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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Lauren Zakrajsek

Recent Posts by Lauren Zakrajsek:

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

GettyImages-857107456nGrowing up and continuing to live in the Midwest, I’ve grown to appreciate the summer months more and more. In fact, in Michigan we joke that there are really only two seasons:

  1. Sweltering summer with a side of construction.
  2. The endless frozen tundra that is 8 months of winter.

Long story short? When it’s nice enough to not have to wear a parka to brave the outdoors, you best believe I’m outside on a bike ride, relaxing by a lake, or unplugging on a hike in the woods during my down time.

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

I’ve always felt like this has helped me recharge my batteries, anecdotally at least. But now, more and more research is mounting to support the idea that simply being in nature has numerous benefits to health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis completed by Jones & Twohig-Bennett (2018) found statistically significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure, incidence of diabetes, and salivary cortisol (hello decreases in stress), while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving life expectancy and mental health. Not too shabby, right?

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

But how much time do you need to spend in nature to reap the rewards for health and well-being? It looks like current research is supporting the 120-minute threshold per week.

White et al. (2019) examined results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England, which included 20,000 people over a three-year span. They found that those who reported being in nature for two hours or more during the week were overall healthier and had a greater sense of well-being compared to those who did not get outside at all. Spending 60 to 90 minutes came with some improvements, but it was not as significant an effect as two hours. And over 5 hours per week had no additional benefits. What’s more, these results rang true across all demographics examined in the study: age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, proximity to nature—all exhibited improvements to health and well-being at the two-hour mark.

So, the moral of the story? While the exact mechanism remains unknown, making time in your schedule to get outside in some way, shape, or form for two hours a week (in ANY increments of time) can not only help you mentally recharge, but also significantly improve your health and well-being going forward.

For some tips on exercising outdoors safely in the summer, check out this blog.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: outdoors cardiovascular outdoor exercise stress relief longevity nature mental health well-being

The Do-Something Motivation Principle: Nike Was Right!

GettyImages-1086377774We’ve all been there, right? You’ve chosen a new habit that you want to form: go to the gym four times a week, choose one day a week to grocery shop and meal prep, maybe start work on that side hustle you’ve been meaning to do for years. You’re all in, gung-ho for about five days, and before you know it, you’ve fallen back into the same routine as before. That bright flame that once was your motivation has faded into the background. Now what?

Just Do Something

Relying too much on willpower or waiting for motivation to strike is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to habit formation, or just keeping up with the craziness of each day’s to-do list. Motivation is fleeting. It comes and goes just like the wind. But there is one trick you can use to help breathe some life into your willpower: The Do-Something Principle.

Like the name implies, by taking one small, actionable step, you can help elicit some feelings of accomplishment and inspiration to push you ahead. I loved the way Mark Manson described it: “Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.” (Read more about Mark here—but be advised that his writing includes expletives.) And it’s him I credit for the Do-Something Principle.

Action Leads to Inspiration, and More

The principle looks a little something like this:

Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation -> New Action

Too many times we think that the order of the operations is inspiration, followed by motivation, which then leads to action. But this rarely happens. And if it does, it’s usually short-lived at best. Sometimes just accomplishing a small task, like saying “I will put my gym shoes on,” can lead to the next step of “Well, I might as well go outside if my shoes are on,” and before you know it you’re out taking a walk and being physically active.

This logic can be applied to other facets of life as well. Say it’s a project at work, like a report you have to write. You know it’s been on your to-do list for a few days, but instead of tackling it you’ve been spending time looking at email or getting sidetracked by other menial tasks. Maybe you’ve even felt a mental roadblock when it comes to that report. This is exactly where you can use the Do-Something Principle. Even just sitting down, opening Microsoft Word on your computer, and throwing a few thoughts down on the page can help spur you on to complete that report.

Anecdotally, when I personally feel like the mountain of tasks in front of me seems a tad overwhelming, saying “Just do something” as a mantra works to keep me grounded. I choose the most important of what’s in front of me and literally just do something to work toward completing that task. I think Brad Stulberg, author and performance coach, described it concisely in saying “Show up. Mood follows action. Just get started. Because it’s really as simple and hard as that.”

Find Motivation Through a First Step

So whatever tasks might lie ahead for you, if you’re having any difficulty getting started or feel a bit of resistance, give the Do-Something Principle a try. Sometimes it’s literally just a matter of taking that first step, even if you aren’t 100% sure of what that step even is. Regardless, Nike wasn’t too far off when they said, “Just Do It.”

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits motivation goals inspiration just do it behavior modification

Tips for Making Healthy Choices in the Face of Decision Fatigue

GettyImages-506139898It’s the end of the day. There was a string of meetings to attend, a pile of emails to answer, an argumentative colleague to work with, maybe even kids yelling for pizza when you had chicken planned for dinner instead. By the time you get home, you’ve already made a plethora of decisions, from how to approach a problem at work to what shoes to wear on your way out the door. You told yourself you would exercise when you got home, but now the couch looks a lot more enticing. All those decisions you made have taken a biological toll on your motivation and self-control, whether you realize it or not.

Decision fatigue, or the deteriorating quality of decisions after making numerous previous choices, happens to even the most rational and strong-willed of us. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder it is to exert self-control and make better decisions later. So no, your choice to binge-watch Game of Thrones with a pint of ice cream in hand after a particularly decision-heavy day isn’t necessarily because you lack motivation or willpower. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that you can employ to hack decision fatigue and help boost your willpower.

Here are four ways you can help combat decision fatigue in your day.

Make Repeated-Daily Decisions the Night Before

Some of the most draining decisions are the ones that you make again, and again, and again. Blocking off time the night before can save tons of mental energy the following day. It’s the outfit you’re wearing to work tomorrow, the lunch you will eat, and even which KCup to choose for your morning buzz (very crucial, I know). All of these take less than a few minutes to decide and even complete, so tackle them the night before to set yourself up for success tomorrow.

Attack the Most Important Task First

Willpower is somewhat like any muscle in your body: it fatigues with use. The brain will start to look for shortcuts if decisions pile up. Namely, it will either a) become reckless and impulsive (hello bag of chips for lunch), or it will b) become the energy saver and do nothing (where my fellow procrastinators at?). If you have something that you are trying to prioritize and work on, put your best foot forward and attack it first while you have ample attention and energy to do so. Maybe it’s improving your body composition, maybe it’s starting a side business, maybe it’s beginning a daily mindfulness habit. Whatever it may be, start your day by working on the most important thing in your life.

Schedule Your Success: Don’t Leave It to Chance

We all have great intentions when we start the day. But its not enough to hope that you’ll have the energy to go to the gym after work. Or that you’ll be disciplined enough to choose a serving of vegetables over that nighttime Nutella binge (can you tell I’m a bit hungry writing this?). Making ourselves a schedule takes out the decision-making process and eliminates another opportunity for our brain to check out and give in to impulses. If making exercise a habit is a priority for you, physically put it on your calendar and weekly agenda. Now hoping that you’ll have the willpower when you leave work won’t be the problem; you’ll just know that NIFS is where you’ll be heading on Tuesdays at 5:30pm.

Eat Something First if You Have to Make Good Decisions Later

In a study by Danziger et al. (2011) published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed over 1,100 judicial rulings for parole hearings over a 10-month period. Judges had a favorable ruling to start the day 65% of the time. As the day progressed, and more decisions were made, that percentage gradually dropped to nearly zero. The only exception? When the judges returned from lunch break, a ruling’s favorability jumped back up to the same 65%. Moral of the story? If you have an important decision to be made, but you realize that it won’t be approached until later, try eating a small snack beforehand. Being hangry can make it easier to be impulsive. So while you should try to tackle the most important tasks and decisions first, it might not always be realistic or possible to do so. Have that healthy snack at the ready (or packed the night before) if you know that your day calls for willpower later.

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The average person makes more than 30,000 decisions daily. And the more decisions that we make, the more difficult subsequent choices become. Try a few of these techniques to help streamline your day and keep your willpower intact and refreshed going forward.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits healthy eating healthy lifestyle healthy living decision-making