Just in time ... 10 ways to make more time for your health

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

Woman waking up happy with alarm clock in foregroundI've written about the importance of paying yourself first, health-wise. This approach keeps you in optimal health, giving you the energy and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Here I share some practical ideas of how to find more time for your health. 

Let me start by saying I am not a productivity expert.

Believe me, I can waste time with the best of them, and some days I feel like the most unproductive person on the planet.

I have, however, come across some useful tips that  made a big difference for me. Here is my personal "top 10 list" of ways I've found to free up time, making it easier to fit in healthy activities (such as exercising, preparing healthy meals, getting more sleep, spending quality time with loved ones, etc.).

I love to learn from others, so if you have some good tips, I would love to hear from you.

Here goes ...

10. Put limits on screen time. I think  intentionally setting aside some time to relax and enjoy a good TV show is fine. However, mindlessly flipping through channels is a huge time waster. In addition, putting time limits on non-productive screen time (such as searching the Internet or browsing social media) is also important. Personally, aside from an occasional movie with my husband, I rarely watch TV.

I try to limit non-productive screen time to less than an hour per day.

9. Put exercise before housework. (Note: This is a health blog, not a good housekeeping blog.) Personally, regardless of how high my laundry pile is, I don't tackle the house chores until after I exercise. Sometimes I fold clothes while lifting weights (during resting periods), but exercise is the priority. In the long run, the exercise I do each day is going to matter much more than the tidiness of my home.

8. Simplify. The less stuff I buy, the less stuff I have to deal with (and the more money I have!). I try to avoid stores as much as possible (with the exception of the grocery store). If I step inside Target, I'm done. One hour and $300 later, I have a car load of stuff I never knew I "needed." So, I try my best to avoid places with lots of shiny things (or clothing) to get me off track.

7. Time yourself on tasks you don't like doing. I do this with charts/documentation at work. When it's time to sit down and get my documentation done, I find myself needing to get something to eat or drink ... needing to talk to someone ... checking e-mail ... pondering life ... anything to avoid charting. But this, of course, only prolongs the pain.

By timing myself on each chart, it forces me to focus on the task at hand and not get side-tracked. 

6. Take advantage of audio. For tasks that don't require a great deal of mental effort, such as folding laundry, doing dishes, cleaning up the house, or running/walking, this can be a great time to expand your mind with audiobooks and podcasts. (Remember, it's important to nurture your intellectual, emotional and spiritual health, too.) I learned this trick in PA school, when I found it much more enjoyable to re-listen to lectures while outside getting some exercise, rather than spending all my time in the library. Audio format is how I prefer to do most of my "reading," including continuing medical education, mainly because it allows me to do other things. (I typically use just one earbud so  I'm still aware of things going on around me.)

5. Become a morning person. I know the night owls will disagree , but several studies have shown  rising earlier is linked to higher productivity. This is another trick I learned in PA school, where I found it much more helpful to go to bed at 10 p.m. and get up at 4 a.m. to study (after some good rest and with the help of a good cup of coffee), than to try to stay up til 2 a.m. when my brain was not functioning well.

(Note: This tip only works if you go to bed earlier. See #10—turn off the screens.)

4. Cook massive quantities and freeze some. I have a family of four, but I cook for an army. If you're going to go through the trouble of cooking, why not get several meals out of it? I've learned  my freezer is my friend. It's so convenient (and economical) to freeze home-cooked meals and enjoy them later with minimal prep and mess.  

3. Find creative ways to add exercise into your day. If you have a lunch break, try doing something active during that time. (You don't have to get drenched in sweat. A daily walk is great.) Are there stairs where you work? Taking just a few minutes to quickly run some stairs gets your blood pumping, improving your physical and mental state. If you have exercise equipment at home, use it for a few minutes in the morning before taking a shower. (It doesn't have to be an hour-long workout. You can work up a nice sweat in 15 minutes.)

Incorporate exercise into family time, such as playing a game outside with the kids or going for a walk or hike together. Small changes can lead to big results over time.

kids cleaning windows2. Recruit help. In my household, my husband and I both work outside the home, and we both help with the housework. Also, our 4- and 6-year-old kids are perfectly capable of cleaning their rooms, picking up their messes, helping with clean-up after meals, helping with dusting and vacuuming, and even folding some of their clothes. If you can afford it, hire a housekeeper. (I don't personally do this now, mainly because it's hard for me to pay for something I can do myself, but it would probably be smarter if I did.)

1. Just say no. Say yes to the things that are truly important to you, but politely decline the rest. This one is easier said than done, but so important. When you say yes to one thing, you're saying no to something else (such as family time, exercise, sleep, etc.).

Before committing, ask yourself if it's truly worth it.

So, those are some of my favorite tips/ What are some of yours? Please share! 

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post—along with helpful links to other resources—originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.