A few years ago, I gained 10lbs in 16 weeks when I started traveling for work.
The disappointment of such rapid weight gain aside, I was baffled: both my academic and professional focus is in nutrition and exercise! How could I let this happen?
My reality check was one that many have already experienced: travel can easily trash healthy habits. But if 2020 has taught me anything, it's that this can happen any time.
Take our current reality: the things that kept us on-schedule (work, school, sports, gym, etc) have been at-home undertakings for months. Just like travel, many of our daily rituals and plans are completely disrupted.
The 'Big Stuff'
Our new reality demands immediate solutions for the 'big stuff': education, career, etc. But what about all the little positive daily habits we've developed over the years? I found many of mine dropped off.
Last year, I wrote an article about simple habits I stuck to during travel to help support my goal of living my healthiest life. I've taken out a few things and added others to adapt it to staying at home in 2020: these are more relevant to me than ever.
20 Minute Morning
“I have 20 minutes to spare.”
No matter how flooded my inbox is, or how jam-packed the day ahead seems: I have 20 minutes to spare.
What’s the 20 minutes for? Cardio first thing in the morning. Treadmill incline walks, an outdoor jog, a quick spin session, rowing intervals. Whatever keeps me in a moderate heart rate intensity, 20 minutes happens before anything else.
Why 20 minutes?
In the 2nd Edition of Physical Activity Guidelines, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, OR 75–150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for significant health benefits.
For me, 20 minutes feels way shorter than 30 minutes first thing in the morning. Even if that’s not actually true, it is ultimately what gets me moving every morning- which is what counts.
Here’s the deal: by now, we've all experienced how quickly an at-home day can fall out from under you. Maybe you get lucky some days and do your 20 minute morning AND that 60 minute evening workout you planned: kudos, you killed it!
Too often though, even the best-laid exercise plans fall apart. I found this true both on travel and during quarantine, as each day is spent in a heightened state of stress just keeping the 'big stuff' running smoothly. 20 minute mornings give me at least a little of that back- and every bit matters.
Drink (Water) Often
Besides requiring it for survival, there are many reasons to care about your water intake. Replacing calorie-dense drinks like regular soda with water helps control body weight and calorie intake: a straightforward swap to make if weight management is a goal. Then there are the physiological impacts: even mild dehydration can negatively affect mood, energy levels, and exercise performance.
To understand daily water needs, you need some data.
- The Adequate Intake for daily water intake (water from food + drinking water) is 91oz for women and 125oz for men.
- It’s estimated that 20–30% of daily fluid consumption comes from food, which leaves approximately 64–73oz of drinking water for women and 88–100oz drinking water for men.
Dr. Krista Austin, sports physiologist, explained to me that this is where the recommendation for drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces daily comes from: it accounts for your personal size while generally meeting the Adequate Intake.
Try sticking to a favorite water bottle to trigger re-fills to help meet your intake goals. Mine's an rainbow colored 20-ounce tumbler from Starbucks here in Bird Rock, La Jolla.
My well-oiled schedule machine of working out of coffee shops, visiting accounts, hitting the gym, and eating three square meals a day derailed into a truly disorganized daily experience back in March.
I was eating like a college sophomore: sometimes I had a handful of trail mix and a diet soda for breakfast, sometimes I skipped it, and sometimes it was healthy. Like: what??
If studying nutrition in graduate school taught me anything, it's that so much of our daily intake is behavior-based. Suddenly, I was in a situation where "anything goes" for habits, and I was not on my best behavior.
Here's what's helped me bring some order to the chaos:
You can’t change what you don’t track. I went back to MyFitnessPal to keep a pulse on my intake. Previously, I had not tracked for a year or so because I had finally achieved a rhythm and feel for my daily needs. This friendly and non-judgemental app makes it easier to stay accountable to myself. I'll stop tracking again once I get back into a healthy rhythm.
Green at every meal. Not every meal I eat is stellar (looking at you, tortilla chip + brie lunch) but holding to vegetables at every single meal is a 'win' multiple times a day. Not only is this a morale booster, but the importance of vegetables in daily intake can't be understated. While I could wax poetic about the health advantages of vegetables all day, you can check them out for yourself here.
Hold up: is this basically a post about being non-sedentary, drinking water, and eating healthier?
Yep. How have these 3 factors been going for you? If you're knocking these out of the park, I genuinely applaud you! But if you’re struggling to decide where to start with daily habits, I encourage you to tackle any one of these.