by Bettie Andrews
Most of us are essentially living life on repeat: wake up, have coffee, eat breakfast, go to work, do your thing, eat again, work out, eat again, and sleep. So, why not make the nitty gritty stuff you always do work for you? Turns out, there are subtle changes you can make in how and when you execute tiny tasks each day that can offer a big payoff down the line. Make the most of your daily routine with these tweaks from Dr. Oz Garcia, a nutritionist and wellness expert in New York City.
When You Wake Up
Beep. Beep. BEEEEPPPPP. Sound familiar? Yeah, not fun. Instead of a beyond-annoying blast of noise to jolt you out of bed, set your alarm to your favorite song (and veer on the upbeat side, no Goyte “Somebody That I Used To Know” BS). “Hearing something pleasant is a way better way to start your day then dreading a sound you hate – it can truly set the stage for your attitude and mindset,” says Garcia. And, while the glare of streetlights and your next-door neighbor’s TV could be far from zen when you are trying to fall asleep, if you can, open up the shades, pre-bed. “Leaving the blinds up allows natural sunlight into the room in the morning, and signals to the body that it is time to get up in a soothing, natural way,” says Garcia. And, because the body takes a little time to get going (your body temperature gradually increases after you get out of bed, which in turn boosts alertness and memory), you should do just that right away – as in, get your heart rate up. “Try to do some yoga moves in your living room while you watch the news or go for a light run to jumpstart the body and raise your body temperature,” he says. Feeling lazy? Just jump in a warm shower instead. It won’t have calorie-blasting benefits, but it will get your temp – and you – up.
When You Eat Breakfast
The upside of having a healthy meal first thing is undeniable: It helps boost your metabolism and keeps you more satisfied, so you don’t feel like you want to scarf down a Big Mac by 1 p.m. And over time, that can greatly affect your waistline. In a study published in Cell Metabolism, one group of mice ate a high-calorie diet whenever they wanted to, the other ate the same diet only during active hours – and the latter were almost as healthy as the control group which ate a healthy diet, while the former were pretty much obese. But, don’t take that as a green light to just pop into the bagel store every morning. “Refined foods such as bagels, muffins, or croissants can raise your blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry,” says Garcia. “It’s better to have some protein so that you can stabilize your blood sugar levels through to lunch.” His top pick: a DIY smoothie with superfoods such as chia seeds (newly popular and omega-3 and fiber-rich), maca (a nutritionally packed medicinal herb) or goji berries. “Berries are great for increasing your metabolism and energy,” he says. He also suggests adding in some be-healthy supplements in the a.m., such as AHCC (short for active hexose correlated compound) to round out your morning nutrition: “AHCC, is a natural, mushroom-based supplement that helps support and boost the body’s immune system and may also aid in healthy blood pressure,” he says.
When You’re At Work
Okay, so you hit your desk, coffee in hand, and what do you probably do to ease your way in? Open up your email, right? Well, you’re not alone. Research shows that early a.m. emails are the ones that are most likely to be read. Can’t get your boss to answer you about that new project? Send it first thing so it pops up as soon as she/he is in and can to respond before getting sidetracked. And don’t forget to scroll through your Twitter feed. Research shows that the most positive messages are posted between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., so that’s the best time to get your fix (and possibly use other peoples’ shout-outs to help your day go better, too).
When You Eat Lunch
The bad news: as soon as your body temperature hits its max, your brainpower starts to decline. So, as soon as you get all powered up, your alertness starts to go blah. And then it hits an all-day low at around 2 p.m., which makes eating an early-ish power lunch even more crucial – and it’s not enough to just grab a latte when it’s too late. Garcia suggests having a handful of almonds or a hardboiled egg for a snack – not hitting the vending machine. “Almonds contain vitamins, minerals, protein, and essential fatty acids; eggs contain choline, a nutrient beneficial for the brain,” he says. And when you do eat lunch, try not to munch in front of the computer. “It is better to eat away from your desk to change your environment, as being relaxed while you eat improves digestion,” he says. And if you’ve got an all-out creative meeting midday, don’t ask the intern to go for a Starbucks run. Research shows that being a little fatigued can actually increase creative thinking, possibly because your brain isn’t able to be overly analytical and can be a little more ‘free’ in its thinking.
When You Work Out
If you’re a morning worker-outer, good for you. If you tend to hit the gym or Barry’s post-work, also a big thumb’s up! The only downfall: studies show that muscle strength tends to reach its optimum level before 2 p.m. (again, tied to that whole body heat rising thing mentioned earlier); and lung capacity also surges around early evening. Now, telling your boss you need to cut out for that midday gym class or leave before 5 p.m. to have your best run might not go over well. So, try working up a sweat during those time slots on the weekends, when you have more control over your day – or just add in a morning workout here and there (to reap the benefits of that early strength). And if all else fails, Just. Do. It. Whenever you can – and stick to it. “Often it’s the consistency of working out the same amount of days per week in similar time frames that really helps the body change,” says Garcia.
When You Eat Dinner
You’re stressed, you’re hungry, and the next thing you know, you’ve had more carbs than you can count and downed your body weight in vino. Immediate satisfaction granted. Long term? Less so. The smarter bet to calm you down and keep your blood sugar levels balanced? Be like Elaine and have a big salad – or tons of veggies. Think of carbs like the crack of the food world: they hit all the feel-good dopamine receptors in your brain, so you feel a whole lot happier, but then you start to crash (along with your insulin levels). And then? No bueno. And although eating a few hours before bed is recommended by nutritionists, it’s not always possible in real life. Instead, try the 12- hour rule. Have a healthy din (whatever time that is), then don’t snack, and eat breakfast 12 hours later (so, if you eat at 9 p.m., have breakfast at 9 a.m. the next day). Experts say this helps give the digestive system a break – it’s been working all day to process what you’ve put in there, so at night you need to cut it some slack.
When You Go To Bed
Sleep is the ultimate get-healthy Rx: Not only does it allow you to re-boot basically every system and cell in your entire body, but how much and how little you get of it also can greatly affect the choices you make the next day. Research shows that when you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to crave and indulge in subpar food choices without knowing it – this is believed to be because a lack of zzz’s skews your right-from-wrong nutritional filter. And although eight has always been deemed the magic number when it comes to the hours you should try and rack up, nightly, experts are now saying that seven is enough – just make it count. As in, shut off your phone and the reality TV, and hit the sack before midnight. “The quality of your sleep declines in the later hours due to a dramatic decrease in melatonin production, which is the chemical needed for deep sleep,” says Garcia. And popping Ambien isn’t a great choice on a regular basis, as it doesn’t help with your body’s natural sleep hormones. Instead, try a melatonin supplement, as well as one laced with minerals such as magnesium, which helps relax muscles, naturally.
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