One of the most common reasons people give for neglecting general health and fitness is a lack of time.
But considering the fact that looking after yourself gives you such a powerful return on investment, this isn’t really good prioritising.
Even though we live in an increasingly frantic world, we all need to find ways to stack the chips in our favour as best we can.
So if you’re the one who’s always using time (or a lack thereof) as an excuse for not getting in shape, here are some fast, small habits which when added up, can make a big difference.
1. Sleep more
OK, I understand this does require a sacrifice of time, but the payoffs are so great that it’s on the list, that and the fact that almost everybody does not get enough sleep. We should aim to get 7-9 hours every night, without exception.
Sleeping properly will make it easier to lose weight, improve your cognitive abilities, jump-start all aspects of your health and fitness, and generally help you feel happier. If you saw a product or supplement that did that on a late night infomercial or a Facebook ad, you’d buy it. You can have it for free – just go to bed earlier!
2. Eat less
Sometimes improving your health isn’t about finding what you need to add to your routine, it’s what you need to remove. If you’re time poor and this is a reason you use to let your health slide, just try to eat less crap food.
Sounds simple, but it’s easy to overlook the most obvious things. Whether it be reducing sugar, drinking less alcohol, choosing to experiment with fasting or ‘time restricted eating’, eating less food will be a positive thing for most people and doesn’t require a whole lot of extra time.
3. Walk more
Simplicity has been the theme so far, and this is another great return on investment activity. Just making a habit to do extra incidental activity throughout the day can be very powerful. Walk to get to work or the shops, park further away from your destination for the extra walk, take the stairs, take the scenic route, walk around whilst you make your phone calls – find ways to sneak it in. I often hear about people losing weight on holidays just because they switched from sitting down all day to walking around all day. It all adds up.
4. Cook extra portions
So as not to completely contradict point the second point, this only applies to healthy food. If you’re already someone who makes an effort to prepare yourself at least some healthy meals each week, just cook more of it when you do, and save it for lunch or dinner later in the week. The time it takes to cook a bit more of the same thing (whilst you’re doing it anyway) is just a fraction of the time it takes to do a whole new cook up from start to finish.
5. Stretch in front of the television
If you’re time poor, but you do have the luxury of watching any TV, firstly observe the irony of the situation, and then think about adding a stretching routine to the equation. This will turn what could reasonably be considered wasted time into productive time.
It’s as simple as getting off the couch, onto the floor, and stretching while you watch your shows or movies. While you’re at it, you could even do your healthy cooking in front of the TV too – don’t forget to cook extra.
6. Brush your teeth, squeeze your glutes
For those who aren’t familiar with the training vernacular: clench your butt cheeks while you brush your teeth. In a world with more sitting and less moving, some of our important muscle groups and functional capabilities become compromised.
Weak, inactive or inhibited glutes is a common condition amongst modern day gym goers (and non-gym goers too), so while you’re doing not much else other than staring at yourself in the mirror whilst you brush your teeth, give your glutes a squeeze for 3-5 minutes. Whether you rep it out or hold it, you might be surprised by the workout.
7. Practice breathing ladders while you walk
Assuming you already walk somewhere, sometimes, or have at least been somewhat inspired by the third point on this list. It was tempting to add meditation or breathing drills to this list, but that does require you to find some spare time. If you’re walking anywhere already, you can basically do a form of walking meditation by doing ‘breathing ladders’.
You can do walking breathing ladders to practice or improve proper diaphragmatic breathing, to improve cardio, and to practice mindfulness and relaxation. This can have a myriad of health benefits ranging from lowered stress and blood pressure, heart health, less anxiety, weight loss, and improved cardio fitness.
Here’s an example:
As you walk…
Inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 2 steps
Inhale for 3 steps, exhale for 3 steps
Inhale for 4 steps, exhale for 4 steps
Inhale for 5 steps, exhale for 5 steps
And so on…
Make sure to keep the breathing in and out through the nose, as slow and controlled as possible, breathing into the belly.
Take it anywhere up to 10 steps, and try to slow your breathing and control it as the steps increase, as opposed to taking faster steps to keep up. Once it gets too hard and you want to open your mouth, you can take a break and start again. There are many variations to this basic ladder, for example you could prolong it and stay at a ‘rung’ (i.e., 5 steps in and out) for a specific amount of time or distance (e.g. 100m).
8. Drink more water
It takes about 20-30 seconds to drink a glass of water. Many people do not drink enough and dehydration can have a significant impact on health, weight loss and energy levels. If this sounds like you, drink more water by either keeping a water bottle with you to keep it top of mind, or by connecting to a regular habit you already have (i.e. drink a glass of water every time you pee).
9. Make super shakes
Anything that allows you to prepare and consume a whole bunch of healthy foods quickly and easily can make life a lot easier for the modern busy human. If you skip breakfast, or find yourself eating sugary or highly processed cereal in a rush, then replace it with a good quality protein powder, blended with a combination of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, herbs & spices. Some good suggestions to play around with (in different combinations) are:
Fruits (bananas, mangoes, berries, watermelon)
Vegetables (baby spinach, kale, celery, beetroot)
Nuts and nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, brazil)
Seeds (chia, linseed, sunflower)
Healthy grains (oats, barley, spelt, psyllium husk)
Oils and healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil)
Spices (cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper)
10. Take cold Showers
Assuming you shower on a regular basis, this is one habit that doesn’t take up any more time in your day but can reap big health benefits. Every time you shower, finish with a couple of minutes of cold. Another way to do it is to take ‘contrast’ showers, where you alternate between hot and cold a few times before finish on cold. Cold and contrast showers have been shown to have a myriad of health benefits ranging from improved blood flow and circulation, reduced blood pressure and oxidative stress, improved immune system, faster muscle recovery from exercise, improved symptoms of depression and increased alertness and energy levels.
Paradoxically, whilst cold showers are a great way to start the day to get you fired up, they are a great way to get to sleep if you have a cold shower before bed. Cold or contrast therapy has been shown to activate your parasympathetic nervous system or your ‘rest and digest’ state of being, as opposed to your sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state. So if you can deal with a little of bit of stress in the form of cold water, your body will have a very favourable response in the form of less stress overall.
Like anything, start slow if you have to. Ease into lowering the temperature of the water till you get used to it, or just commit to blasting yourself with cold water for 10-20 seconds until you turn the tap to warm. Gradually increase exposure until you can do a few minutes, you will adapt and get used to it if you stick to it. Oh yeah, it’s a good way to improve your mental willpower too, which will have a trickle down effect for everything else on this list.