This week’s blog is part two of a two-part series from guest blogger Irene Marth. She is a Certified Personal Trainer and a lifestyle and wellness coach. Irene works to improve the overall quality of life for those she trains and coaches by adapting physical and mental behavior to work with and achieve their lifestyle goals. She shares some insights that will help you stay healthy during the busy season. Read Part One, here.

Busy season is in full swing and you're probably dealing with a lot of pressure and feeling overwhelmed by time constraints and volume overload. Take a minute now for some easy strategies to stress-proof your body and your brain and be more productive in your day.

In Part 1 of this series, I encouraged you to get out of your chair at work and move your body, make healthy food choices, and take a few mindful moments throughout your day to re-charge. In this post, we’ll incorporate more specific things you can do to make a bigger difference in your health and stress levels. Consistency and persistence make all the difference when it comes to reaching your goals. Persistence is necessary because there will be times when you don't feel like you have the time, or you simply don't feel like doing something. Consistency is needed to see results. The combined effort pays off in the short- and long-term in both mind and body wellness.

While we know our bodies are meant to move, exercise also benefits our brain by boosting brainpower. When you exercise, your thinking is sharper and faster and you improve cognitive skills and memory. Our stress-threshold is increased by exercise and it slows down the aging of our bodies. A higher stress-threshold means you can deal with the stress in a better way. If you've been getting up off your chair as I encouraged in my last post, you've most likely felt the difference in doing that one simple thing more often. During evolutionary times, man walked from 6 to 12 miles per day searching for food to survive. Today we do so much sitting – in front of our computers, our TV’s, and in our cars – that we have to incorporate ways to move to stay healthy and perform optimally.

Here are 7 activities you can add to your daily routine to increase your activity, but if you haven’t been active before, consult your doctor before you undertake these:

  • Incorporate chair squats in your day. Start by standing up out of your chair and then sitting back down. Do this 10x. Easy and effective. It may feel silly at first, but it's a fantastic way to build leg strength, improve balance, increase circulation, and energize you. See if you can do 10 repetitions 3x a day. Increase to 10 repetitions every hour, or add on 5 more –but just do it. Make it harder by barely sitting down before you stand up again.
  • Do you have stairs at your office? Use them! Not ready for several flights in a row? Climb one flight every day this week and next week do two.
  • Go for a brisk 10-minute walk, and then go for a second one later in the day. Remember, your DNA is programmed for much more.
  • In the morning when you first wake up, get down on the floor and do some push-ups. Straight leg or bent knee, commit to 10 repetitions to begin with and add more as you get stronger. Make it a daily habit.
  • After your push-ups, turn over and lie on your back and do 10 crunches. Your basic set of crunches is super effective for the entire abdominal region. A new study by the American Council of Exercise tested all the various machines and tools to target the abs, and the basic crunch still scores as high as or higher than fancy gadgets you have to purchase.
  • Add some stretches to get the circulation going.
  • Perform a circuit of 10 chair squats, 10 push-ups, and 10 crunches in your morning. Repeat all or any of these whenever you can throughout your day.

Eating Habits and Nutrition
You may be turning to food, healthy or not so healthy, to deal with the stress. Stress has been shown to cause people to consume more calories and especially crave sweet and fatty foods. Stress can also cause us to grab the nearest brownie or potato chip bag out of habit. We remember it made us feel better in the past so we reach for that again. You can change this habit by making a new association. Instead of reaching for that junky snack, substitute the urge with a better food choice or an activity. Don't rely on will power, it will only work for so long before you give in. Instead, decide on healthy substitutions ahead of time so you are prepared when the urge hits.

I want to re-iterate some food ideas from Part 1 to incorporate in your day:

  • Make mindful food choices and limit high sugar and processed foods.
  • Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Focus on getting 5-9 servings daily.
  • Eat high quality protein, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Drink green tea and water throughout the day to keep you hydrated and alert.

When you sit down to eat a meal, eat it mindfully and chew slowly. Too many times we hurry through our meals, not paying attention to our food. Perhaps you're eating at your desk and reading emails or processing work. Stop and give yourself a few minutes to focus only on eating. Chew slowly and really taste and enjoy the many wonderful flavors, textures, and the smells of your food. You will not only reduce your stress level, but you will feel more satisfied with your meal. Focusing on chewing your food and paying attention as you eat forces your mind to slow down the entire eating process. You may find you don't even eat as much and feel more full on less food.

Both exercise and a high-nutrient diet go a long way in helping you manage stress, and will also improve other areas of your life such as sleep. If you’re feeling stressed, your sleeping patterns and quality of sleep will likely be affected.

  • Aim for a minimum of 7.5 hours of sleep. Not sleeping enough has been linked to bigger waistlines.
  • Reduce or even avoid caffeine in your late afternoon/evening drinks. Caffeine begins to affect your body very quickly and reaches a peak level in your blood within 30 to 60 minutes. It's half-life is 3 to 5 hours. The half-life is the time it takes for your body to eliminate half of the drug. The remaining caffeine can stay in your body for a long time affecting your system anywhere from 8-14 hours.
  • Limit alcohol. It may initially sedate you, making it easier to fall asleep, but as your body metabolizes it, it can cause arousals that disturb your sleep and have you waking up feeling groggy and unrefreshed.
  • Sleep in a completely dark room and minimize light from windows as much as possible.
  • To regulate your sleep-wake cycle, increase light exposure production by introducing light into your home/workspace as much as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and if possible, move your desk closer to the window. Go outside, or take a walk during the day in the sunlight. To boost melatonin at night, turn off your television and computer. Many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day – this is a mistake. Not only does the light suppress melatonin production, but television can actually stimulate the mind, rather than relaxing it. Backlit devices such as iPads and cell phones fall into this group as well. Try some relaxing bedtime rituals such as reading a book or magazine, taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, or making simple preparations for the next day.

Small steps bring big rewards. Improving your quality of life will help you through busy season and it will also establish healthy and life-expanding habits for your future. These ideas will help you feel vitalized and happier and a better you will radiate out to everyone you come in contact with - and that's an asset worth working toward.