I’ve been thinking a lot about health and productivity these days. I turned 60 in May, and because I want to remain as healthy and productive as possible, I’ve been researching steps I can take, and habits I can institute, to do just that.
Healthy habits make for productive lives
One key to being productive, both in the sense of getting things done and in the sense of making a life that matters, is being healthy enough, physically, mentally, and emotionally to do the things we want and need to do. Many of us live with illnesses or physical conditions that affect our health, and as we age our condition changes, so I am not suggesting that only the most physically fit and healthy can be truly productive. But regardless of our age or circumstances, I think we can agree that in order to maximize our health, we need to do what we can to be as healthy as possible.
We’ve talked about habits before (TPW216 – Habits that Help; TPW226 – Habits to Consider for This Year; TPW114 – Mindset Matters: Productive Habits; and TPW082 – Developing Healthy Habits, with Bridgit Danner).
A habit is something you do regularly. It’s defined in one dictionary as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” When we do something regularly enough that it becomes a habit, we do it almost without conscious thought. The great thing about habits is they eliminate the friction of decision-making. It’s easier to do what you habitually do, so it’s important to be intentional about the habits we develop. (Check out James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits – discussed in episode 230 -for help in purposefully developing habits that serve you.)
In thinking and researching I came up with a short list of key habits that can help promote health and productivity. It’s likely that none of these are new to you, but we can always benefit from being reminded to think about our habits–especially those habits that can contribute to a strong, healthy body and mind. Spending time in the next few weeks developing healthy habits can reap productivity benefits in the coming year.
1. Drink plenty of water (more than you think you need)
Water matters because it is a principal component of our bodies and makes up 50-75% of our body weight. We can go much longer without food than water. Every part of our body uses water to work properly.
This article from the Mayo Clinic goes into greater depth about why water is so important. A lack of water can lead to dehydration, which can drain our energy and make us feel tired. Because we naturally lose water every day, we need to replenish every day.
“The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages and food. About 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks.”
Some things I do to ensure I get enough water:
- I drink a large glass of water with the juice of half a lemon first thing in the morning.
- I use the Water Minder app on my Apple Watch to track how much water I take in and remind myself to drink it.
- I also subscribe to Hint fruit-infused water, so I always have bottled water available and can grab one whenever I get in the car.
Exercise matters because physical activity affects all aspects of our health. Studies show it improves our mood, affects parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety, can help with weight loss by increasing the rate at which our bodies burn calories, strengthens our bones and muscles, boosts our energy, can improve brain function (including memory and thinking skills), and can improve our sleep. These are just a few of the benefits.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends, for most healthy adults:
“At least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread this exercise throughout the week. Examples include running, walking or swimming. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits. Strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Examples include lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing body-weight training.” [from Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity]
To get in my exercise, I try to work out first thing every day. This gets my day off to a good start, and I’m more likely to do it then. The longer I wait, the more resistance builds.
I put my workout clothes on first thing in the morning, then grab my big glass of lemon water.
Because I have a treadmill at home, I have no excuse not to exercise because the gym’s too far (or closed), or it’s too hot or raining, etc. I have a TV in front of me, so I can watch YouTube videos or an interesting TV series that I look forward to watching and save only for treadmill time. I confess that I don’t really enjoy working out and having something interesting to distract me really helps.
When I used to jog outside, I would play upbeat music I loved. I had a workout playlist full of songs that really got me moving in time to the beat.
I use the activity monitor on my Apple Watch, which has 3 concentric rings that track movement, standing, and exercise. I’m very motivated to close those rings each day.
Other ideas that may help to get enough exercise each day include hiring a trainer to keep you motivated or finding a workout buddy to join you and keep you accountable and motivated. It is possible to work out with others and maintain social distancing.
Finally, find some sort of activity you enjoy, perhaps tennis, swimming, a team sport, or bicycling. There is nothing specific you have to do to be fit and healthy. By doing something you really enjoy, you are more likely to make it a regular habit.
Sleeping matters because our bodies (and minds) recharge through sleeping. When we don’t get enough sleep our health, weight, and mindset all can suffer.
The recommended amount of sleep varies by age, but “According to a poll conducted by the Sleep Foundation, 43 percent of Americans rarely obtain a good night’s sleep on the weeknights.” [from Tired and Cranky? Here are 4 Ways to Fix That, According to Neuroscience]
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) here in the U.S. recommends: [from How Much Sleep Do I Need?]
|18–60 years||7 or more hours/night|
|61–64 years||7–9 hours|
|65 years +||7–8 hours|
Sleep is an area where I struggle. I often have a hard time falling–or staying–asleep, so I’m on a mission to improve this. Advice from experts includes:
- Have consistent bedtimes and wake times, even during the weekend
- Sleep in cooler temperatures (recommended around 65 degrees F / 18 C)
- Limit exposure to artificial light in the evenings (which can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that signals your body to prepare for sleep).
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime [from the CDC website)
- Exercise during the day can help improve your sleep.
- Develop a relaxing nighttime routine to get your mind and body in the right space to sleep well-relaxing bath, soothing herbal (no caffeine) tea, candlelight, soft music, comfy and pretty pajamas or nightgown.
- Create a restful environment in your bedroom. Use restful colors, prioritize having a good mattress and pillow, and try to use that room only for sleep, rest, and other bedroom-appropriate activities. Avoid watching TV, surfing social media, or working there.
4. Eating right
Eating right matters because our bodies need fuel. When we are so busy we skip meals or rely on junk food or highly processed foods, we’re denying our bodies (including our brains) the fuel they need to get through our days and perhaps contributing to illness or unhealthy conditions.
My wake-up call came this past spring at my annual physical when the doctor informed me that my cholesterol levels had hit very unhealthy levels, which really surprised me. I am a stress eater and when I am worried, stressed, or anxious, I will turn to food. Consult your doctor and perhaps a registered dietician to advise you on the best kind of diet for you given your age, your general health, etc.
Something I do to promote healthy eating is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and prep them ahead of time to make it as easy to grab them as it would be to grab a handful of chips or some cookies. Some of my favorites are grapes, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, mango, carrots, and salad fixings. I wash them all and store them in covered glass containers in the fridge. I clean and quarter the strawberries, cube the watermelon, cut up celery, etc., so it’s ready to go.
When I fill my plate, either at home or at a buffet, for example, I start by filling at least half my plate with vegetables. I divide the other half for protein and starch (e.g., potatoes, rice, or pasta). I eat the veggies first, so I’m getting those nutrients in and then will perhaps be less hungry when I start on the meat and potatoes
Vitamins matter because although we can get most nutrients we need from a good diet, most of us don’t eat complete or completely healthy diets, so we can have an insufficient intake of key nutrients we need.
Fair notice: Some experts questions the effectiveness of, for instance, a daily multivitamin, so whether you should take vitamins is something you should discuss with your doctor. My doctor has noted a deficiency in Vitamin D, so she recommends I take a daily vitamin D supplement. The CDCs recommend that women of reproductive age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, and some doctors also see benefits in appropriate amounts of iron supplements for women of child-bearing age as well.
Dr. Larry Appel (a medical doctor), director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, has reminded us:
“Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases. . . Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits—eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar you eat.” [from Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins?]
My habits to promote this (since my doctor has recommended certain vitamins for me) include using a weekly pill dispenser with a small compartment for each day of the week. I bought mine for a couple of dollars at Walmart, but here’s a link to a similar one on Amazon.) I put my vitamins in each Sunday evening so they’re all ready to go the next day. I’ve also set a reminder on my Apple Watch using the Due app to take my vitamins each evening.
6. Regular checkups
Regular checkups matter because being aware of your body’s condition is an important first step to protecting your health. Doctor’s exams and labs can give you important information, even identifying warning signs of potential issues early on so you can deal with them quickly.
I schedule my medical, dental, and vision checkups during my birthday month each year, and call during January to get them on the calendar.
To make the most of your doctor visits, I recommend keeping a note in your planner or in a digital resource like Evernote, Apple Notes, Microsoft OneNote (or wherever you keep track of things) for questions for your doctor. Whenever you experience something that raises questions, or wonder about something related to your health, make a note of it, and then take the list with you to your checkup so you can ask the doctor while she’s with you.
Quite, silence, meditation, and breathing matter because noise interferes with our ability to think, concentrate, and remember. It can also affect our health by raising our blood pressure. Establishing a habit of intentional times of quiet and even a meditation practice can help us be calmer, more peaceful, and generally healthier.
Meditation is like a workout for your brain.
“Meditation is proven in study after study to help you deal better with stress and improve the fluidity of your mind, meaning you have a more adaptable brain.” [from 7 Healthy Habits That Maximize Your Productivity Every Day]
Even without meditation, silence alone has health benefits. It gives our ears a break, gives us time to think, improves self-awareness, and helps with creativity. Sitting quietly can help lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.
Clinical health psychologist Dr. Amy Sullivan is quoted as saying,
“Learning to sit in stillness and self-reflect is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our kids. . . . When we look internally and delve deeper into our value system and wants and needs, we can communicate at a deeper level. We have to foster that ability.” [from An Ode to Silence: Why You Need It In Your Life]
Some things you can do to incorporate quiet into your life include:
- Have your morning coffee without your phone, the TV, or a newspaper. Just be present with the quiet and the coffee.
- Try going for a walk or run with no device and no headphones, just listening to the sounds around you.
- While you drive, turn off the radio or podcasts and just be quiet with your thoughts.
- Turn off alerts on your phone and other devices.
- If you’re interested in checking out the benefits of meditation, start small by meditating for just 5-10 minutes. If you’re not sure how to start, use a guided meditation app or podcast.
- Set reminders to yourself to pause, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and center yourself.
- If you spend a lot of time in a noisy environment (e.g., a plane or noisy open-concept office), try noise-canceling headphones. These can really help with cutting down on noise and increasing your ability to focus and be more productive.
What do you think?
What healthy habits have you developed that the rest of us should consider? What is one healthy habit you’d like to develop? Please share them in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise
- Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity – Mayo Clinic
- 8 Reasons to Take a Multivitamin Every Day – Tespo
- Do Multivitamins Work? The Surprising Truth
- Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins? | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- The Hidden Benefits of Silence
- An Ode to Silence: Why You Need It in Your Life – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic
- The Health Benefits of Peace and Quiet – How to Get Five Minutes of Quiet Time
- 7 Healthy Habits That Maximize Your Productivity Every Day
- 10 Powerful Habits of the Most Healthy and Productive People | Inc.com
- Tired and Cranky? Here Are 4 Ways to Fix That, According to Neuroscience | Inc.com
- Healthy Sleep Habits and Good Sleep Hygiene
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Royse City, Texas