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8 Tips to Stay Healthy with a Busy Lifestyle

Are you a busy, serial multi-tasker? If so, it’s likely your own health is way down on your list of priorities. We urge you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to sit down, relax and focus on our ‘8 tips to stay healthy with a busy lifestyle’.  Because everything starts with a ‘ME’.

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1. Get some zzzzzzz

Sleep. It can’t be overstated what a good night’s rest can do for you. Experts agree that we need 7-9 hours continuous sleep in order to perform at optimum level. A prolonged lack of quality, restorative sleep (that’s several cycles which include the ‘light’ sleep cycle or ‘rapid eye movement (REM)’ phase) will seriously begin to affect not just your mental acuity, but, according to latest research, can also make you pile on the pounds.

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A small but influential U.S study conducted by the National Institutes of Health looked at how lack of sleep affects our insulin resistance levels. Glucose levels rise when we eat and our pancreas reacts by releasing insulin, which in turn acts like a ‘key’; opening up cells in our body so we can use this glucose (sugar) as fuel. If our body becomes ‘insulin resistant’ (as with type 2 diabetes) our body stops producing as much insulin and so the body can’t metabolize the sugary glucose, and instead we get fat.

The researchers monitored 7 healthy young adults whilst they slept for 8.5 hours for four consecutive nights, and then for four hours a night for another four nights. The results showed that the subjects’ whole-body insulin response decreased by an average of 16%, and the fat cells’ insulin response decreased by a whopping 30% when only getting four hours sleep a night. The researchers say that those levels are akin to the levels seen in diabetics or the obese. And when the team looked at the biochemical markers of an insulin response in the fat cells they removed from the subjects, they found it took three times as much insulin to cause a normal response after four nights of limited sleep.

2. Kick start your day – eat breakfast

You’ve heard it before but a healthy breakfast will kick-start your metabolism, bowels and central nervous system, provide essential fuel and, importantly, will ensure your blood sugar levels remain at normal levels, meaning you are less likely to feel irritable and hungry, and less prone to reach for an unhealthy snack mid morning. The ideal breakfast would be a fortified high fiber cereal or muesli, with some berries and fruit, probiotic yoghurt and seeds sprinkled over for good measure. If that’s just too chewy a concept for you first thing in the morning, a piece of whole wheat toast or a plain, wholemeal cereal (fortified with vitamins of course) and low fat milk will be enough to see you through till lunch. A homemade fruit smoothie with low fat yoghurt, and a spoon or two of whole grain powdered rice is a good alternative (see tip 5).

3. Drink lots of water

Another all round miracle worker, water really is a human body’s best friend. Aim for around 2 liters a day and you’ll not only flush through a ton of toxins, but you’ll be rewarded with better skin, glossy hair and improved mental alertness. It’s a good tip to stave off mild hunger pangs too – a cup of water will fool the stomach into thinking it’s full.

4. Go Super

That’s Superfoods, not supersized. Getting your ‘5 portions a day’ of fruit and vegetables really is one of the most beneficial adjustments you can make to your lifestyle. Concentrate on adding some of these ‘Superfoods’:

Omega 3 – Oily fish contains EPA and DHA and really does work wonders in maintaining a healthy heart, joints and brain function. Salmon, trout, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers all contain high levels but if you really can’t stomach these, flax and pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of omega 3 and can be eaten on their own or sprinkled over cereal, or why not try making up a batch of your own trail mix filled with dried fruits, nuts and seeds? (A handful of pumpkin seeds will also give you your entire day’s quota of zinc, essential for memory and brain-power!) Soya beans are a great source of omega 3. Buy frozen ‘edamame’ beans (the kind you get as an appetizer in Japanese restaurants), they take minutes to cook and make for a delicious and very healthy snack. (Pregnant women should always discuss the effects of Omega 3 and fish
oils with their physician first).

B vitamins, folic acid and lutein – Essential ‘fuel’ for red blood cell production, which prevents anemia, and vital for women’s health (particularly for maintaining a healthy reproductive function). Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, bok choi and kale are ideal but many cereals, wholegrain breads and freshly squeezed juices come enhanced with folic acid and count as one portion. (Check the labeling to ensure that they are indeed fortified with folic acid). Try eating some raw foods each day. Green salad leaves (beet and mustard leaves are an excellent source of folic acid and b vitamins), carrots and tomatoes will all work wonders. Tinned and frozen veggies count as one portion! (Just remember to go easy on the cooking time).

Flavenoids – The most recently hyped of the superfoods– the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in many red skinned foods such as blueberries and strawberries, but also citrus fruits, green tea and grape juice can help to guard against coronary disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes. A handful of blueberries a day – possibly the ultimate superfood – contains anthocyanins which protect against hypertension and are a fantastic way to get not just your boost of flavonoids, but a bunch of vitamins and some daily fiber. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has just published new findings, which show that, compared with those who do not eat blueberries, those eating at least one serving a week reduce their risk of developing heart disease by 10 per cent.

However, our favorite flavonoid-rich foods have to be dark chocolate and red wine. Yes you heard it correctly. Studies have consistently pointed to the health benefits of dark chocolate (the low sugar, high cocoa-content variety) as an anti- inflammatory, which contains ‘epicatechin’, a compound which improves blood vessel function and can help prevent strokes and heart disease. A single glass of red wine a day has long been proven to provide anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce heart disease risk too. Let’s face it, there could be worse ways to unwind after a busy day than with a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (researchers at the University of California say this has the highest level of flavonoids) and a cheeky bar of chocolate. We think this should be on top of your ‘big 5’, though, not in place of!

5. The blender is your friend

It’s so easy to w whiz up a vitamin packed smoothie consisting of fruit (frozen berries are ideal for this, and cheaper to buy) together with some orange juice, ice cubes, low fat yoghurt and maybe some green leaves (a cube of defrosted chopped, frozen spinach added is a great way to get your greens without too much of the taste!). Learn a few basic soup recipes to make up in batches on a Sunday and you’ll find they store easily, in the fridge or freezer, for those on-the-go days when you need a quick, healthy lunch. Mix up the basic blends by augmenting with herbs or spices, a few canned legumes, low fat yoghurt or crème fraiche.

6. Get some exercise

Ok before you throw the fitness DVD at us, we know how hard it can be for today’s multi taskers to find the time to fit in any kind of meaningful fitness regime. But there is hope! The United States Surgeon General advises 30 minutes of cardio per day will be most beneficial. That’s definitely more attainable, but still, for many of us, that might just as well be 5 hours because we simply don’t have the time. For a more manageable regime, Cris Slentz, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina suggests breaking this down into two or three separate workouts throughout the day. Assuming the intensity is identical to that of a 30-minute workout, you’ll burn the same number of calories and get the heart-health benefits. Try two or three fast paced walks, for instance, say first thing in the morning, at lunch and/or in the evening. Not only will you burn off calories, and increase your cardiovascular activity, but you’ll also raise your endorphins and feel better about yourself. It’s also a great way to get some quality ‘you’ time, without compromising your schedule too much.

7. A problem shared

It may sound a little hokey, but sharing your worries with a friend can be hugely beneficial for your mental well-being. It’s natural to feel that not coping will be seen as failure, and admitting to stress can make us feel vulnerable. It may not solve your work-load, but you may feel less burdened if you’ve been able to talk about it, and it’s surprising just how many of us are feeling the exact same way. Blogging or writing a journal can help if you aren’t comfortable talking. Try physically offloading some of your tasks too. This may seem easier said than done, but taking time out to prioritize and delegate more will pay dividends in the long run.

8. Meditate

It really works. A recent study by academics from Washington and Arizona Universities looked at the effects of meditation on multitasking performance. The study looked at whether training in meditation or relaxation can improve office workers’ ability to multitask on a computer more effectively and/or with less stress. Three groups of Human resource (HR) personnel were given 8 weeks of training in either mindfulness meditation or body relaxation techniques, and were given a stressful multitasking test both before and after training. A third group, a control group, received no intervention during the 8-week period but was tested both before and after this period. The results showed that, overall, task time and errors did not differ significantly among the three groups. However, the meditation group reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed; they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer. A short meditation podcast or cd played at your desk, at lunch, in the car between pick-ups and playdates, or before you go to sleep can do wonders for focusing your mind, lowering your stress levels whilst increasing your levels of relaxation.

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