When our careers take over, one of the first things we sacrifice is our health. We have a hard time focusing on too many things at once, so when we need to work late and push through difficult and demanding months on the job, we tend to neglect some very important health habits that will help us sustain a demanding schedule.
Consider this a friendly reminder to get yourself back on track. The healthier the body, the healthier the mind, and the healthier the mind, the better you will do at work, and the more your boss will reward you. So listen up — some of these changes in your daily routine are easy, and you can start them now.
10. You think you’re too tired from work to work out. If you’re not getting at least 30-40 minutes of cardio activity at least three days a week, you’re not doing your body any favors. Research shows that regular exercise improves your immune systems, lifts your mood, and gives you more energy throughout the day. So when your work life gets really hectic, this is actually the time you want to exercise more to prevent getting sick when you just don’t have time to be missing work.
9. You’re swapping sleep to meet deadlines. I’m no stranger to pulling all-nighters when an important project has a deadline that can’t be missed. But not getting enough sleep can be a serious health hazard if you let it become a regular habit. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause short term memory loss, dampen creativity, and impair learning. If being great at your job is important to you, then getting 7-8 hours of shut-eye every night should be on your agenda.
8. You don’t have a water bottle at your desk. I could spend all day with a beverage in front of me, from coffee, to juice, to tea to beer, and never have a glass of water all day long. But that would be a mistake. Water has amazing health benefits and so many of us don’t drink enough. My mom always suggested the 8×8 rule as a guide: you should drink at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. The Mayo Clinic suggests we drink even more fluids to stay hydrated: it gives you energy, protects your immune system and prevents dehydration that can lead to headaches and muscle pains. And who wants to be the one with a splitting headache in the middle of a board meeting?
7. You’re eating out of the receptionist’s candy jar too much. One thing that’s easy to do when you get busy is to forget to eat meals, or conversely, continue to eat throughout the day without thinking about it. If you have a candy jar at your desk and find yourself reaching for it regularly, you know what I mean. But eating too much sugar can backfire if you’re using it for quick bursts of energy in place of real food. Sweets and processed sugars can lead to some serious health issues (just check out the video below), including fatigue (after the initial energy wears off), weight-gain, and even depression as recently reported in the New York Times.
6. You think your recent raise means you can eat out more. I’m guilty of dining out too frequently when my schedule seems to leave no time to cook a meal. Those late nights at the office turn into drinks and then before you know it, you’re eating a burger at the bar and getting home just in time to go to bed and do it all over again. We all need to break that habit though: when you’re dining out you have no control over how your food is prepared and the proportions of what you’re given are way more than we need to eat. A good rule of thumb: Don’t eat any food you don’t prepare yourself, but when you must eat out, be assertive and ask for a healthy option.
5. You’re going to happy hour several nights a week to relax. At the end of a long work day, it’s easy to say we deserve a beer or a glass of wine. But when our lives get really hectic, that could easily become a daily occurrence and the empty calories are going to add up. Instead, try relaxing by doing yoga, reading, puzzles, or physical activities like bike riding. After all, even moderate “social” drinking can interrupt your sleep patterns, lead to weight gain, and cause depression and anxiety — and none of those things will help your career.
4. Your lack of culinary creativity means you’re relying on meat and cheese. Let’s face it, the quickest meals are often the least healthy: mac and cheese, pizza, burgers, sandwiches. What do they have in common? Two factors: meat and cheese — two things we should limit when being in good health really matters. Ground-breaking research documented in “The China Study” provides clear, large-scale evidence of the link between eating animal products and failures in human immune systems. Want to ensure you’re at peak performance? Eat more fruits and veggies and try plant-based proteins.
3. You think fresh produce isn’t going to stay fresh long enough to eat. This might sound redundant, but you’re probably not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables. The irony is, they are the quickest and easiest thing to take with you when you’re on the go. Throw a banana and an apple in your bag for breakfast, chop fresh bell peppers, cucumbers and carrots for a morning snack. Maybe on the weekend you can prepare a large batch of vegetable lasagna or soup that can easily be heated for lunch at the office. For an afternoon snack try a peach, pear or handful of grapes. Vegetables and fruits provide the best, low-calorie and pure source of natural energy that will keep you at peak performance all day long.
2. You look for comfort in coffee and happiness in energy shots. When long hours are the norm, the only thing getting a real workout might be the office coffee pot. And those 5-Hour Energy drinks are becoming increasingly common in the cubes. But these solutions have drawbacks. Caffeine, while naturally occurring, is addictive (probably not a newsflash to coffee drinkers, but still worth noting). It can cause anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, tremors and headaches (especially when you don’t get your fix!). And those energy drinks? The main ingredient in 5-Hour Energy is caffeine, although it also contains several thousand times your daily recommended doses of B-vitamins, which can cause other health problems if abused.
1. You equate quick meals with frozen meals. Lean Cuisine anyone? If you’re packing your freezer with prepared meals that you can zap in the microwave, stop now before you give yourself a heart attack. The sodium quantities in packaged food can far exceed your recommended doses — that’s how they disguise the taste of the cardboard that they are packaged in. And large doses of sodium can lead to high blood pressure even in young adults.
So what are you waiting for? Stop adding to your stresses by being unhealthy. If your career is central to your life and you can’t afford to be sick, get your diet on track and follow some simple rules: eat a plant-based diet, drink plenty of water, cut out the drinking and go to the gym or get some exercise daily. You boss will thank you, even if you do turn off your cell phone for that hour on the treadmill, because you’ll be happier, more creative, and more dependable.
Whitney Parker is vice president for user experience at Brazen Careerist, where she co-hosts a bootcamp on how to create and implement a social media strategy and a 7-lesson job search course available on-demand. When she’s not working, she’s figuring out what her next healthy meal will be.