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No, You’re Not Too Busy To Live That Healthy Lifestyle

Laurie A. Watkins, author of Go from Stressed to Strong: Health & Fitness Advice from High Achievers, knows a thing or two about battling a busy schedule to make time for her health. Working on two presidential campaigns and at the Pentagon was taxing—and in her book she tells how she went from sleeping five hours per night to doing pullups and eating clean.

We talked to Watkins to find out what secrets you should know about fitting in a health and fitness into your life, no matter how busy you are—and why most of what you’ve heard is a myth.

Why is the idea of “not having time” to be healthy a myth?

It’s a myth because each of us have developed personal habits as we’ve aged through life. Though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our productivity, financial security, health and happiness.

Each of us has the power to reset our routines, making the “time” to be healthy. If you’re feeling broken, stressed, overweight, tired and fed up with feeling as if you’re not in full control of your own life, then you need to shake things up and change what you’re doing. When a person changes their habits, they in turn change their routine and how they spend their time.

My advice for when things get hectic during the work day is to not allow it to get out of control in the first place. If you know you have to leave work by 6 p.m. (non-negotiable) in order to make it to your 6:30 p.m. spin class, then don’t allow Sharon or Bill to come by your office and take 30 minutes of your morning, looking for advice on how to deal with a difficult co-worker. By falling into that trap, you’ve allowed things that won’t serve you to thwart your schedule, now requiring you to stay later at work than expected, missing that spinning class. Work wins, again. No! Don’t let it. You have the power to change your own actions. Instead, stop it dead in its tracks.

How long should people expect it to take to integrate health into their busy lifestyle?

People can feel a difference in just one day by starting with one thing. I encourage folks to keep a journal or write things down in a notebook, because if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. By tracking the changes and ways you feel as you make these healthy modifications, you are creating data to look at and compare to, as you continue on your new health journey. Going from stressed to strong isn’t that hard at all. Here are a few examples to help get you started: Going to bed an hour earlier can provide big results the following morning, leaving you feeling refreshed and energized. Eating a clean dinner won’t upset the stomach or keep you up at night from ingredients such as caffeine, sugar, and other preservatives allowing you to fall asleep more easily. Exercising before you head into the office or to drop off the kids in the morning will set the tone for your day, leaving you feeling accomplished, and strong long before 8 a.m.

Women who exercise and take care of their bodies, allowing that sacred time for themselves are real warriors. Along with taking care of your families, co-workers, friendships, and all of your other responsibilities, you understand the importance of balance in order to keep that appointment with yourselves. You can only be the best version of yourself to those people in your life: partner/spouse, kids, coworkers, family, and friends if you take good care of yourself first. If you’re worn down, stressed, and easily irritated, you’re not going to the best version of you for them. And here’s the truth, they notice when you quit and break that promise to yourself. So, start today by making one change. I promise you will feel the difference!

What are the three easiest things you can change about your lifestyle to make it healthier, even with a busy schedule?

Do the most important thing first every day. It sounds simple, but most of us don’t do it. For me, I choose working out to start my day because it makes me feel energized, motivated, and accomplished even if it’s before seven o’clock in the morning. Doing “it” first almost eliminates the possibility for cancellation or chance for anything “more important” to come in the way.

Maintain a lifestyle that will give you maximum energy. Work your way up to exercising at least three times a week, eating a healthy lunch, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep. If you need to be at work early in the morning and remain sharp throughout the day, going out all night is probably not the best choice.

Get good at saying no to other people, and do so frequently. Turn down things that are inconsistent with your priorities. This will force you to ask yourself, “Does this fall in line with my priorities or goals?” If the answer is no, then your response to the invitation should be the same, “No.” Gaining back this time will allow you the opportunity to cook more at home, exercise, and catch up on those missed Zzzzzs.

Why do you think people overcomplicate health and think it will cost an arm and a leg?

I think people expect it to be. Making your own food will always be cheaper than going out to eat. And the best part is that you know exactly what is in the food, because you cooked it yourself. Organic, healthy food is affordable, and available, but you have to take the time to look, read, and know what you’re throwing into your grocery cart before you purchase it.

If you believe in the saying: time = money, then you would be correct because it does take time to shop for, clean, and cook your own food. But, the alternative is ordering take-out or swinging through the drive-thru, which may save you time, but it’s making you sick, which will end up costing big money in medical bills in the long run.

If you’re truly concerned about choosing healthy foods without overpaying, stop and think next time you see a health claim paired with a high price point rather than relying on your gut feeling. A simple solution to overcoming the influence is to seek out more information before you buy. Read the labels, and focus on the ingredients. Believe it or not, the information listed under the ingredients are more important than the number of calories. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. Getting more information, will enable you to rely on more careful, logical thinking rather than just your instinct that a healthy idea requires emptying your wallet.

If you make the commitment to change, and prioritize your life accordingly, you will and can succeed. For example, every Sunday when I’m not traveling, I create my own personal menu for the week. I look at how many nights I will be in town vs. how many nights will be spent on the road, and I plan my grocery shopping accordingly. It’s really not that much more expensive to eat clean. I plan and budget and try hard to buy only the things I need to eat vs. what I desire to eat and won’t have time to eat before my next trip, wasting food and money.

Most nights I make enough dinner to have as the next day’s lunch and snacks. Try using a Crock-Pot to cook protein during the day, grill fish and steak a few nights a week, and roast whole chickens from time to time just to have the meat in a container in the fridge to easily throw on a salad or with your eggs the next morning. It may seem that “going healthy” is expensive and takes a lot of work, and time, but it’s not. By making extra for tomorrow’s lunch, you can easily save on average $50 a week. Now, that’s real money!

What’s the most important thing to know about making life changes?

Change has the potential of bringing an unlimited number of positive effects to someone’s life. But in order to be ready to make a change, you have to admit there is a problem or that something warrants change. If there are things in your life that no longer make you happy, there is usually a reason. And while this may be tough to hear… often times you are the person behind the reason you are unhappy due to your own choices. Once you identify the cause, only then can you work to correct, eliminate, or change it. It’s important that you trust yourself and that you make the right decision. By executing your first “self-nudge”, which starts by changing one thing today, you are on the road to making positive, healthier changes to your road map to life. Everything in life is a choice.

Ashley Lauretta

Ashley Lauretta

Ashley Lauretta is the freelance web editor for Women's Running. A freelance journalist, she is the assistant editor at LAVA Magazine and has written for espnW, ELLE, Men's Journal, VICE Sports, Health and more. Find her online at ashleylauretta.com and on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.