66 days to change: Are we too busy to be healthy?

This week I had one of those days where it was all a little too busy. And I didn’t like


This week I had one of those days where it was all a little too busy. And I didn’t like the feeling it left inside me. From the moment I woke up I felt like I was running a 100m sprint ‘ basic tasks, like breakfast and smoothies were hurried, I was racing to work, running errands, picking up kids, rushing to get supper on the table. By the time I got into bed, I was buzzing from the day.

Sound familiar?

I’m preaching to the choir: According to a 2013 study a third of Canadians are ‘crazy busy’ ‘ and often feel overwhelmed by work. We don’t leave this frantic pace in the office, often matching it with busy extracurricular lives. We are living our lives at a speed we can’t keep up with and the cracks are showing. Perhaps the biggest crack is in our health.

According to recent Heart and Stroke studies, Canadians report they are ‘too busy’ to take care of their health. Statistically, we know this to be true: people are spending more hours at the office, less time in fitness and leisure, and relying on ready-made products instead of cooking from scratch. Our sodium intake is double what it should be mainly because we don’t know what’s in our food. Hidden sugars and fats are making us fat, leading to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity. One in five Canadians smoke, and one in ten report themselves as heavy drinkers.

But we claim we’re too busy to be healthy. Let’s address this straight on ‘ we’re willing to die earlier, or to live the last few years or our lives in illness, because we’re too busy to do what’s good for us.

I’m fortunate ‘ I get paid to be healthy. I teach and write about fitness and health; part of my job is to know the difference between chia and flax seeds (A tip: both are great sources of Omega 3s and fibre, but you have to grind the flax otherwise it can pass through your system, robbing you of the health benefits)

Most Canadians don’t teach spin classes. Or attend them. In fact, 44 percent of Canadians report they are too busy to exercise or eat healthy; 85 percent of Canadians don’t get the 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity they need each week. ‘On an individual level, this affects Canadians physically, mentally and in their social well-being. But at the government level, it is costing us six billion dollars annually,’ says Dr. Ian Jansenn, an associate professor at Queen’s University and the Canada Research Chair of Physical Activity and Obesity.

But you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by the 150 minutes ‘ you can do 10 to 20 minutes a day, or break it into 30-minute chunks, five days a week. You can even stack even all the exercise into the weekend, getting 75 minutes on two days, still reaping the health benefits. Being physically active will lead to a longer life, plain and simple. That doesn’t seem to matter. As a society, saving our own lives appears to be a moot point.

If you’ve tuned me out, I’m not surprised: According to Jansenn and his colleagues, negative messages don’t work ‘ people don’t want to hear they are going to die. ‘You have to ask a sixty-year old grandmother  ‘ do you want to watch your  grandkids graduate from high school? That’s when people start to make changes.’ Or, if they get the wake-up call like a heart attack or stroke. The fridge fills up with spinach and wheat grass after the defibrillator has come out.

I know how hard it is to change. But what is important to you?

Giving up processed sugars has been tough, but I know in the long run it is worth it; doing more yoga, and getting more sleep are also vital for my health.

Which is why when I had my ‘crazy busy’ day this week, I was disappointed with myself. I’d made a commitment that I was going to slow down; I was going to begin the day with ‘me’ time and 10 minutes of yoga. I was going to embrace moments of stillness. It just didn’t happen. Later in the afternoon, when I hit my wall, I craved sugar. Big surprise.

The next day was better. There is something liberating about knowing that each day brings a new canvas upon which we can paint our lives.

I’ve been going at these big and small changes for six weeks, and that feels like a lifetime’but it is simply the beginning of a new life. Every day we are presented with choices: Are you going to set the alarm, to get a quiet coffee on your own before the kids get up? Are you going to make time for the gym? Pack a salad instead of going to the food court? Plan a stir-fry instead of ordering in pizza? Are you really too busy to eat healthy tonight? Or is that what you’ve told yourself?

Small changes can lead to big changes. You have to believe you can change.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.