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5 ways to make more time for your health

Try these tips to make more time for fitness and nutrition and make your health a priority

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health fall autumn woman

Make health a priority

Quick: What is the number one reason that women don’t make their health and fitness a priority? You got it: time. At least that’s what the majority of the more than 2, 000 women who participated in a study looking at health, fitness and nutrition habits reported to Amy Eyler, as associate research professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Every day you balance work, family, home and a seemingly endless stream of errands and to-dos. If you’re like most women we know, you can’t afford to get sick. But here’s the real question: Do you have time to devote to getting and staying healthy? If you think the answer is “no,” think again. Because it’s not a question of having the time‚ it’s a question of making it. This one single realization could be the trick to achieving the weight you want, and the feeling of energy and control you crave.

Want to lose weight (especially the abdominal fat that increases your risk for serious diseases), feel more energized, and get sick less often? As of today, “It’s time to follow one of the fundamental safety rules of airline pilots,” says Eyler. “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”

Start with the five golden rules that follow and you’ll be well on your way.

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Get out your planner and get creative

Oftentimes, what seems a lack of time is actually lack of prioritizing. Start by sitting down with your planner. If you don’t use one, get out a notepad and sketch out what every day during the week looks like, including what time you get up, what time you go to sleep, and everything in between.

Then dust off the same problem-solving skills you use at work or with the kids and look for places where you might trade one activity for another. Can you watch 30 minutes of TV each night instead of 60 and use a slice of that time to exercise or put together a salad for tomorrow’s lunch‚ or walk on the treadmill while you watch? Can you bring lunch to work three days a week rather than two, giving you tme to sneak in one more walk at work? Can your kids take the bus to school a couple of days a week or carpool to get to sports games, leaving you free to do chores so you can get to bed on time? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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sleeping woman

Build in time for sleep

If your solution to “getting it all done” is to stay up later, or you’re so wiped out while watching TV at night that you’re too tired to get up and turn the thing off, it’s time to enforce a strict bedtime. Lack of sleep ratchets up stress hormones which make life seem than much more out of control. It also contributes more than you might think to a wide waistline. A Canadian study of 740 adults found that people who reported getting five to six hours of sleep a night were 38 percent more likely to be overweight than those getting seven to eight hours.

If you’re having trouble holding yourself to a bedtime, buy timers for the TV and all the lights in your living room. Set them to turn off at 10:30 p.m. or earlier, or set an alarm clock to ring at 10:15 p.m., an alert that time is almost up. If you tend to surf the Web at night, program your computer’s scheduling software to remind you at 10:30 that it’s bedtime. Bonus: Once your body gets used to going to bed at the same time every night (even on weekends!), you’ll fall asleep faster.

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kids cooking

Practice the art of delegation

“There is no rule that says you have to do it all,” says Esther Sternberg, MD, a physician and medical researcher studying women’s health. Your spouse, your kids, and even your employer have every interest in helping you stay healthy, she notes, so enlist them in helping you make the best use of your time‚ and don’t feel guilty about it.

If handing over certain responsibilities doesn’t work at first, stick with it. “Initially it can take more time to delegate than to do the task yourself,” admits Peggy Duncan, an organizational consultant and author of The Time Management Memory Jogger. “But if you invest a little time to teach others at home and at work how to complete tasks, and then hold them accountable, the jobs will get done.” You might be frustrated if your husband doesn’t fold the laundry exactly the way you do, or if your children put the forks on the right of the plate when they set the table, but remember: The trade-off is a valuable 10 or 20 minutes of time you can devote to yourself. What’s more, “Including children in the responsibility of running the household can make them feel more grown-up,” says Sternberg.

How do you get your husband and kids on board? Write up a list of the household chores for which each person is responsible, and put it on the fridge. Be sure to include your own tasks‚ all the ones you already do. Since your list will probably be the longest, no one else will have a leg to stand on if they decide to complain about being asked to pitch in.

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eating breakfast

Start every day off right

Even though morning can be the most hectic part of your day, and you doubt you can find five minutes for breakfast, consider this double whammy: Skipping breakfast increases your risk for obesity and makes you less able to resist fatty and high-calorie foods later in the day. Make a vow to eat breakfast every day. It’s a proven way to maintain a healthy body weight. A bowl of oatmeal or yogurt, topped with strawberries or blueberries and a sprinkling of ground flaxseed, starts you out with the complex carbohydrates, fibre, and protein you need to get you up and running.

If you’re trying to lose weight, putting some lean protein on your plate (or in a glass) is your best bet, according to results from a 2007 study. Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Center compared weight loss in women who ate either two eggs or a plain bagel. The women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet lot 65 percent more weight than the women who ate bagels‚ even though they consumed the same number of calories. They also reported higher energy levels.

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family eating dinner

Plan a week’s worth of dinners at a time

All of a sudden it’s four o’clock and you have no idea what’s for dinner. Sound familiar? You’re in good company: Research has shown that the majority of people don’t know what they’re having either. And lack of planning is probably what leads you to the drive-through or has you dialing for takeout. Both options can sabotage your health (and budget). A better idea is to keep a few go-to dinner recipes‚ ideally ones that your spouse or teenager can prepare‚ in a kitchen folder, and keep the key ingredients for them on hand in the pantry and freezer. Think one-pot meals like chicken stir-fry, pork chops with cabbage, or pasta with white beans and spinach.

Another time-saver: Sit down on Saturday or Sunday and plan out your dinners for the week. Make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need for each one, and vóilla, that’s your shopping list. “If you have a list, you won’t wander the aisles aimlessly,” says Duncan. You can also take meal planning to a new level and devote two hours on a weekend afternoon to preparing several meals you’ll eat later in the week. “You’ll be shocked at how much time you’ll free up and how much less stress you’ll feel at dinnertime come mid-week,” says Duncan, who adopted the “cook ahead” tip from her mother.

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