Posted November 19, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit and the Small Steps with Big Payoffs

Every day I work with people who try to instill some form of change into their lives, whether it’s beginning an exercise program, sticking to a solid nutritional strategy, finding time to get in some recreational activities, or balancing everything with working intense hours. In doing this, I’ve found that trying to mould someone into a complete 180 degree turn from their current lifestyle is next to impossible, whereas getting them to do the smallest and least impactful things produces the biggest payoffs down the road.

An example of this. I had a client who was struggling to get food prepared in the morning to take to work. I asked about her nightly routine and what it involved, which for most people is pretty much the same thing all the time, and she was no exception. Bath, brush her teeth, lock the doors and windows, and then head to bed to read for 30 minutes before lights out.

I asked her if she would be able to make a quick and easy protein shake before she started her evening routine, put it in the fridge, and have it available for the morning when she woke up and had no time for anything, to which she said of course.

3 weeks later and she was still making her protein shake, playing with a couple different mixtures and berries, veggies, and other things to make a variety of flavours and she was finding it easier than making them in the morning. She now had food to take to work whereas before she didn’t, which was a success.

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This was a simple and small inclusion that barely affected her day, and had bigger payoffs than trying to do something with more involvement and that could potentially have a low adherence rate. These “low hanging fruit” are very simple to institute, and have a very high rate of maintenance, so today I wanted to talk about some of the best ones I’ve used or found effective for myself and my clients.

#1: Don’t hit the Snooze Alarm

When the alarm goes off, get out of bed. Period. If you’re one of the people who hits the snooze alarm until you have to basically sprint out of bed, you’re robbing yourself in a couple of ways. First, the sleep you have between snooze alarms is never deep enough to qualify as REM sleep, so you aren’t getting the restfulness needed to give you any tangible benefits, plus you’re already somewhat thinking of what you have to do for the day. Second, you’re robbing yourself of time that could be spent not running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get ready for your day. Imagine if you just got out of bed and had that extra 9 minutes to spare?

Every morning, my alarm goes off at 4:45 and I get up immediately, head to the bathroom and get in the shower. That’s what my wake up entails. By the time I get out of the shower, I’m somewhat more awake and ready to roll. If I hit the snooze, it’s tough to get going and the entire morning is more lethargic.

#2: Park at the very outside edge of the parking lot

It’s always a little funny when fully able bodied people circle a grocery store parking lot for 5 or 10 minutes trying to find the “best” parking spot closer to the doors compared to just heading to the no mans’ land of the outside edge where no one really parks, but that’s only about 10 steps further to get to the doors. This gives a couple of benefits.

First, parking further means you have to walk a few extra steps, which everyone ould probably use. Second, parking in a less high traffic zone makes sure you have less of a chance of someone dooring your car, scratching the paint, or running a cart into your bumper as they try to update their status with their produce selfie and aren’t aware of inanimate objects around them.

Not only will parking on the outside edge of the lot help you get a few more steps of walking in, it will likely save you on some body work for your car.

#3: Drink Water in Intervals

When I train clients, I sometimes go 4-6 hours in a row without a break, which means sometimes I don’t get a chance to eat anything substantial other than a couple of bites of food between clients. One thing I’m training myself to do better is have a couple gulps of water between each and every client in order to stay somewhat hydrated.

Edmonton is as dry as a styrofoam factory with the humidity turned down in the winter time, which means your body will have moisture production and loss without even realizing it, and this increases the risk of dehydration significantly. By having a couple of gulps of water, maybe 100 mL each time throughout the day, I can maintain some intake without needing to crush a litre during my break, which takes away valuable stomach real estate that could otherwise be devoted to meat and/or cookies.

You can do the same thing, even if you sit in an office. Set up an automatic scheduler through your Outlook or whatever calendar option you use and have it pop up every hour through the work day to simply say “drink.” Once this pops up, get up and go grab a quick drink, either at the water cooler or where ever you need water. If you have a water bottle on your desk, hit that sucker hard. Even if you’re in the middle of something, it gives you the reminder to do it, and then you can quickly dismiss it if needed.

#4: Sleep in a Bat Cave

Not literally, but make your room your Fortress of Solitude. I know the comic fan boys just pooped themselves a little with me referencing both Batman and Superman like they WERE ACTUALLY THE SAME THING!! but sleep environment plays a huge role in how restful and deep your sleep can actually be. Try to block out any and all light, even from electronics like clocks, televisions, etc. Make sure you have minimal to no noise in the room. Some people need a fan for ambient noise to block out other sounds, which is cool, as long as it’s relatively quiet.

Try to sleep in a room that’s slightly cooler than room temperature. For those who live by celsius, room temp is usually 20-22 degrees, so setting your sleep temperature to 18-19 degrees is sufficient. For those who don’t use celsius, ie. only Americans, try to set your room temp to about 63-68 degrees. You’ll be surprised how well you sleep, and if that seems too cold, try to throw a spare blanket on to make up the difference.

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#5: Eat Ready-To-Eat Fruits and Veggies

One basic reason a lot of people won’t eat more produce is because they don’t want to take the time to prepare them. Understandably, if you’re balking at the thought of doing an hour of veggie prep for dinner every night or peeling a pomegranate to get some seeds, it can seem like a daunting task, which is why you don’t need to do either of those things to get some veggies and fruit into your life.

Ready-to-eat fruits and veggies are awesome options to go to because they take absolutely no prep time and are usually portable too. An apple is one of the easiest things to take with you, as are small containers of grapes, berries, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, and a bunch of others that can come in and out of season throughout the year. Many bagged options come pre-washed, which means even less prep work from  you. Just grab and chew.

#6: Take 5 minute Active Intervals on busy days

Some days you actually have no time to work out, but you still want to be active and get some movement in. I know a lot of people may not be able to string together an hour straight to get their swole on, but they may be able to get a quick 5 minutes of activity to at least get something in. These “Active Intervals” can be very simple to hardcore, depending on where you are. I don’t recommend smashing out some burpees and squat jumps while in line for your passport, but you can still do some basic things like ankle stretches, shoulder shrugs, pelvic tilting and neck side bends without seeming like too much of a watch list candidate to everyone in the place.

If you’re at home alone, you could easily hit up a couple of squats, pushups, 1-foot deadlifts, and standing hip circles without interrupting anyone else. If you’re in a park and see a bench, hit up some squats, pushups, step ups, and arm swings. 5-6 of each movement is all it would take to get something started.

If you have somewhere that involves a lot of escalators or elevators, take the stairs once. When I was in London, the tube stations were a couple of flights of escalators away, and only a few stops had stairs, but in some cases there was a lot of them. I would rather do one flight of stairs for every 3 or four escalators, especially if those flights of stairs have sometimes in excess of 100 steps, but if you have a small flight, take the stairs instead.

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 #7: Do the Dishes Every Night

This is something I’m admittedly bad at, but doing the dishes at the end of each dinner can have a massive effect on not only keeping the kitchen clean but also ensuring you have all the tools needed to make meals when they’re needed, and also gets you to do some light chore type activity after a meal, which actually aids in digestion. Moving blood through your body at a low rate can increase blood flow to the digestive tract compared to sitting and watching the latest episode of the Voice, and as a result you will likely digest food easier and with fewer unpleasant side effects for you and everyone else around you.

If you have a dish washer, this is a prime time to unload and reload it, and then to wash up those dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher. You could also give the counters a quick wipe, sweep, or what ever is needed to be somewhat tidy.

#8: Schedule your workouts as non-optional

If you are planning to go to the gym, go to the gym. There shouldn’t be any thought of this and no way to back out in favour of something else. I work with a lot of executives and higher level management type, even some folks who run their own corporations, and a few politicians, all of whom have a lot of time demands and could easily just skip their workouts altogether. If they didn’t schedule their workouts in advance and stick to them, they wouldn’t get to have them.

In many cases, their workouts are the only times they aren’t tethered to work. One of my guys wakes up, checks his phone for emails, has his driver take him into work, is on the phone the entire time, works all day, drives home on the  phone, works at home, and then goes to bed with his cell next to him in case he has any emergency calls to get. He essentially works ALL DAY, and still makes working out a priority, because otherwise he wouldn’t get that time. It’s also the one hour where he doesn’t have his cell phone on him or someone asking him for something, which is worth it in his eyes just for that.

#9: Switch from coffee to tea every once in a while

Now I’m probably going to have people ready to go nuclear at the mention of this, because coffee is sacred and how dare you take it away from me!!?!?!?! Listen, I love coffee as much as the next guy, but EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE switching to tea won’t kill you or lead to you killing anyone else either. Plus, there’s a lot of health benefits in tea that aren’t available in coffee, just like there’s a lot of benefits to coffee that aren’t found in tea. Drinking both gives you advantages everywhere, and some teas have more caffeine than some coffees too, so there’s that.

One major benefits to teas, especially green teas, is a lower acid content, which is especially helpful for some folks with digestive issues or a higher risk of h. pylori infections. My dad had one a while ago, and was an avid coffee consumer. He measured his daily intake in pots, not cups. He was the only guy I ever knew who could finish his cup of coffee, go to bed and be asleep within about 10 minutes.

When he had to switch from coffee to tea to help treat an H. pylori issue, he was grumpy as imaginable, but he made it through, and actually noticed his waist circumference reduced without any other changes in his diet.

Now I’m not saying do a complete 180 and go from full on coffee to only tea, but every once in a while, either on a weekly or even every odd day, have one tea instead of one coffee. Green tea seems to have the best nutritional benefits, but there’s still a lot of benefits from other varieties, plus it gives you a different flavour profile to help you get some new experiences once in a while.

#10: Follow a Budget

This is one that doesn’t seem like it would have much relation to health or fitness, but it’s incredibly closely linked.

In a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association, 73% of Americans cited finances as a significant source of stress. Debt related stress is 14% higher in that issue compared to the same study published in 2004. More than 50% of those with insomnia cite financial stress as a possible reason they can’t sleep, and the number one cause of marital stress is finances, so understanding your money and what to do about and with it can be massively important to every other factor in your life.

Writing out all of your expenses in a month, ALL of your expenses, can be a bit of a cathartic moment as you realize just how much money comes in and out of your possession, plus helps you to see if your income matches your expenses. If you make less than you spend, you need to cut back. There is no ifs ands or buts about this. Setting a budget where all expenses are included and add up to less than you make, and then sticking to that budget can make a huge difference in your total stress level, plus let you plan for the future effectively.

I wrote recently about my own debt struggles and how I’ve recently managed to pay off all debts, and it was all due to simply admitting to myself that I needed to focus on it as a tangible goal, and work towards it with the same determination as I would anything in the gym.

If you have debt, pay it off. If you have no savings account, set one up. If you have an investment plan, continue to contribute to it. If you have money left over after all of this, you’re in a rarefied position, and NOW you can spend some money on some fun stuff. There is absolutely no point to continuing to buy new things while sinking further into debt, so understand where you stand on your own finances and you can make a huge impact in your overall health and wellness.

These are just 10 simple things you can do for the low hanging fruit that have big pay offs in your health and fitness. They aren’t the only 10 though, and if you have better ones go for it. I’m not the low hanging police or anything, so do what you want.

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