This time of the year always feels so bittersweet to me. We're closing out summer, often full of fun and excitement and heading into the fall. If you live in the north like I do, the anticipation that comes this time of the year of the longer, colder and darker winter months can make me feel anxious and a bit down. At the same time, I know we need this transition. Many of us are sending kids back to school and a more structured routine after a summer of sleeping in, staying up late and snacking all day. At least that's what it's felt like at my house LOL. I don't know about you, but my family really needs to get back into a good routine. So it feels fitting to talk about the benefits of having or developing a solid routine.
I think it's important to first note that routines can improve our health in various ways by providing structure and organization. And if your summer felt a bit chaotic (see above), this time of the year can be a great time to pause and consider what a more structured routine might look like for you and your family.
Routines can help us manage stress more effectively. We all experience stress, and acute stress can actually benefit us. But chronic stress, which is ongoing stress or stress occurring over a sustained period of time, has negative effects on our health. Research shows that chronic stress is associated with headaches, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, digestive issues, our susceptibility to cancer, muscle tension, weight gain and chronic inflammation in our bodies. An effective routine can help reduce stress, which can ultimately improve our mental and physical health
and allow us more time to slow down and relax.
Routines can help improve our sleep. Our sleep schedule and bedtime habits can affect our mental sharpness, emotional well-being and energy. When we are able to maintain consistent bedtimes and wake times, we can improve our sleep and rest time. And we function much better. This is especially important for kids, especially kids going back to school, and busy or high energy kids. They may look like they're doing ok and can function on less sleep, but that can be very deceiving. Lack of sleep can actually contribute to poor behavior, short attention spans, irritability and poor performance in school.
When we prioritize and schedule grocery shopping, meal planning and prepping our meals for the week, we improve our overall health and well-being. When we don’t schedule this time it, it’s often easier to have an unhealthy diet by eating more fast food, take out or snacks because they are more convenient...especially after a long day when we’re already tired and the executive functioning in our brain is low. When we take the time to plan and prep, it gives us time to think about what healthy foods and meals we like and what will work for our families, making it easier to incorporate them into our everyday lives. One tip I often share is having healthy grab and go snacks for after school or work. Fruit, veggies and hummus, trail mix, nuts, or a high quality protein bar can be great ways to fuel while you're preparing dinner.
It’s easier to exercise when we schedule it in and make time for it. Having a daily routine that includes some form of intentional movement or exercise can help us stay active. We know that once we create some momentum and do something most days of the week, it's easier to keep going...especially on the hard days. An exercise program or schedule can help us to prioritize and budget our time appropriately.
Remember, we’re all different and have different lived experiences and obstacles. You may not need a fully scheduled day to experience the health benefits we get from having a routine. The goal is to make choices that feel right for you and your life.
Start small. Trying to change it all at once is overwhelming and often unproductive.
Make a plan and set some intentions. This can help keep you accountable and improve consistency.
Change your mindset and reframe your thinking around these changes you’re about to make. Developing a routine, or changing your behaviors isn’t about changing your whole life or the way you live. It’s about incorporating healthier habits that are sustainable into the life you’re already living so you can improve your health and live a better life not just for you, but for those around you.