Three easy ways to stay healthy in the new year (even with a busy job)

The time squeeze of modern university roles can make it feel impossible to carve out schedule space for health and wellness. Sandy Jones provides tips on how to do so

Sandy Jones's avatar
16 Jan 2023
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Get healthy even as a university academic

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Colorado State University Global

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Let’s face it: for most who work in higher education, there isn’t enough time to focus on our health and wellness. While we might start Monday with a reserved spot in our favourite fitness class and a refrigerator full of healthy food to cook, as the week progresses, we find ourselves moving less and “driving through” more. Even with the best intentions, our often-stressful jobs and busy home lives can make it challenging for us to nourish ourselves. This is despite knowing full well that we need a healthy mind and body to best serve our students, staff and faculty.

As a senior leader at a 100-per-cent-online university, Colorado State University Global, I know that others might assume it is easy for me to find time to focus on my health and wellness due to time saved by not commuting. However, in the same way that most executives find themselves giving up their lunch hour to work, for remote university employees like me, commute time is easily gobbled up by urgent and important work that never seems to subside.

So, how do you stay healthy as a busy leader in higher education? Here are three ways:

Develop just one healthy habit – but do it every day

According to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, “keystone habits” are seemingly small habits that have a cascading effect on all your choices. Examples may include going to bed early, waking up early, meditating at sunrise, practising gratitude or other small-but-impactful keystone habits that dramatically influence our lives. You know yourself and your job best, so decide what you want to do to get started on your path to a healthier lifestyle; one habit might benefit you more than others depending on your role or time commitment at the university. Whatever you choose, start with a healthy activity you enjoy and try to do it every day for at least two months straight. Once a habit is formed, instead of relying on willpower to make the right choice, you will have removed the need to choose at all.

Make a (meal) plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. We know this universal truth, yet amid mountains of marking and grant applications, the question “What should I have for dinner?” is often addressed far too late in the day to make any real plan. In the times when I ate the healthiest, each Sunday my partner and I left our laptops and carved out time to cook and pack enough tasty, nutritious meals to get us through Wednesday night – and then planned an easy meal that would be cooked fresh on Thursday to finish out the week. While meal planning and prepping are indeed a bit of a chore, the time, money and, frankly, anguish saved from not having to think about meals throughout the working week is well worth the slog.

Move your body four to five times a week

Many jobs in academia are relatively static, which is why, in my view, it doesn’t matter what you do to get exercise – just make sure you’re consistent. Research shows that exercise has more of an impact on heart health when performed four to five days each week than three days. I know what you’re saying to yourself: “I’m just too busy and too exhausted to sweat for an hour every day.” Me, too. So, consider this: instead of scaling the number of days of exercise each week, scale the time spent or the intensity. This way, you can sustain a pattern even during the most gruelling of weeks. Sure, training for a marathon is one effective way to get in shape, but the physical and time-related barriers to entry may not make it accessible to those of us with university jobs that feel a bit like an ultra-marathon in their own right.

These strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle are effective because they work well for those who are too short on bandwidth to take on something new – like many of us in higher ed. As university leaders, we know that momentum begins with the first step towards a goal, and this concept applies both inside and outside the workplace. Even if it feels overwhelming to make a significant change, especially while catching up on work following our winter break, think about committing to just one of the above strategies this week and see what it does for your body, your soul and your productivity. Maybe, one day a couple of months from now, you won’t even have to think about it.

Sandy Jones serves as vice-president of strategic engagement at Colorado State University Global, where she drives the university’s stakeholder partnerships, brand awareness and enrolment experience.

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