When we’re busy, one of the first things that can suffer is our health: whether we're navigating our workdays, managing our social calendars, or caring for others, taking care of number one often becomes less of a priority amidst our packed schedules.
But our health needn’t fall by the wayside due to endless to-do lists or days filled with back-to-back meetings: there are ways to accommodate our busy lives and focus on our health.
In this post, we’re going to explore four ways you can improve your health even when you’re at your busiest.
Table of Contents
1. Stay hydrated throughout the day
If there’s one thing many of us are guilty of (particularly during busy or stressful times), it’s forgetting to drink enough water. As water makes up nearly two-thirds of the human body, it’s important to hydrate regularly. Staying hydrated has multiple health benefits, and it’s especially important if you’re trying to maintain a busy lifestyle: it can improve brain performance (even mild dehydration can impact concentration, mood and memory), increase energy levels, aid digestion, and keep your heart healthy.
Most experts recommend following the “8 x 8” rule and aiming to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day (around half a gallon in total). There’s a useful piece at Healthline covering this rule and providing some relevant advice. If you’re struggling to drink enough water while accommodating a mounting to-do list, try these tips for upping your water intake:
- Invest in a good water bottle. Carrying a refillable water bottle with you while on the go can encourage you to hydrate more regularly. Some even have marked measurements on them so you can track your H2O intake throughout the day.
- Don’t wait until you're thirsty to have a drink. Being thirsty means you’re already a little dehydrated. Instead of waiting until you’re parched, sip little and often to maintain hydration — particularly in hot weather or when you’re particularly active.
- If you don’t like the taste, add some flavor. Many people don’t drink enough water simply because they don’t like the taste, but you can sweeten the deal by flavoring it. Add a few slices of lemon, for example, or infuse it with a handful of berries.
- Eat foods that contain lots of water. Your water intake doesn’t just come from drinking the stuff; fruits such as pineapple, strawberries and watermelon (the clue’s in the name) and vegetables such as cucumber and tomatoes are full of water.
2. Prep your meals in advance
Another of the challenges of being constantly time-deficient is that it can be difficult to find the time to prepare yourself (and your family) a hearty, healthy meal. That often means defaulting to more convenient options, such as microwavable meals, fast food, or takeout. These meal choices might be quick and low-effort — perfect for a hectic life, no? — but relying on high-fat, heavily processed foods can raise your blood pressure, increase cholesterol, drain your energy, affect your mood, and lead to weight gain.
One solution to this is to prepare your meals in advance when you do have the time. At the weekend, for example, put some time aside to create a meal plan for the week ahead, planning out recipes and ensuring you’re stocked up on healthy, natural ingredients. You can even pre-make your lunches for the working day.
You may even decide to batch cook your meals ahead of time, saving you precious minutes (as well as money) during the working week and ensuring you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet rather than reaching for the takeout menu. Home-cooked meals are the way to go, but that doesn’t mean the occasional takeout or restaurant trip can’t be enjoyed as a treat — you need to reward yourself for all that hard work, after all.
3. Opt for healthy snacks while on the go
When you barely have time to sit down throughout the day, it’s inevitable that you’ll reach for a snack or two to provide a fuel-boost every now and then. And while there’s nothing with snacking per se (indeed, some argue that eating little and often is better for your health), the problem is what you snack on: when time is limited and your belly is empty, you’re more likely to opt for convenient yet unhealthy snacks such as chips and cookies.
Among the health risks of snacking on high-fat foods is indigestion and heartburn (there’s a handy guide to dealing with heartburn at The Independent Pharmacy if you do succumb to this uncomfortable ailment). This is because fatty foods typically take longer to digest, meaning they sit in your stomach and can cause a buildup of stomach acid. Where possible, switch unhealthy convenience foods for healthier alternatives like these:
- Mixed nuts such as cashews, pistachios and pine nuts contain plenty of healthy fats, fiber and protein, are great for digestion, and will help keep you full for longer.
- Dark chocolate is a healthier alternative to milk chocolate and is rich in antioxidants (it should still be enjoyed in moderation, however).
- Greek yogurt is packed full of protein and can help to support a healthy gut. Mix with berries and add a tablespoon of honey for a tasty snack.
- A protein smoothie can deliver a much-needed energy boost at any time. Add fruit, vegetables, almond butter, or chia seeds for a nutrient-rich snack.
If you frequently feel your energy flagging, you may want to introduce some natural supplements into your diet, too — this might help you resist the temptation to reach for the snacks since it’ll be easier to maintain your energy levels through the day.
4. Go easy on the caffeine
For people living busy and chaotic lives, caffeine is often a primary source of ‘fuel’. Many would tell you they couldn’t live without a steady supply of the stuff, and that their days don’t really begin until they’ve had their morning cups of ‘Joe’. And while we’re not discouraging you from enjoying a mug or three (the FDA advises that 4 cups of brewed coffee are safe for a healthy adult to drink daily), overdoing it on the caffeine can lead to health issues such as an increased heart rate, insomnia, and anxiety.
On occasion, then, why not swap a takeaway coffee for a peppermint tea? Tea is not only refreshing but also excellent for easing digestion and improving energy levels.
Moderation is the key when it comes to alcohol, too. After a long and busy day, cracking open a bottle of beer or pouring yourself a large glass of wine might help you relax and unwind, but it can have adverse effects on your health if it becomes habitual.
While the odd drink won’t do any harm, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease or a stroke. Follow the advice of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and try to moderate your alcohol intake.
None of us should overlook our health simply because we don’t have enough hours in the day: even if it can seem like you barely have a moment to breathe — let alone prepare a healthy meal — there are ways you can incorporate healthy habits into a busy lifestyle. Follow these tips and keep yourself performing at your best without compromising your health.