Having a hard time maintaining your health in a busy season?

For myself and fellow fitness enthusiast, busy seasons can feel like it’s the end of our health. I can remember having my second son, going to school full-time, working, and trying to maintain my health. In other words, I remember trying to do something impossible. Waking up at 5:30AM to coach CrossFit and then train, only to hop into the shower and get going right to school or work. It was manageable until I started to only get 3-4 hours of sleep per night. Eventually it caught up to me and everything came crashing down. I overslept for a 6am class I was supposed to coach. Not only did I let everyone who woke up for that class down, I realized that I had let myself down by having unrealistic expectations. Something had to give, but I didn’t know what.

Maybe you’re not a parent but you can sense that you’re in a busy season of life and your fitness seems like the only thing that can give. Here are a couple of things that have helped me along the way of trying to maintain health when life gets stressful:

Change Expectations

After my second son, I couldn’t balance everything for a while and I became disappointed that all my hard work in the gym seemed to be going out the window. I needed some help reevaluating my “new normal”. I reached out for some advice from Crossfit games athlete Elijah “EZ”  Muhammad on Facebook. EZ has four kids, runs a gym, and trains at a high level. He basically advised me to enjoy the season and look at it as an opportunity to focus on just a couple of things with a time domain. So instead of working on several things (strength, aerobic, gymnastics, etc.), use it as an opportunity to get better at one or two things in a short period of time. Maybe it’s a 10 minute AMRAP (as may reps as possible) in your front yard doing push ups and 100m sprints. Whatever it is, minimize the time and have appropriate expectations. In other words, be kind to yourself and remember it’s just for a season.

Focus on Sleep (or Rest)

Training should always be seasonal. What I mean is that your training should be constantly varied and you should be able to adapt to those variants throughout the year. In busy seasons, it can be a great opportunity to focus on sleeping and rest. In the book The Power Of Rest: Why sleep alone is not enough, Dr. Matthew Edlund explains that good sleep is required for weight control. One of the studies in his book showed that sleeping an extra 30 to 60 minutes a night helped decrease weight. The benefits of sleep are not just physically related but studies in Dr. Edlund’s book point out that rhythmic sleeping of 7.5 hours or more a night helps fight depression, increases memory and learning, and allows for new brains cells to grow. There are dozens of studies supporting sleep as one of the keys to maintaining health. If you’re having a new child, sleep whenever you can, as much as you can, wherever you can! If you can’t actually sleep, it’s important to still rest. Even laying down and closing your eyes for 15 minutes can repair brain cells and restore energy.

Focus on Diet

If you can’t sleep well and training is coming to a halt, one of the best things to help someone get out of this hard season feeling healthy and hopeful is good diet. Take your time focusing on eating well. Maybe you are too tired to go to the grocery store so you order healthy foods via Instacart and have them delivered to your doorstep. As important as exercise and sleep are, the saying is true, “You are what you eat”. If the season is particularly hard, such as care-taking, moving, or new baby, eating real food (not processed) is a great place to start because it will help your energy and sleep. I’m not advocating for any particular diet, but rather suggesting you create a plan that works with your current lifestyle to help attain future goals. When I was out of the gym for 5 months, I maintained my weight through diet and rest. While my overall absolute strength went down, my ability to come back was easier because I had rested well and maintained a healthy diet.

To recap, in busy seasons it’s important to adjust expectations so that health and fitness do not completely pause but rather serve to do what they were always meant to do: make life more enjoyable.  Be kind to yourself and have realistic expectations for those challenging seasons. Aim for shorter time domain training, focus on sleeping, and fueling yourself properly. Shalom.