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The Healthy Benefits of Routines and Rituals – And How To Create & Sustain Them

When I ask my clients, “What are three things you feel that you should be doing for your health that you're not doing right now?” -- the first answer is almost always, "Go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier." That’s usually followed by, “Eat healthier." Number three is typically, “Exercise more consistently.”

What do all of these answers have in common? They require a little planning! As we all have experienced, important goals like these don’t just happen. Our days often get busy and we stay up late doing “just one more thing.” Then we’re so tired in the morning that we hit the snooze button, until we’re behind in our day before it even gets started! And if we’re already rushing in the morning, we don’t have the time for our best intentions. Instead, we skip our workout, hit the drive through, and stay up late – again. The good news is, some simple routines and rituals can end the chaotic cycle!

A few ways that rituals and routines can help you include:

1. Sleep better, deeper, longer. Studies show that the majority of adults function best with seven to eight hours of sleep. Getting enough quality sleep improves your mental clarity, your energy level, your mood balance, and your physical performance. Still, 40 percent of Americans get less than seven hours. How can you improve your sleep? Step one: bring back the bedtime!

Pick a consistent time for going to bed and waking – and stick to it. A sleep schedule will help you optimize your natural circadian rhythm. According to Northwestern Medicine, sticking to a consistent waking time may be the most important element to your body’s natural rhythm and feeling your best. You can do this! Go to bed five minutes earlier each night, until you hit your bedtime goal. Next, set the alarm clock five minutes early each day, until you hit your optimum wake time, getting at least seven to eight hours.

A bedtime ritual is important, too. Key suggestions include: closing the kitchen so you stop eating and drinking two to three hours before bedtime; turning off electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime (that’s right – break the binge-watching habit and stop texting in bed!); and taking time to relax, such as soaking in an herbal bath; reading; meditating, or simply talking with a loved one. One of my favorite sleep-prep meditations is from the Headspace app – check it out, it’s free! Do you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Let’s talk! I can help you make a few small changes that can make a big difference!

2. Manage stress. We all know that stressful feeling of running late for school, an exercise class, an appointment, or a meeting – our blood pressure soars, our anxiety rises and our tempers flare. Too much stress can lead to a greater risk of chronic high blood pressure, heart disease, and stored belly fat due to the over-production of cortisol. How can routines and rituals help? With just a little preparation and planning and identifying where you get stuck.

If you are following step one above, you’ve already given yourself some extra time in the morning. Good job! To ensure healthy eating throughout the day, start with a healthy breakfast routine. I like to recommend drinking warm water with lemon each morning. It serves as a natural detoxifier and astringent.

As part of your night time ritual, you can prepare your lemon juice ahead of time. Simply squeeze fresh lemon into an ice tray (I love this cute one from Joie). In the morning, just pop the frozen lemon juice into a glass of warm water.

Plan-ahead healthy breakfasts such as oatmeal, smoothies or pre-prepped omelettes can help you jump-start your day! Having time for breakfast gives your body the energy it needs to sustain you until lunch. It helps reduce the chances that you’ll be “hangry” by mid-morning and tempted by fast food or the vending machine. See the recipes below for great pre-prep tips!

3. Routines can also help you get and stay organized, and being organized leads to more time in your day. (You’re not wasting time searching for your keys, your phone, your files, etc.) Use the extra time to achieve your goal of getting to that workout or yoga class – another great stress-reducer.

Experts say that one of the best ways to stick to your daily exercise is to write it on your calendar and block that time like you would a business meeting, your child’s recital or game, or your dentist appointment! So book a date with a friend to go for a walk, run, or attend a yoga class together.

Many people book their exercise classes online with studios or gyms that require you to show up to avoid a cancellation fee. Find what works for you and protect that time to fit in your fitness!

As you tweak your routines or create new ones this Fall, I’d love for you to make a little extra time for you. Even 30 minutes to do something each day that makes you feel happy, healthy, and connected to others will give you a healthy boost. Giving yourself breathing room helps ensure that you have time for the things you want to do.

Now it’s your turn: What are your three things that you'd like to be doing each day or each week? What changes in your routine would help you make those things happen? If you could achieve those three things, how would it change your life? Close your eyes and picture the new you! On a scale of 1 to10, how important are these changes to you?

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