If you’re someone with a demanding job, social life, or both, you know how hard it can be to fit exercise into your busy routine. But if there’s one thing that can help lessen the burden of your booked-to-the-brim schedule, it’s exercise. Working out reduces stress and boosts energy so it’s ideal for making it through packed days. We asked weight-loss professionals to share some of their best tips for prioritizing weight loss and workouts on even the busiest days. Here’s a go-to guide to weight loss for busy people (aka everyone!).
Work out smarter, not longer.
The time you spend working out doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much weight you lose. Instead, a combination of intensity and consistency will help you reach your goals. JJ Flizanes, holistic fitness coach, empowerment strategist, and host of The Fit 2 Love Podcast recommends using technology to help you be more efficient in less time. A heart rate monitor will give you a more accurate idea of how hard you’re really working. “Additionally, add a well-designed resistance training program to your plan to build lean muscle, increase metabolism and stimulate your body’s own hormone production,” says Flizanes.
Dine out less often.
Long work days often lead busy folks to eat out more than they enjoy home-cooked meals. What’s more, a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of meals measured at both large-chain and local restaurants contained more calories than the requirements for a single meal. “Meals at restaurants have on average 1,200 calories, which is almost half of the daily caloric recommendation for a man, and 75 percent more for a woman,” says Luiza Petre, a board-certified cardiologist. “Consuming these foods on a daily basis can really add up, both in calories and to your waistline.”
Instead, schedule time each week to dedicate to meal prep or purchasing healthy staples you can grab on the go. “Scheduling time to take care of your health, from your food prep to your workouts, and treating them just like a work obligation, can help establish healthy habits that will aid in your weight loss,” says Dr. Petre.
Don’t skip meals.
Dr. Petre also warns that skipping meals can slow down metabolism. This alerts your body to reduce calories burned and store more fat. Instead, regularly plan your meals with a healthy source of protein and fat to keep your body burning calories throughout the day. “Try to consume a food with protein and fat, every 3-4 hours throughout the day,” she says. “Starting off with a healthy breakfast is also important to jumpstarting your metabolism and getting your day off to a healthy start.”
Schedule exercise early in your day.
Not only does locking in your workout first thing in the morning set you up for an energy-filled day, but it also prevents the too busy or tired excuses that creep up later in the day. Research supports this theory. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Physiology found that exercising before breakfast resulted in better weight loss results. If you work out before breakfast, make sure to follow up with a well-balanced meal to avoid crashing later in the day.
Make healthy food swaps.
“Substituting one food at a time, especially those high in carbohydrates, with another food lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fat will keep blood sugar more stable, and give your body the nutrition it needs to maintain a healthy weight,” says Dr. Petre. “Fewer carbohydrates will also reduce food cravings later in the day.” She recommends making small changes, such as swapping out a bagel and cream cheese out for scrambled eggs in the morning, or a burger and fries for a chicken and avocado salad for lunch.
Multi-task at work.
Even if you have an office job that requires you to sit behind a desk for eight or more hours per day, that doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in some exercise moves here and there. “You can always use a stationary bike or computer desk like a FitDesk Bike to exercise while you prepare your presentation,” says Dr. Petre. “Also you can catch up with newspapers and read on an elliptical machine or stair master, or use the time you have scheduled for a conference call to take a brisk walk in a quiet place.” And, always, take the stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible.
Busy schedules call for high stress and few opportunities to wind down. But this leads your body to release a cascade of stress chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol. “Cortisol hangs around and starts signaling the body to replenish your food supply—in other words, it stores fat,” explains Dr. Petre. “On top of this, when you’re stressed, you tend to crave more sugary foods, which become even more addictive in a vicious cycle, as they give you quick squirts of serotonin, or energy, that you cling to as the last straw to handle the stress.” In addition, the insulin swings that follow make you hungrier and more fatigued.
Actively work on decreasing stress with methods like meditation. “Take a few minutes out of your day to do some meditation or deep breathing to reduce your stress levels,” says Dr. Petre. “This can help lower cortisol levels, allow you to refocus, help your weight loss efforts and improve your mood as well.”
Utilize grocery delivery options.
Most major cities now have grocery stores that either deliver to you or offer a pick-up option. Grocery delivery apps are also available in many cities. “A big advantage, besides time savings, of the grocery delivery options, is that you’re not as tempted to buy things not on your list because you aren’t being tempted by the cookie aisle or trigger foods at the checkout line,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., Houston-based dietitian and founder of eatrightfitness.com. “Unless you click on that category when doing your online grocery shopping, you won’t see any items off your plan!”