No time for working out

Originally Published: September 16, 2005 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 3, 2014
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Dear Alice,

Thanks very much for providing answers to a lot of fitness and nutrition questions. I'm a 28-year-old male, about 5'6", and weighing about 140-something pounds. My body shape is far from ideal, which makes me kinda lose my self-confidence. I know workouts and good diets are the only answer to this problem. I used to be a constant jogger and do a lot of different sports when I was in high school (too long ago). But unfortunately, I just don't have the time for workouts anymore. I'm a journalist now, with very little free time. If I do have free time (which most likely is to be very short), I usually spend it for a good, decent rest. I definitely need to get the look back, and to feel healthy. Can you help me with this please? Thanks a bunch.

Regards,
Aziz

Dear Aziz,

The job, school, family, dog, and/or bills — the responsibilities of life seem to multiply with each year that we age. As a result, responsibilities to ourselves — health maintenance activities, such as exercise and balanced eating — get pushed off the schedule. From what you've said, it sounds as though unhealthy changes in lifestyle are taking a toll on your self-esteem, body image, and energy level. Your mind and body are calling out for a change in the program! So the question is, how can healthy eating and exercise be incorporated into your day without interfering with your busy schedule?

Fortunately, adopting a healthier eating style — one that emphasizes veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and whole grains — does not require hours of preparation in the kitchen. A fast fix for your eating plan can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store. You can pick up a variety of healthy foods and meals that require little to no preparation. Microwave meals of today are much tastier and healthier than the stereotypical T.V. dinners of the past, and they offer the added benefit of portion control. Paying more attention to what is on your plate and ultimately cutting back on portion sizes is one specific doable step that may help you to get back to your runner's physique.

Take a quick look at food labels to single out healthier choices. Choose convenience meals that contain approximately one fourth to one third of your daily caloric needs and 30 percent of calories from fat, with less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. Look for meals that contain less than 800 mg of sodium and at least 4 grams of fiber. Add frozen or pre-cut/washed veggies to these meals and a piece of fruit for dessert. The high fiber content of fruits and vegetables will leave you feeling fuller after you have eaten, without adding many calories.

Errands, such as trips to the grocery, are multitasking opportunities for exercise. You can jog or even ride your bike to work, the grocery, and/or the cleaners, and avoid wasting time in traffic or finding a parking spot. Physical activity will not only help you to get closer to your ideal body shape, but has the potential to relieve stress, increase work productivity, boost after work energy level, and improve sleep quality. The following tips may be useful:

  • Set the alarm 10 minutes earlier and wake up with stretching.
  • Climb at least some of the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.
  • Take a walk around the office whenever you leave your desk for a bathroom or beverage break.
  • Take a walk to a co-worker's desk instead of calling or sending an e-mail.
  • Multitask by reading or doing research while walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
  • Use a little extra effort and motion in the chores you do around the house in order to use more calories.
  • Get off the train or bus one stop early or park your car a little further away from home/stores, to get in some walking.
  • Work activity into your social life by meeting friends to go dancing or playing Frisbee in the park.

In addition to the tips listed above, a great source for nutrition and physical activity information is the USDA's MyPlate initiative. This site allows users to tailor much of their information to meet individual nutrition and activity needs. Columbia-affilaited students, faculty, staff, and alumni can participate in the University's physical activity initiative, CU Move. CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation, incentives to be active throughout the year, and event calendars with access to plenty of free and low-cost physical activity options on campus and around NYC

After you start making even small changes in your eating plan and include informal exercise in your day, you are likely to begin feeling better. At this point, you may get the urge to do more. In addition, cut back on sedentary activities so that additional time and attention can be given to optimizing your health. With a slow and steady approach you should be able to find the minutes you desire for being more active. Go for it!

Alice