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March 31st, 2020

The Power of Routine – And What To Make A Part Of Yours

Let’s get scheduled!

 

 

Maintaining a routine is more important now than ever—here’s why:

These unprecedented times (cough, cough coronavirus) have undermined everything we thought we knew about “normal” life, for better or worse. While we have all found some silver linings to our new normalextra quality time with loved ones and free commuting hours to read or cook more than we usually dothere is no doubt that the pause in our normal routines has affected more than just our daily work schedule.

Over the last few weeks months, self-care may have taken a back seat to work, kids, home-school, and TV marathons, and we’re not just talking about your 10-step skincare routine. Exercise, diet, hydration, and sleep are some of the most important determinants of health but are also the first habits to fall to the wayside as soon as we’re thrown off our normal schedule.

Routines are the structure we never knew we needed.  They keep our internal clock ticking, our minds sharp and our bodies moving. Without a routine, our circadian rhythm, the biological regulatory system that keeps us awake during the day and asleep at night, is completely thrown off. Have you been sleeping more or less? Feeling more anxious than usual? Have you noticed you’re not going to the bathroom regularly or at all? By now, anyone who had been dreaming of a few weeks off is likely itching for a return to their office.

Here’s the good news: with every change in routine comes the opportunity to create a new one. While it may look different from your old “normal,” the new normal can be just as structured, and with a few small tweaks, you can get your groove back. So get your Google calendar out, or a pen and paper if you’re old school, and let’s get scheduled. Here are 4 things to add to your calendar this week: 

(1) DAILY EXERCISE 

With the increased restrictions on venturing out and mandates for social distancing, many people have been thrown off of their normal exercise routine. Decreased exercise is associated with constipation and anxiety in the short term and increased risk for chronic disease in the long-term. Studies have shown that exercise has strong anxiolytic effects, meaning it can effectively help to reduce anxiety naturally, and improved bowel functions through reduced transit time in the gut. Less anxiety and better digestion means better sleep. It’s a win-win!

This week, schedule a daily walk for yourself. Even a 10-20 minute brisk walk daily improves gut motility and speeds up movement through the digestive tract. 2-3 days this week, add on a strength or resistance-based exercise at home to increase levels of those “happy” neurotransmitters like serotonin, which has an anti-anxiety effect. A regular exercise practice is the first step toward normalcy.[i]

(2) 35+ GRAMS OF FIBER

If you’re an F-Factor pro, you know how much we value our favorite F word- fiber. Why? Fiber is the miracle carb. It increases the frequency of normal bowel movements and keeps us full for hours while maintaining blood sugar within the normal range, which is more important than ever. Did you take the first few weeks of isolation to go all-out on cookies and pizza? Likely you experienced some blood sugar spikes, leading to a cycle of temporary “euphoria” followed by cravings, crashes, anxiety, and sleep interruption.

Consumption of high glycemic foods has been shown to contribute to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In one study, a higher intake of whole grains and fruit, high-fiber foods was associated with a reduced incidence of insomnia. Want to sleep better? Tired of this new constipation? Make it a goal to reach at least 35 grams of fiber per day. Bonus points if you journal every day [ii]!

(3) 3 LITERS OF WATER

Whether it’s because we’re exercising less (a time when most people can easily get in at least a bottle of water) or we’re out of normal work routine, we’re drinking less water. I don’t know about you, but I have found it significantly harder to drink my normal 3 liters now that I’m not in the office, where I’m conditioned to keep my water bottle full. With 35+ grams of fiber a day, it’s important to stay hydrated to keep things moving and prevent constipation. Changes in water intake have also been associated with positive and negative changes in sleep/wake cycles, meaning that drinking less water than you’re used to can have detrimental effects on mood and energy. The opposite was found for those who increased their water intake.

Drinking 2-3 liters a day is associated with less fatigue and fewer reports of sleepiness. If you’ve been having trouble getting those 3 liters in, set alarms on your phone or pencil your “liter goal” into your calendar. I’ve been aiming to get 1 liter of water by 12 pm, 2 liters by 3 pm, and 3 liters by 6 pm [iii].

(4) SCHEDULE YOUR SLEEP 

This may sound counterintuitive, considering this might be the only time in recent memory you’ve had the opportunity to “sleep in,” but getting too little or even too much sleep can counteract the otherwise positive changes you’ve made to your routine. Circadian rhythm is our internal clock that helps to regulate our daily functions, including our sleep/wake cycle and our digestion. If you’re used to waking up at 7 but have been sleeping until 10, or you’ve been awake all night watching TV, you might notice increased sleepiness and changes in bowel movement frequency. Sleep disruption and sleep disorders are associated with IBS and functional constipation.

If you’ve been getting too little sleep, it could be for a number of reasons, including anxiety. If you’re spending too much time in bed during the day, but not spending enough of it sleeping at night, try only getting into bed when you’re ready to go to sleep. Sleep hygiene 101 states that consistency is key. This week, decide what time you’re going to go to bed, and set an alarm to wake up even if you don’t have to, especially on the weekends. If you find you’re too anxious to fall asleep, get out of bed and read, FaceTime with friends or family, or do a puzzle or brain teaser until you feel tired enough to get back into bed.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Routines are KEY to optimal health and wellness, for everything from mental health to digestive health. If you’re ready to get into a new routine, try these tips this week and let me know how you feel.


[i] Schuch, Felipe B., et al. “Physical Activity Protects from Incident Anxiety: A Meta‐Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies.” Depression and Anxiety, 2019. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/da.22915
[ii] Gangwisch, James E, et al. “High Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets as Risk Factors for Insomnia: Analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oxford University Press, 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31828298.
[iii] Pross, Nathalie, et al. “Effects of Changes in Water Intake on Mood of High and Low Drinkers.” PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 4, 2014,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3984246/