no room to accomplish them?
I know this feeling all too well. Juggling a full course load, 3 jobs, and my volunteer responsibilities takes its toll on me daily. When I stop to look at what I’m really doing, I notice what I put first every day and what I sometimes end up putting on the back burner. What goes first is work, because money, and school, because I need to graduate and get a career someday to make more money (feels like there’s some kind of theme here…).
What goes on the back burner? Easy: working out. Eating healthy foods. Getting enough sleep. The things that don’t seem important immediately, but that we all know will catch up to us eventually. What makes it worse is that the very thought of trying to balance all those responsibilities stresses me out big time, which is obviously not healthy either. But living the healthy life isn’t just “good for us” in some otherworldly sense; being physically healthy can give us the strength and energy we need to fully balance our busy lives in the first place and to get through our everyday difficulties and struggles. Like the struggle of stressing about what little time we have.
So clearly, there’s some good motivation right there to at least try. But the question is, how can we balance a healthy lifestyle with work, school, and our relationships without freaking out? There isn’t any easy answer to that question, and it will probably take some time. But I will share with you some of the advice I have been given and what has worked for me in my life. If you are short on time on a regular basis, here are a few suggestions for staying fit and healthy.
Be open to microwave meals
I’m not talking about salty TV dinners here. With a microwave, you can cook up oatmeal, scrambled eggs, rice, and even a salmon fillet in a fraction of the time it takes conventionally. By the way, there is no solid evidence that microwave cooking is harmful or linked to diseases and, in fact, the shorter cooking time may better preserve nutrients. Try adding some of these microwave recipes to your busy day!
Invest in a Crock Pot
Instead of spending an hour or two cooking up meals, you can have dinner ready for later or lunch for the next day by slow-cooking your foods a couple hours or overnight in a Crock Pot. With a price tag of $20-$60 on average, they won’t necessarily bust your wallet, either. Here are several easy recipes to throw in a crock pot, some requiring only a few ingredients.
Meal prep (the easy way)
In a perfect world, everyone would meal prep and enjoy a full week of healthy, hassle-free, on-the-go meals. The reality is that we often drop this practice after getting sick of all the planning, cutting, and portioning it entails. But meal prepping doesn’t have to be as exhaustive as we sometimes make it. One suggestion is to not go crazy about cutting and cooking, but simply throwing whole foods together in creative combinations. For example, you can package a week’s worth of breakfast by pouring oatmeal and your favorite fruits into some mason jars for quick hot cereal in the morning or, my favorite, overnight oats.
(For overnight oats, a simple recipe combines ½ cup oats, ½ cup almond milk, a few teaspoons of honey, and a topping of bananas, blueberries, and chia seeds. You can also try some of these more creative variations).
Cardio: shorten your time and raise your intensity
If time is your dilemma, there are ways you can shorten your workout and still reap the benefits. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to go jogging for an hour in the morning to stay fit. You can hop on the treadmill for a high-intensity interval workout for 15-20 minutes, or onto the mat for a Tabata routine in even less time. One study found that just 10 minutes of a high-intensity Tabata style cycle workout led to improved fitness in only a few weeks.
Get your pals in on it, too
This isn’t just major motivation, but also a good way to combine your social outings and workouts into one. Go for a relaxing, conversational jog with coworkers, or get friends and family together for a huge basketball or soccer match. You can even invent a contest for other non-sport activities: who will run the fastest, or do the most sit-ups? A little healthy competition is fantastic motivation to push yourself a little harder.
Set a schedule
Of course, we set a schedule for when we need to wake up and head to school or work, but do we ever think about scheduling when to fall asleep in the first place? Even with a busy daytime schedule, it’s pretty hard to resist watching Netflix or Youtube into ungodly hours of the night, slowly cutting into the valuable rest time that our bodies need. But following an appropriate sleep schedule will eventually make proper sleep patterns almost automatic. Pick a time of night that is reasonable for you, a time when you usually begin to feel fatigued and you generally finish your tasks, and aim to fall asleep within an hour of that time. Is studying keeping you awake at night? Try doing some of your studying between class periods or throughout the day instead: open lectures on your phone or use an app like Quizlet to practice terms.
Keep your sleep schedule similar on weekends or days off
It’s so tempting to hibernate on the days we actually don’t have to be anywhere for a while. However, that’s really not the best for us in the long run. There’s actually no way to “catch up” on sleep, and if you sleep several hours longer on the weekend or days off you may be messing with your biological clock and making yourself even more tired during the week. In general, if you have days where you can sleep longer try keeping it less an hour different from your normal routine, even if that routine is only around 6 hours.
De-stress before you rest
Maybe the issue is not about having time to sleep enough – maybe the issue is not being able to sleep enough. Believe me, even (and sometimes especially) after a busy day it can be difficult to unwind mentally even if you are physically exhausted. Here is a simple relaxation technique you can try implementing to work the tension and anxiety out of your mind and get ready for a good night’s sleep. Other techniques include yoga and stretching, rhythmically tensing and relaxing your toes, and playing some white noise or nature soundtracks.