The question: I've had an active summer and never felt better. Now, I'm back at work and chained to my desk. How am I supposed to maintain a "healthy" lifestyle if I barely even get up during my average work day?
The answer: I had a patient recently comment on how September feels like a perpetual Monday because it's a hard month to wake up for. You're not alone in feeling this way and we all seem to struggle with keeping up the momentum from the summer months. While you've maintained a healthy lifestyle, with the days getting shorter and the temperature dropping, it can be hard to maintain the motivation to continue with the efforts you've put into keeping healthy.
When working with my patients to tackle the fall blues, we try to reframe our thinking and focus on this being a time of renewal. September is the start of a new work and school year, and while it can be challenging to juggle everything, there are opportunities to make healthy choices throughout your day. While it's great to set a goal of "being more healthy," this can be vague and hard to follow. Instead, set small, concrete goals that are measurable and easy to track. While these tips may seem self-explanatory, they give us an opportunity to reframe our thinking, set realistic expectations and keep motivated to stay healthy and active:
Schedule your exercise in: Like anything in life that you prioritize, if your health is on the list, put exercise in your calendar. Just like you make time to pick up the kids, pack lunches and set aside relaxation time, create a space in your day that is yours for activity. Some of my patients have started walking to work to get their exercise in before and after their day (which also gives them some stress-free debrief time before getting home!). Others get up a little earlier and do a workout video at home or go to the gym. Choose your activity and try to get 30 minutes of it at least five days a week – you'll notice better sleep and more energy.
Book a class or make a commitment with a friend or co-worker: It's been found that working in groups is a great incentive to stay committed to something, so recruit a friend, loved one or even your kids to set some health goals together. Whether it's keeping a food diary to track your intake, signing up for a belly-dancing class or going for daily walks or runs, it'll be a commitment not only to yourself, but to your activity partners' health, too.
Create a healthy workspace: Sitting at a desk all day can put strain on your back and leave you feeling sluggish and uncomfortable, so find ways to make your workspace healthier. Make sure that your seat is adjusted appropriately to your height so that your posture isn't compromised, or consider using an exercise ball as a seat to help build core strength. Remember to get up on the hour to stretch and get your blood flow going. Over your lunch break, see if you can go for a walk, and if the weather isn't co-operating, find some stairs and do a few repetitions. For a bit of fun, challenge your co-workers to participate in a daily activity break.
Pack a lunch: All too often, we run out of time in the morning to get our lunch together and we end up eating out. Pack your lunch the night before and remember to bring some healthy snacks to have throughout the day to avoid tempting fast-food options.
Don't forget your mental health: With daylight hours decreasing, some people are prone to low moods. It can be challenging to simply shake it off. Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet can help combat this, but for some it can still be overwhelming. Seek help if this is an issue for you.
For my patients who still struggle to get active when the fall and winter months hit, I write a prescription for exercise. Really. I recently did this with one of my patients who was struggling to get active. I wrote her a prescription that stated: "Set your watch and walk five minutes in one direction, then turn around and walk back. Every week, add one to two minutes to each segment of your walk." She's now up to 46 minutes and is sleeping better, feeling healthier and has lost five pounds! Keep small steps like these in mind so you'll be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle regardless of the season.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the Medical Director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a Staff Physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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