Guide to Healthy Habits for a Work-Life Balance
In an increasingly connected and busy world, workers in many fields complain about working themselves “to death” in an attempt to “have it all.” While the phrase is often meant as hyperbole, studies continue to find that heavy workloads, family stressors, decreased free time and unhealthy personal habits really are dangerous for our health. A 2014 study published in the Harvard Business Review found that 94 percent of working professionals said they work more than 50 hours per week, and almost half of those surveyed said they put in 65 or more hours per week. A separate study conducted by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business found that workers in “high demand” jobs are 15.4 percent more likely to die before those with low job demands.
“We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death,” explained the study’s lead author, Erik Gonzalez-Mulé. “These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health.”
What Is a Work-Life Balance?
While many of us recognize that our work-life balance is anything but balanced, it can be challenging — and sometimes feels impossible — to change deeply ingrained habits. Creating a healthy work-life balance is different for everyone, but working professionals can succeed at work while also enjoying family time, school and other activities by taking the following actions:
- Cultivate healthy habits.
- Take steps to create a healthy lifestyle.
- Understand the benefits of exercise.
In this article, we’ll offer tips on how to build a healthy lifestyle; provide suggestions for healthier eating and possible meal plans; and discuss ways to improve sleeping habits, including tips for falling asleep, ways to regulate your sleep schedule and suggestions for healthy sleeping habits.
Chapter 1: Building a Healthy Lifestyle
Creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle means making choices to cultivate healthy habits. But while most of us are aware that we are in charge of our work-life balance, a study from the American Sociological Association found that 70 percent of Americans struggle to find an achievable and long-term plan. In order to establish this balance, we must make small but significant choices about our daily routine, including understanding the benefits of exercise, knowing facts about how the human body works, making sure to take time away from work, and practicing activities that lead to personal development and growth.
If you’ve heard the saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” then you’re familiar with how making small changes to your daily routine can improve the overall quality of your life.
- Choose healthier foods.
- Get daily exercise.
- Take time to unplug and unwind.
UNPLUG AND UNWIND
One of the simplest healthy habits to cultivate in your daily routine is unplugging from technology. People who are successful at creating a work-life balance can turn off and put away their electronic devices in order to focus on activities they enjoy without checking email or social media. By compartmentalizing the amount of time spent looking at a screen, you allow time for other activities, such as meditation, human interaction, art creation or some other enjoyable activity.
BENEFIT FROM DAILY EXERCISE
One of the most beneficial activities to engage in is physical exercise. Exercise is a stress reliever and releases endorphins into the body, which improve our sense of well-being and overall mood. Certain exercises, such as running or yoga, can put people in a type of meditative state. Physical exercise can be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or getting outside for a 10-minute walk during the lunch hour, or it can be as involved as dedicating an hour to yoga or training for a race.
In addition to reducing stress and increasing endorphins, exercise has many other positive effects on the human body.
- Toxin Release: When we exercise, we sweat. This naturally increases body temperature and also releases toxins. Increased body temperature means increased energy, which is why the human body feels better after a good hard round at the gym.
- Improved Resting Heart Rate: Exercise also affects our resting pulse rate and target heart rate, improving heart health and lowering the risk of heart disease. The heart gets stronger with exercise (as all muscles do), allowing the body to work harder and longer with less strain. Increased exercise also reduces your resting heart rate — the number of beats per minute when sedentary — because a stronger heart uses less effort to pump blood through the system.
- Reduced BMI: Exercise can reduce the body mass index (BMI), which is the measure of a person’s body fat in relation to his or her overall weight and height. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show that a person’s BMI is “strongly correlated with various metabolic and disease outcomes.”
PRACTICE SELF-CARE DURING NON-WORK TIME
While the benefits of exercise and other healthy habits are key to a healthy lifestyle, a work-life balance can be achieved only by taking time away from work. Being mindful of the hours spent at work, the time spent communicating electronically for work (even after hours) and practicing self-care are all factors in creating the balance between work and home life. Taking time to get a massage, meditate, spend time with loved ones and learn in other ways that are important for personal development allows professionals to be more productive, less stressed and happier during the time they spend at work.
Chapter 2: Healthy Eating and Meal Plans
Creating a healthy lifestyle means cultivating healthy eating habits, including portioning; eating high-quality, low-calorie foods; and planning meals to help with accountability and consistency. There are several strategies for weekly meal planning, such as portioning out several meals ahead of time, bringing lunch from home instead of eating out, and planning meals and ingredients to help stay on track.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
Developing a meal plan means organizing before purchasing ingredients. There are some online meal plans available that suggest cooking and portioning all meals for a week, while others recommend cooking for longer periods — say, for one month — and freezing the “leftovers” in individual (or family-size) portions for later use. You can find vegetarian weekly meal plans, comfort food meal plans, soup-based meal plans… The possibilities are endless. Developing a plan and sticking to it can help create healthy eating habits. Develop a menu in calendar form so you know what you’ll be eating each day of the week, know which ingredients you’ll need, and can ensure you’re feeding yourself and your family low-calorie meals made with high-quality ingredients.
INCREASE YOUR FRUIT AND VEGETABLE INTAKE
Healthy eating starts with being mindful of the types of foods we include in the meal plans. Fruits and vegetables contribute several essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such as phytochemicals, to our diets. Healthy foods can help in many different ways:
- Improving digestion
- Warding off nutrient deficiencies
- Reducing disease risk
- Improving cardiovascular function
- Solving weight problems
While we can try to replace the nutrients found in whole foods with supplements, there’s no substitute for the compounds and fiber found in fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin B Complex: The eight B vitamins — B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9 and B-12 — help our bodies run like well-oiled machines and convert our food into fuel, keeping our energy levels up throughout the day. The B vitamins we need often work in tandem with each other, but each has its own specific role — from promoting healthy skin and hair to preventing memory loss or migraines.
- Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C prevents and treats scurvy, the common cold, lead toxicity and cancer. It boosts the immune system, lowers hypertension, helps cure cataracts, combats stroke, helps maintain skin elasticity, heals wounds and controls asthma symptoms.
- Vitamin K: The body needs vitamin K to produce prothrombin, a protein that’s important in blood clotting and bone metabolism. It promotes cognitive health and heart health and has been shown to lower the risk of having a stroke.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is fat-soluble and a powerful antioxidant that plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological function, healthy skin and more. Vitamin A, like all antioxidants, is involved in reducing inflammation through fighting free radical damage and is a natural way to slow the aging process.
- Iron: Iron is an essential protein component for maintaining a healthy metabolism, and the human body needs it to produce red blood cells. It helps the body produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to blood cells. Iron has also been shown to be an effective treatment for restless leg syndrome and anemia while improving brain and muscle function.
- Magnesium: This essential nutrient has been shown to increase energy while also calming nerves, reducing anxiety and helping us fall asleep. It’s a constipation reliever, reduces muscle aches and spasms, improves heart health, and prevents migraines.
- Potassium: Adequate levels of potassium provide relief from stroke, high blood pressure, and heart and kidney disorders. Potassium reduces anxiety, helps enhance muscle strength, increases metabolism, and strengthens electrolytic functions and nervous system function. This mineral is instrumental in keeping the heart, brain, kidney, muscle tissue and other important organ systems of the human body in good condition.
INTEGRATE OTHER HEALTHY FOODS INTO YOUR DIET
But fruits and vegetables aren’t the only low-calorie, high-quality foods we should include in our healthy eating habits. Dairy and even meat products, if chosen and prepared mindfully and correctly, can also be low-calorie and high-quality. White meats, such as chicken, turkey and fish, provide lean protein and essential nutrients. And if they’re prepared in healthy ways, such as broiling, baking or grilling, they can be the foundation for low-calorie meals. Additionally, low-fat dairy choices, such as cottage cheese, reduced-fat milk and plain yogurt, provide calcium and protein. The cultures found in yogurt and some other dairy products have been shown to improve the biologic makeup in our guts and can improve digestive function.
Chapter 3: Healthy Sleeping Habits and Tips
Getting a full night’s sleep — seven to nine hours for most adults — allows the human body to recharge. A proper sleep schedule and healthy sleeping habits entail many benefits:
- Body repair following the damage done throughout the day
- Increased productivity
- Reduced stress
But many adults don’t make sleep a priority. Research shows that poor sleeping habits lead to the following detriments:
- Decreased daytime productivity
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk for heart disease and stroke
The good news is you can fix your sleep schedule by cultivating better sleeping habits and following these tips for falling asleep and staying asleep. Dr. Heidi Connolly, chief of pediatric sleep medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says the first step is to make a routine and stick to it. She recommends putting away electronics early and formulating a relaxing environment to get your body and mind prepared to wind down for the day. Go to bed at the same time, and, if you find it difficult to fall right asleep, don’t give in and pick up that smartphone or turn on the TV. Stay in bed.
LIMIT SCREEN TIME BEFORE BED:
Breaking bad sleeping habits means first acknowledging what they are. Many of us are guilty of spending late-night hours in front of the television, the computer or our cell phones. One 2016 study found that participants who reported using their smartphones near bedtime also reported taking longer to fall asleep and having poorer sleep quality once in bed than those who eschewed screen time near bedtime.
HAVE A SET BEDTIME:
Speaking of bedtime, experts agree that having one gives us the best chance for a sound sleep. Some tips for falling asleep and staying asleep include having a set bedtime schedule. This could mean following a relaxing routine each night and setting a bedtime. It’s also important to consider your sleeping environment, including keeping it free from light and sound distractions, keeping the room cool, and making sure your bed and bedding are comfortable and comforting.
REDUCE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION:
Another common mistake adults make is consuming alcohol before bedtime. While a couple of glasses of wine make you feel drowsy in the short term, alcohol has stimulating effects after it wears off, causing you to toss and turn. Experts suggest not drinking alcohol within four hours before your scheduled bedtime to avoid these effects.
CHANGE EATING HABITS:
The types of foods we eat and when we eat them can also affect our sleeping habits, according to mounting research. Caffeine and sugary foods stimulate our bodies and brains, making it more difficult to fall asleep. And while a large meal might make us feel sleepy, our bodies expend energy digesting the food, which has been found to disrupt sleep by raising body temperature and stimulating activity. Professionals recommend skipping high-fat foods before bedtime and refraining from eating for the last two hours before bed.
GET ENOUGH EXERCISE:
Exercising during the day also leads to a better night’s sleep. Studies show that those who get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise sleep better than those who do not. But avoid vigorous exercise in the hours before bed, as it can have stimulating effects. Get that aerobics class in during the early daytime. If you need a little physical activity before bed, try stretching and breathing exercises, which can calm the body and mind.
Additional Health Resources:
If you’re eager to pursue a healthier lifestyle, then consider these resources for additional tips and helpful advice.
This useful Federal website offers detailed information on healthy eating, different types of physical activities, nutrition, and tips on how to effectively manage your weight.
This site offers suggestions and tips on how to integrate exercise and healthy eating into your daily routine.
Deliciously Healthy Eating Recipes
It can be difficult to find healthy recipes that actually taste good—that’s why the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute made this website which features a sizable collection of healthy and tasty recipes. The site also features how-to videos and tips on how to craft these meals too.