Wake up early, get dressed, dress kids, feed kids, take kids to school, go work, sit 8 hours, clock out, pick up kids, make dinner, put kids to sleep, wash up, say goodnight, go sleep, rinse and repeat.
For some, a schedule like this isn’t too far from the truth. Day to day we are bombarded by constant responsibilities and tasks we need to get done. We dread the next day and what challenges lie ahead. We become so overwhelmed and distracted with the pace of life that we fail to stop, and think about taking care of ourselves. After all, who has time to think about themselves? Especially when we have to figure out how we’re going to get groceries done, and make it in time for Tommy’s Friday night football game. Life becomes a numb minded routine. We just go through the motions and never slow down to enjoy it, or perform maintenance.
Usually the first things to go when confronted with a fast paced life, such as the one described above, are exercise and healthy eating habits. Typically because we don’t have the time to exercise, and fast food restaurants offer up such a low priced, on the go, delicious, stress free meal. In addition to not exercising and unhealthy eating habits, the average American spends 9.6 hours sitting a day.
In time, you find that your figure, body weight, and even physical stamina are not what they used to be; back when you had time to exercise and you didn’t spend your mornings chasing little minions around the house to get them ready for school. It’s tough to find time. Even tougher to find the motivation to implement strategies that will turn your stressful, fast food eating, fairly sedentary lives around into one of healthful living. After a long exhausting day at work, relaxing on the couch watching TV sounds like a much better alternative.
Well you might say, my life isn’t so bad, and I don’t even enjoy going to the gym. Consider this, for every hour we sit we lose approximately 22 minutes of life expectancy. If we have a desk job, that’s well over 3 hours of our lives per day! After just the first hour of sitting, the fat-burning hormones in our blood significantly decrease, resulting in possible weight gain.
Do I have your attention?
Now let me make myself clear, I am not suggesting you go out, get a gym membership, and make drastic changes to your life right now. In fact, I don’t recommend it, not yet anyway. In my experience, this path usually leads to a burnt out unmotivated version of yourself. Instead, I’m proposing a much more gentle approach that can yield significant results in the long run. Minor steps, and solid strategies that will not only promote weight loss, but slowly motivate you to take more steps towards a permanent healthy lifestyle.
One such strategy is most often overlooked and undervalued. We usually try and focus on bringing exercise and healthful eating habits into our environment. What would happen though, if instead of bringing healthy habits into our environment, we changed our environment completely to promote, encourage, and make healthful living convenient through our daily activities?
Changing your environment to one that -constantly cues you towards better choices, makes healthful living convenient, and presents itself in a more attractive light- will not only nudge you in the right direction, but potentially yield significant long-term benefits. You most likely won’t even notice your increase in daily physical activity, or the making of better eating habits. Your daily tasks might take you a little more time than usual, but nothing compared to adding an exercise routine to your daily schedule.
Begin with the Kitchen
First and foremost, you want to give your kitchen a bit of a makeover. This part is key, mainly because the kitchen is where most people store, make, and find the food they eat. So let’s begin with the basics.
Layout: Setup your kitchen in a triangle for efficiency. Ideally the sink and stove next to each other, and the refrigerator on the other side. This layout is more convenient, and makes for a more pleasurable cooking experience. Even if your kitchen is unable to be setup in this efficient triangular fashion, think about workflow and access patterns. Position movable kitchen appliances where most accessible, and convenient.
Smaller Fridge: Why? Recent studies have shown that the more food that is in your fridge, the more you are likely to eat. A smaller fridge serves as a nudge to eat less, and gets you out of the house more often to grab fresh foods; increasing daily physical activity.
Clear Counter Space: It is more likely you’ll cook, and feel good about it, when there is plenty of space inviting you to prepare delicious meals.
Good Lighting: Most people find warm, incandescent bulbs more pleasant than fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lights can cause eyestrain, becoming a negative subconscious nudge deterring you from cooking.
The Right Equipment: We can all relate to not having the right equipment when we need it the most. How frustrating it can be. So much so, that at times we give up working on whatever task because we are fed-up with not having the right tools. Same applies when cooking. Try and have everything you need readily available before you start. This way we avoid frustrations while cooking, which could potentially deter us from engaging in the act willingly in the future. Also, use manually operated kitchen tools. This encourages hand and arm strengthening, adding more physical activity to your day.
Don’t just apply this concept to your kitchen tools, but yard tools as well. Using manually operated tools is an excellent way of integrating physical activity into our daily lives. This strategy not only saves you time, but money.
The Right Center Piece: Develop a habit of keeping healthy foods front and center in your fridge. Placing healthy options at eye level will encourage you, and your family to snack mindfully.
Placing a bowl of your favorite fruits on display in plain sight, with good lighting, will make it more likely those foods will be someone’s first choice to snack on when hungry. Make it so it’s the first thing you see when walking into the kitchen. Do not place chips or sweets in plain view.
Out-of–the-way Junk Food Storage: Place unhealthy foods out of reach, and out of sight. Possibly a designated cabinet that you don’t often open. Label it, Junk Food. Most of us consume junk food because we see it, it looks good, and is easily accessible. Hiding junk food will dramatically decrease consumption.
To easy? Try going a step further. Don’t bring junk food into the home; delete it from your grocery list.
No Electronics While Eating: Watching TV, listening to fast-paced music, and using electronics in the kitchen- or dining room- encourage mindless eating. Mindless eating results in overeating.
Home and Yard
Weigh Yourself Daily: Place a scale somewhere you can’t avoid in the morning; maybe the bathroom or walk-in closet. Measure yourself every day. Studies have found that people who weigh themselves daily, weigh less than those who don’t. The thought is, that measuring oneself possibly sets a baseline helping a person observe, and manage better habits. Measuring yourself also provides an external cue, which can hopefully prompt you into taking action; exercising.
Hide the TV: Place your TV behind closed doors, somewhere you can’t see it. The goal is to nudge you away from mindless screen time, and towards tasks that require physical activity. Watching TV actually lowers your metabolism, makes you less active, and inclines you to eat junk food.
Grow A Garden: Gardening is a low-intensity, range of motion, easy on the joints type activity that is sustainable in the long run. It burns 150 calories if standing for 30 to 45 minutes. Gardening also lowers stress hormones, as shown by research.
Grow Indoor Plants: Watering plants around your home burns the same amount of calories as stretching, and walking. Bonus, plants purify the air and provide other health benefits to people who interact with them.
Own A Dog: Not into gardening, that’s fine. Go to a local animal shelter to adopt, or pet store to buy one of man’s greatest companions. Owning a dog is a great way to encourage you to walk, or run on a regular basis. Research shows that by owning a dog you can get over 5 hours of exercise per week without much effort.
Indoor Exercise Area: Reserve a place in your home for exercise equipment. This makes exercising more convenient, and if it’s more convenient, then you’re more likely to do it.
Optimize Your Furniture: Try sitting on cushions on the floor. The act of getting up, and sitting down on the floor works out your leg muscles and core. Also, supporting yourself without a chair back creates engagement of your core, and postural muscles potentially improving your posture. This can also burn an additional 130 calories per hour.
Adding a stand-up desk either at work, or in your home office can result in an extra 300 calories burned per day.
Group of Friends: Perhaps one of the most influential motivators are the people we surround ourselves with. According to one statistical analysis, each additional happy friend we have in our social circle boosts our cheeriness by 9 percent, while each additional unhappy friend drags it down by 7 percent. Similarly if your three best friends are obese, there’s a 55 percent chance that you’ll be overweight. Surrounding ourselves with good examples of healthy living is crucial on our journey to creating our own healthy lifestyle. Research shows that we mimic the behaviors of those we spend the most time with. So although I won’t tell you to dump friends with harmful influences, I would encourage you to seek out relationships with individuals who have better health habits.
The strategies and tips listed above are very useful ways of utilizing the persuasive power of external cues, convenience, and attractiveness. By using these tools to create a more healthful environment, you will witness change with little effort. I’m not saying it will be easy. Like anything, it takes time to adapt to change. However, if you’re willing, the strategies listed above present you with a much more gentle and effective approach to not only weight loss, but making your way towards a life of holistic wellness.
The information provided has been based on proven methods, and strategies found in Dan Buettner’s book, “The Blue Zones Solution.” I would recommend it to anyone seeking to eat, and live healthy.
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