“You have to work at being healthy,” people tell you—mostly people who don’t have to, it seems. “You have to commit to it,” they say—mostly people who appear to have plenty of time on their hands.
Their hearts are in the right place, but it’s not easy to make room for a rigorous gym regimen when your daily schedule already contains emails, commuting, work, lunch, emails, commuting, parenting (or grandparenting), emails and being a decent spouse. And emails. Look, we know what you’re trying to juggle. And we know that if you get just a few consecutive moments without those things, you might like to, you know, relax a little bit—see a movie, work on your hobby or, heck, stare quietly into space for just one damn minute.
So here’s what we’ve come up with: sly ways to create and maintain your health—practical (but effective) methods of squeezing positive habits into your life. The key, says Kim Dolan Leto, fitness author and director of family health and wellness for the International Sports Sciences Association, is to seamlessly integrate these behaviors so that fitness becomes a natural part of your day.
“The simple goal is that something is always better than nothing,” Leto says. Here and there, you can find 10 minutes for your health. “Build on that. The pressure to get to the gym or just having one more thing to do can be overwhelming, so try committing to one of these ideas and see how the difference you feel will make it become a habit.”
1. Talk a Big Game
If tangible changes are really your goal, then go public with them. Inform your spouse, kids, mom and dad, employees, and strangers at the coffee shop. Doing so will help you feel accountable. If you know that people are aware of your ambitions, it can help keep you in line, consciously or subconsciously. And if possible, get a partner to help you out—studies have found that those who work out with partners are far more likely to keep at it.
2. Wear Out Your Kids
Physical family activity will keep them happy and you healthy.
Take ’em for a run. You can even lie to them! The nice thing about kids is they don’t actually know how long a mile feels like. Go a little longer, and a little longer, and they’ll be impressed by how much they can achieve. “I used to challenge my kids to race to school,” says Eric Salvador, lead trainer at New York gym The Fhitting Room and a Men’s Health advisory board member. “They thought it was a blast to run full steam ahead for as long as they could—and to see me do the same. We got there faster, too.”
Compete for the International Championship Wrestling belt. While fitness trainers are generally split on the idea of having a 3-year-old leap off the couch onto your stomach, you’ll find that the aerobic exercise is more considerable than you think. We could claim this is meant to “engage your core” or some such, but why dress it up? It’s goofing around and making memories while accidentally getting some cardio, so everyone wins. Except for you, probably: Sleeper holds applied by children are 100 percent effective.
Four Words: Friday Night Dance Party. The kids are probably gonna be playing Taylor Swift all night anyway, so you might as well get your groove on with them and burn some calories while you’re at it.
3. Sip Smart
• By analyzing samples from four coffee varieties, researchers in Croatia determined that light- and medium-roast brews contain more antioxidants than dark-roasted java. (Oh, and the lighter roasts have slightly more caffeine!)
• Last year, Swedish researchers analyzed 21 studies covering nearly 1 million subjects and discovered that people who consumed coffee daily had lower odds of dying within the study periods. Another study showed that drinking several cups a day reduced the risk of suicide by 50 percent.
• Go black and never go back. If your Starbucks order is more than three words and one of them ends in “-iato,” it is most likely a piping hot (or iced) vat of calories. And they probably spelled your name wrong.
• Sugary soda is not a substitute. Not ever.
4. Get Up, Stand Up…
Sitting is occupational hazard numero uno for desk jockeys. In a recent meta-analysis of 43 studies, German researchers found that every two hours you spend on your butt each day increases your risks for lung, colon and endometrial cancers by 6, 8 and 10 percent, respectively. Even if you can’t fathom being on your feet all day, a standing desk is worth considering, along with standup meetings or a regular stand-and-stretch routine: Obese people sit, on average, just two more hours per day than lean people, according to a study in the journal Science.
5. See Green
Stick a fern or two in your office and you’ll feel more relaxed at work. In one study, researchers increased office productivity by 15 percent simply by adding plants into a previously plant-free office. The effect can be attributed to a combination of increased creativity and decreased stress, says Ron Friedman, Ph.D., author of The Best Places to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. “Our evolutionary ancestors didn’t grow up surrounded by iPhones and tablets,” he says. “Being around products of nature can be cognitively rejuvenating.”
6. Get Some Sun
Natural ultraviolet rays are actually critical to your well-being, Friedman says. They can lower your blood pressure and stimulate the production of health-promoting hormones serotonin (for happiness) and melatonin (to regulate your sleep cycle). So…
• Weasel your way into an office with a window. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, employees with window offices enjoy 46 extra minutes of sleep every night during the workweek.
• Take an outdoor lunch break. In 2013, researchers from the University of Toronto found that at the end of the workday, people who took relaxing lunch breaks felt less fatigued than those who worked through lunch.
• Go for a walking meeting. It’s worth it, “even if you’re just on a phone call,” Friedman says. Bonus: The simple act of walking can increase your creative output by 60 percent, according to Stanford research.
7. Redefine Date Night
Not that we have anything against fancy meals with perfect al dente pasta and too many kinds of deliciously melted cheeses to name (plus wine!), but a date night filled with activity—and that can be just walking around town sipping coffee—would be a nice routine-breaking change. Your boo might also like rollerblading, hiking, ice skating, mini-golf or a trip to the batting cages.
8. The Lunch Break Workout
“A busy schedule isn’t an excuse to miss a workout,” says Barry Jay, co-founder of Barry’s Bootcamp, a high-energy fitness studio with 14 locations nationwide. “Every minute matters when you spend most of your day sitting at a desk.”
The routine Jay prescribes here is designed to work your entire body in just under 10 minutes, but you can repeat it up to three times for a half-hour workout. Just run through each exercise for one minute without stopping and then move on to the next. (If you’re not certain your body can handle the exercises, consult a doctor first.)
• Plank: With your forearms flat against the floor, hold your body in a straight line.
• Push-Ups: It’s OK to use your knees. Just keep moving.
• Wall Sit: With your back flat against a wall, lower your hips to a 90-degree angle.
• Jumping Jacks: Faster! Faster!
• Squats: To test your form, wiggle your toes while you’re in the squat position.
• Squat Jumps: Spring up as you return to a standing position. Land on bended knees.
• Crunches: Place hands behind your head; tighten your abs as you pull your shoulders off the floor.
• Lunges: Step forward and bend your leg to 90 degrees. Repeat with the other leg.
• Lunge Jumps: From the lunge position, jump and alternate your stance in the air. Do it again!
Know This! It’s supposed to be fun!
Make a point to consciously think of your workout as “fun,” and you might lose more weight. Cornell University researchers asked subjects to go on either an “exercise walk” or a “scenic walk” and then offered them a candy bowl afterward. The two walks were identical, but those in the fun-sounding “scenic” group ate fewer than half as many M&Ms as those who believed they were being forced to exercise. Watch any kid trying to balance himself while walking down a curb—he’s actually receiving a full-body workout in the process, but the fun challenge is what keeps them going.
9. Keep Stats
If you haven’t already, pick up a Fitbit or Jawbone bracelet, or find a new health app. These aren’t what medical experts (or reasonable humans) call “doctors,” but they can offer a helpful general overview of how much you exercise and maybe even your caloric intake. Just remember to use them not as gospel but as an audit, and if you have more specific concerns, call an actual doctor.
10. Become a Napping Ninja
A 2015 study from researchers in Paris found that following a sleepless night with a nap led to a spike in interleukin-6, a protein associated with a strong immune system, while pulling the stress-associated neurotransmitter norepinephrine back into its normal range.
We asked Sara Alger, Ph.D., a researcher at the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at the University of Notre Dame, to explain the mysteries of midday sleep.
How much time do I need?
“For increased energy, you want to take a 20-minute nap. That puts you into sleep’s shallow, restorative stages, which can improve your attention and increase your productivity.”
Is there an ideal time?
“Anywhere between 1 and 3 p.m. If you wait until later in the day, you could interfere with your overnight sleep. And it’s just not as beneficial earlier in the day, because you just woke up.”
Is there a secret to conking out quickly?
“Make it a regular part of your routine. In the beginning it may feel awkward, but soon you’re going to learn to fall asleep a lot faster. Go somewhere warm and dark. You don’t want to be surrounded by your electronics.”
Elite Nappers Through History
These guys and gals turned out OK (even the last one… sort of):
Top row: Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Bottom row: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Morgan Freeman, Arianna Huffington, and Kanye West.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as GQ, Men's Health, Time, Billboard and the official Bruce Springsteen site, because though he's had many bosses, there is only one boss. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two sons—the older just stole bacon off your plate and the younger was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). He can be reached at the cleverly named JeffVrabel.com.