By Vado Porro • October 08, 2010•Writers in Residence
I was wrong.
I freely admit that at some point, I believed that people who worked from 7am until 11pm could simply get up an hour earlier and squeeze in a work out. I might have thought that getting up at 5am was no big deal and that it was possible to exercise on your lunch break.
Then I started a job that worked those crazy hours – I took a position with a campaign for state delegate that required pretty much round-the-clock work – 11pm was the earliest I was out. On good days, I didn’t have to be at work until 8:30 or 9, but on bad days, I had to be at the metro at 7am, passing out lit and smiling. What’s more, I was getting married in a month and was supposed to lose five pounds so that I could fit into my dress. I’m not being dramatic here – my dress was a sample size and was two sizes too small when I bought it. Even with the seamstress letting out every seam, I still had to lose the weight I gained during bar review.
The other problem with working those hours is that you can’t keep up the same eating habits you used to have. Healthy eating becomes a thing of the past. I found myself skipping meals and only realizing at 4pm that I hadn’t had either breakfast or lunch and was starving. I resorted to all of my old diet tricks - I attempted to keep the refrigerator stocked with healthy frozen meals that included vegetables. I relied on greek yogurt as a healthy, low-fat, protein rich snack. When we ordered pizza for lunch, I would eat my piece very slowly, trying to let myself get full before I reached for another slice. But I also would eat anything that was around when I was hungry, including whatever delicious and unhealthy food my boss brought into the office.
In a lot of ways, I’m lucky. Campaign life includes a schedule of daily door-knocking, which means that I was walking between two and five miles a day. This meant that on most days, I was able to fit in a good amount of daily exercise. But I became aware on days where we didn’t door-knock how impossible it was to fit in a workout. I had a conversation after the election with a candidate who does triathlons and he said that when he went to the track after the two months of door-knocking he did, he wasn’t in nearly the shape he was when he started. There is simply no staying in the same shape you’ve been in if your routine suddenly changes.
So there are two questions that come up with this kind of schedule – how do I stay in good enough shape to do the things I want to do? And how do I stay in good enough shape to stay healthy?
To do the things you want to do is a tough question. The first is to take stock. If you want to run a marathon, and you are adjusting to a busy work schedule – and this is not just for people that work insane hours, but for anyone making the adjustment from student life to working life – slow down your goals. Don’t commit yourself to doing anything in the future that you aren’t sure you can handle with your schedule. I won’t be signing up for a marathon until I have a full-time job and know I will have time to train. I also know that I won’t have time to do speed work or many runs during the week, so I will not be setting a time goal for myself.
The second is to do what you can, slowly. If you are trying to run long distances, go for long runs on the weekends – but build up your mileage very slowly, because weekend warriors are more injury prone than people who work out every day. If you are just trying to generally stay healthy, go for long walks or bike rides on the weekends – consider volksmarching (http://www.ava.org/) if you aren’t the hiking or biking type. Or sign up for some kind of dance, swimming, or martial arts classes. If you don’t have time on weekends because you are so busy during the week, consider ways to make your life easier – things like grocery delivery and a laundry service are often affordable and reduce the tasks and errands that take up time on the weekends that you could be using to have fun.
The other question is how do you stay healthy? Start with eating right – keep easy, healthy, snack foods around and never let yourself get too hungry. Set a reminder to eat lunch if you forget. If you have business lunches, order salads, steamed vegetables, and small portions. Start each day by stretching and doing pushups and lunges, which are the two most efficient strength building exercises (helping boost metabolism and prevent osteoporosis). When you do have time to exercise, go for circuit training, which combines strength training and cardio for efficient exercise.
Beyond that, do what you can. Work standing up. Take the stairs. Park far away. Pace while you are thinking. Go for walks at lunchtime, if you work someplace that is possible. Aim for at least 90 minutes of exercise a week – which can be 10 minutes a day during the week and a longer workout on the weekends. Also, make sure that you have regular doctors’ appointments where your blood pressure and cholesterol gets checked. These are two very important markers of good health, and you should make sure you take good care of yourself.