You know the health rules: floss daily, get enough sleep, eat lots of fruits and veggies, etc. But you’re busy. Really busy. And sometimes flossing before falling face-first into bed is about as realistic as Santa swinging by to fold all your laundry overnight. And iron it, too. But instead of giving up on those healthy ideals altogether, try these effective, second-best solutions.
The ideal: Eat a healthy pre-workout snack
The next best thing: You have three options, says Amy Goodson, the Dallas Cowboys’ sports dietitian. If you can’t squeeze in a full-blown snack before your workout try:
1. Grabbing a few bites of an energy bar or trail mix.
2. Taking a few sips of a carb-protein shake (e.g. Ensure, Boost).
3. Sipping a sports drink that provides carbs and electrolytes.
Still not an option? “If you can’t eat pre-workout, be sure to refuel post-workout,” says Goodson.
The ideal: Warm up thoroughly before a workout
The next best thing: Start slowly and increase your intensity gradually.
“One of the main goals of warming up is to prevent injury and maximize the gain from your workout,” says Dr. David W. Kruse, sports specialist with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif. Start off with lighter weights or a modified range of motion until you’re nice and warm before going all out.
The ideal: Eating enough fruits and veggies every day
The next best thing: Get back on track in the next day or two.
The amount of produce you’re supposed to take in every day depends on your age and activity level (calculate how many you need here), but getting them all in isn’t always realistic—and that’s OK, says Goodson. It’s no problem if you skimp on fruits and vegetables once in awhile.
“The adult body regulates its nutrition over a 2 or 3-day period, so if you don’t get in all your veggies today, pick up your intake the next day.” Goodson recommends looking for high-fiber fruits like apples or berries when vegetables are in short supply.
If you don’t like eating vegetables, finding new ways to eat and cook them may make you eat them more often and get healthier.
The ideal: You stretch at the end of your workout
The next best thing: Stretch later in the day.
Different philosophies and varying medical research makes it unclear when it’s the most ideal time to stretch, says Kruse, meaning it’s OK if you can’t fit it in right after your workout.
“Stretching for most people is still important to do at some point, though, and some studies even show that we can gain the most from stretching when it’s done separately from the main workout.” If you stretch later, make sure to warm up first, he says.
The ideal: You don’t sit at a desk from 9 to 5
The next best thing: Get up at least once an hour.
We hear you: All the studies in the world showing the dangers of sitting aren’t going to change the fact that you have a desk job, but there are ways to work around it. When you’re on deadline and super-swamped, make it a point to develop a regimen that works for you and puts you in motion, says Kruse. For example, set your phone alarm to buzz every 30 or 60 minutes, and then stand up and stretch or go get a glass of water. Setting an alarm sounds silly, but isn’t a little bit of feeling goofy worth lowering your risk of heart disease?
The ideal: You get 8 hours sleep a night
The next best thing: Take short, 20- to 30-minute naps.
After a late night, resist the urge to sleep in the following morning. “This shifts your sleep cycle forward similar to jet lag, and you’ll have problems falling asleep at your usual time the following night,” says Dr. Peter A. Fotinakes, medical director of St. Joseph Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Orange, California. It’s better to force yourself up at your normal out-of-bed time, and deal with fatigue with a quick nap later.
The ideal: Flossing every night
The next best thing: Floss the next day.
Nightly flossing is ideal, but it’s acceptable to do it every other day, as long as it’s thorough and you don’t have a family history of gum disease, says Gordon L. Douglass, a past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. On days when you’re not going to floss, swish water around in your mouth after brushing; Dr. Douglass says this has been shown to reduce bacteria.
The ideal: Stop eating 2 to 3 hours before sleeping
The next best thing: Eat a small dinner.
While it’s a myth that eating close to bedtime packs on the pounds (as long as you’re within your caloric needs for the day, of course), late-night eating can trigger some uncomfortable digestive issues, says Goodson. To ease digestion and avoid overeating, it’s more about what you eat and the amount you eat late at night rather than how late you eat, says Goodson. “Choose nutrient-rich foods and eat until you’re not hungry—not until you’re full.” If you get home late, eat a small meal containing protein, fiber, and a little healthy fat, such as a salad with chicken, veggies, and a few slices of avocado.
The ideal: You turn off all electronics 1 hour before bed
The next best thing: Choose electronic activity that’s not mentally stimulating.
Blue light from mobile devices and TVs prior to bedtime can disrupt sleep, studies show. But if you’re hooked on movies before bedtime, watch a quiet love story rather than an action flick, says Fotinakes. “Performing intense, mentally provocative activities just prior to bedtime will leave your mind stimulated when you finally try to sleep.” (Not to mention give you nightmares—ever watched The Walking Dead before turning in? Yikes.)
The ideal: You meditate daily
The next best thing: Listen to an inspiring or relaxing song.
Meditation can help reduce the risk of stress-related disorders, including inflammation and heart disease, but listening to music can also help. “It enables you to shift from being in logical, task mode to a more positive, reflective mode,” says Heidi Hanna, author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress. “This decreases stress hormones and enhances feel-good endorphins.”
The ideal: You go off the grid during vacation
The next best thing: Limit email checks.
A “digital detox”—getting away from all email and social media—is necessary and healthy, says Hanna. “But if you can’t go off the grid completely, be strategic about when you check in so you’re not constantly on the clock.” Decide on a realistic set time (no more than 5 to 10 minutes) and check in no more than twice a day.
The ideal: You get at least 30 minutes of daily exercise
The next best thing: Strive for three 10-minute increments of any activity.
The current guidelines give us goals for aerobic exercise (30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week) and resistance training (train each major muscle group 2 to 3 days per week). “However, it’s important to look at your overall trend across multiple weeks,” says Kruse. “Don’t stress if you miss a day.”
Simply break up the recommended times into shorter sessions of at least 10 minutes in length if you can. Or try being NEAT. Short for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” NEAT refers to calories burned while doing everyday activities. Standing while talking on the phone, walking around your office, or simply fidgeting increases metabolic rate and boosts calorie burn significantly throughout the day.