Balancing your health with other priorities including work is a universal challenge. We all face similar obstacles; work deadlines, sleep, family / kids, legitimate social needs, illegitimate social needs, whatever energy is leftover to carve out some time to exercise and eat well.
I think sharing my personal testimony could be helpful to a lot of business people who may feel stuck where I was earlier in my career so here are practical tips on work life balance and health.
What Health Looks Like
Up to the age of 30 or so and before kids, I was very active and lived a healthy lifestyle. I was a regular at the gym, maintained a healthy diet, was a martial arts instructor at a local Dojang and ran in 5k & 10k road races to keep my aerobic stamina up for tournament competition. I had various friend groups to support our social needs most of whom also led active lives.
My wife and I were both building careers full time in the workplace but kept time reserved for activities outside of work as a priority. We both progressed professionally in responsibility, role, income and experience all while supporting a healthy, balanced life.
Life Gets in the Way
3 children and a couple of career promotions later, I found myself working sun-up to sun-down and 40 lbs over my fighting weight. Over the decade of my 30’s, I simply removed physical health from my priority list.
The burdens of work, parenting and associated stress somehow made dumping anything healthy such as exercise or proper diet a sensible thing to do… at least they were the easiest things to quit. I felt something had to go!
Healthy things like exercise and eating well ended up giving way to unhealthy things like appetizers for dinner while drinking for entertainment. Food & wine became the entertainment while my body melted into a sedentary blob of inactivity. Hangovers became a part of my life just like my college years, only I wasn’t in college, I wasn’t 20 years old and I wasn’t taking care of my physical or mental health like I should.
To be fair with myself and maybe you, my work had really ramped up in intensity and I travelled a good bit. It’s hard to avoid the good food that’s bad for you and maintain your exercise regimen when on the road and going to meetings all the time. It’s hard to make your workouts a priority over your family’s demands on your time; you love your family in a way you will never love a gym or exercise.
If you’re young, don’t do what I did. I have considerable remorse over letting myself go physically and have paid a great price in hard labor to reverse the consequences. It’s a lot harder to fix a problem after the age of 50 than to prevent it at the age of 30; trust me.
If you’re a mature person and closer to my station in life, you can turn this train around like I have. It takes a lot of work but you have the rest of your life to execute the plan.
How Do You Turn Away From Bad Habits?
Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is in you. You have received him from God. You do not belong to yourselves. Christ has paid the price for you. So use your bodies in a way that honors God.
– 1 Cor 6:19-20 ESV
It’s simple but not easy and don’t confuse the two. Reserving time for exercise and choosing to eat well is not complicated. There is no excuse that builds the obstacle to the point of impossible or even nearing impractical.
You must steel your resolve that it is important to work on your health. Justifying why working on your health should be a priority is not my objective with this post but if you’re not sure about “the why,” I recommend doing some service work in an assisted living community. The prospect of needing to call for help when getting off the toilet in a few years will help with your motivation.
Four Tips For Developing A Healthy Lifestyle
1. Make it a Priority
The magic bullet if there were such a thing is the Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” I’m convinced from both my own experience and the shared experiences of many others that we are our own biggest obstacle to maintaining our health. You must commit to working on your health and fight any obstacle.
The practical requirements for prioritizing your health are simple; block out an hour on your calendar 4 days per week and eat your vegetables; simple. But you have other desires, plans and perceived needs that you’re convinced are immovable. You’re wrong.
2. Be Patient and Play the Long Game
Often if we don’t see some personally satisfying physical results in the first 30 days, we let ourselves quit. It’s pride and laziness that gang up on us and order the deluxe cheeseburger after skipping that 6am workout. We lose motivation without the positive feedback of our 20 year old beach physique; that’s pride.
Our own unrealistic expectations cause us to stumble. One personal trainer, Ty Barret, shared a pearl of wisdom, “it took you 15 years to get this out of shape, you’re not likely to fix it in 6 weeks.” It’s no wonder the gyms are packed in January and empty by April every year.
Unrealistic expectations and lack of patience can also produce stupidity in your exercise routine. If you injure yourself by overexerting, you won’t be able to stick to your schedule. Kirk Simmons, gym owner, gave me this goal, “my goal is to prepare you for tomorrow’s workout.” I love that! Put the work in while prioritizing consistency.
3. Be Practical About Eliminating Obstacles
My gym must be either very close to my house or very close to my office with great emphasis on the house. I have 20 years and a small fortune in gym membership fees to prove to myself that if it’s out of my way, I won’t go.
Put your workout times on the calendar and fight anything that tries to infringe upon the schedule. Work, family, social events, weather, etc will try to make you need to call for help when using the bathroom later in life…. As a practical matter, you must be prepared to overcome schedule conflicts when they arise.
4. Have a Wholistic View to your Lifestyle Choices
An exercise routine will not make you healthy by itself. Diet will not make you healthy by itself. Prayer, sleep, the great outdoors; none will make you healthy alone. You need to be working healthy choices into every facet of your life to succeed in the long run.
Fortunately, no one bad decision is likely to derail your new healthy lifestyle either. So as long as you are working to make wise choices overall, you will have a more balanced life with regard to your health and work.
So How Do You Balance Health With Your Work?
It’s simple but not easy and don’t confuse the two. You “Just Do It” and replace some portion of your time each week with new healthy activities. The not easy part is the hard conversation with yourself to identify specifically what you need to do to make it happen.
What time can work for exercise? 5am before everyone’s up, 12pm lunch hour, 7pm after a light dinner?
What days of the week and time slot are you going to block out on your calendar? I started with 3 workouts per week and am now up to six workouts per week. Start by scheduling what you know you are going to do and do that every week.
Where are you going to exercise? A gym near your home? A gym near work? A yoga mat at home?
I said you need to be practical and have a wholistic view to work life balance and health. Looking at the whole picture in a practical manner means recognizing up front that there will be pinch points on your new schedule and knowing that you’re going to resolve conflicts without sacrificing your health needs.
You may have to miss a meeting, skip a TV show, scale back screen time, delegate a piece of work or ask your spouse for some time without kid duty. But you will find a minimum of 4 hours per week to work on your exercise and make better choices with your diet, period.