Healthy meals or physical activity?
In a time crunch, which option should the health-minded choose?
Being physically active and eating home-cooked meals may help reduce the risk of becoming obese.
But when schedules are hectic one of the two health-promoting actions may be shortchanged, according to research.
When adults make time to exercise during a given day, they’re likely to do so at the expense of preparing food, according to a recent study by Rachel Tumin, MS, and colleagues at The Ohio State University College of Public Health, Columbus, Ohio.
However, you don’t have to substitute one beneficial habit for another.
“It doesn’t have to be either, or,” says Darryn S. Willoughby, associate professor of exercise/nutritional biochemistry and molecular physiology, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
You can incorporate exercise and nutritious home-cooked meals into your busy life if you take advantage of small chunks of free time and don’t require perfection, say health experts.
Take cooking for example.
If you think every dinner has to double as a tryout for the next chef competition, you may be overlooking the appeal of plain cooking, according to Suzy Weems, registered dietitian, professor and chair, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, Baylor University.
“Everything doesn’t have to have multi-mega ingredients. Get back to those simple, stripped down 30-minute meals, “ says Weems, mother of four.
One tip you can take from professional cooks is to prepare ingredients in advance, says the nutrition expert.
For instance, chop extra vegetables in the food processor and save for the next night’s dinner. Sauté a double batch of chicken strips and refrigerate half for another meal.
Exercise doesn’t have to be all consuming to be beneficial either.
Look for easy ways to move more.
“It doesn’t have to be structured exercise,” says Steven T. Devor, associate professor, department of human sciences and department of physiology and cell biology, The Ohio State University.
“Standing every day will improve your health risk profile. Get out of the chair and stand once an hour,” he says.
If you need a reminder, set a buzzer to go off once an hour to spur you to walk around the office.
Although efficiency is good to get everything accomplished, a little intentional inefficiency can boost your health.
“Try to do things less efficiently so you’re moving around more,” Devor says.
Your office, or your home, can give you a workout.
Take the stairs at work.
“Skip a step [going up] which turns the stairs into a lunge exercise. You can condition your lower body muscles,” Willoughby says.
Do squats while you’re in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil.
Partner with your spouse or children for a rowing exercise, Willoughby suggests.
Form a large towel into a U-shape. Grab the ends and have someone else grab the U as you “row” back and forth.
After a while you’ll find a number of “mindless” exercises you can fit into the day without thinking about it, say the experts.
“It’s all about prioritizing,” Devor says.
In addition, it’s important to get the most muscle for the moves.
Two exercises, push-ups and squats, provide maximum benefits for the time spent, according to Willoughby.
“If you can’t do regular push ups, do a modified one with knees on the floor. Push ups work muscles in the chest, shoulder and back of the upper arm with one exercise,” he says.
For your lower body, try squats, which work muscles in the thighs, hips and buttocks.
If you prefer lunges for the lower body, you’ll be strengthening your thighs, hamstrings and buttocks.
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