Maintaining a healthy lifestyle while working full time and raising children can often be challenging. Regular exercise, getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet are all important contributors, and knowing how to incorporate these into your daily life can help to maintain this way of living for both you and your family.

Here are 8 tips to help achieve and maintain a healthy balance.

1. Set priorities

Many parents will be juggling a number of roles and goals in their lives. All of these things take time and energy and will often conflict with one another. It is important to think about your values and to set some priorities based on these values.

Turn down things which feel like obligations, and are inconsistent with your priorities. By gaining back this time, you can spend more of your time doing what is important, and living a more successful and integrated life.

2. Time to yourself

Juggling work, children and other priorities can be difficult, and you may find that you are no longer doing the activities that you enjoy. Ensure that you are regularly setting time aside for these, and dedicate slots throughout the week for personal time. Agree these with your partner/family in advance, or arrange for a sitter to ensure that this time is not compromised if the week gets busy.

Try to develop a support system where you can share ideas on how to manage busy schedules, and share some of your responsibilities. It may be useful to have an agreement in place with other parents where you take it in turns to drop off/pick up each other’s children from school, and even babysit in the evenings.

3. Plan ahead

Working full time alongside raising a family will mean you have to manage not only your own time, but help to manage theirs too. Planning ahead is an effective way of ensuring that everyone is organised, and you are able to schedule in time for all your priorities.

Create a family calendar; this is a great way to visually identify all the family priorities. You can list any school/family events, any extra-curricular activities, and you can be on top of any scheduling changes. Try to spend 15 minutes on a Sunday to review the schedule for the upcoming week, this will help you to feel more prepared.

Make the mornings easier; getting organised the evening before can save precious time in the mornings. Try some of the following:

  • Spend 5-10 minutes looking over the next day’s to-do list
  • Pack lunches the evening before
  • Have school uniforms and work clothes laid out, bags organised and ready by the door for the next morning

Preparing these in advance can even leave you with some time for a morning workout or to go for a walk. You can read more about scheduling time for workouts later in this article.

A diary and lunch box

4. Meal prep and healthy eating

Preparing meals in advance does require some time and effort, however it is an easier and faster way to ensure that there is a healthy meal for your whole family to enjoy on a busy week night. Here are some top tips for meal prepping:

  • Plan your meals before shopping; this will ensure you have all the ingredients that you need when preparing your meals and will help you to stay on track.
  • Set aside a day to cook; spending a few hours of your time preparing will save you time on a busy evening.
  • Prepare your vegetables ahead of time; cutting and preparing vegetables ahead of the week and storing them in airtight containers can save time when preparing meals on the day.
  • Make homemade snacks/breakfasts for the week; baking some breakfast muffins or granola bars in batch and storing them in airtight containers can save time in the mornings.
  • Prepare your lunches for work the evening before; preparing homemade lunches rather than relying on the cafeteria at work can help you to control what you eat, and is generally a much cheaper option.

Here is a short video with some further tips on meal prepping for the week ahead.

Swap snacks for healthier alternatives

It is tempting to snack on sweets and chocolate which are high in calories, fat, salt and sugars. Try to swap these for something healthier, including fruit and vegetables.

Some examples of food swaps can include:

  • Swap salted nuts for unsalted nuts
  • Swap chocolate bars for low sugar homemade granola bars
  • Swap crisps for vegetable sticks and humous
  • Swap sugary fizzy drinks for water. If you struggle to drink water, try a cordial with no added sugar

The NHS ‘Healthy Food Swap’ article has some further tips for health food swaps.

To help you stay on track, try to refrain from buying treats high in salt and sugar from the supermarket. This information can be found by reading the food labels on pre-packaged food. The NHS website has lots of information on how to interpret these labels.

5. Movement

If you have a very busy schedule, it is understandable that you may struggle getting active throughout the day, especially if you work in a sedentary role. Below are some ideas on how to get your body moving.

Take regular walks

Try to increase your step count throughout the day:

  • Go for a walk during your lunch breaks at work.
  • Park your car further away when going to work or the shops.
  • Rather than taking the lift or the escalator, opt for the stairs.
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Get the whole family involved and schedule regular family walks.

Stand up/stretch frequently

Regular stretching has been shown to be beneficial both physically and mentally. Some examples of these benefits are listed below:

  • Stress Relief; stretching allows you to take time to breathe and decompress. As the heart rate and breathing slow down, the body becomes more relaxed. See the article on ‘Calming Yoga: For Stress and Anxiety’ which includes a video on how you can stretch from your desk at work.
  • Improved range of joint motion
  • Better posture
  • Alleviate back pain
  • Improved sleep

Animated people stretching

6. Schedule in workouts

When you schedule in workouts, they become routine. The more ingrained your workout routine becomes in your everyday life, the more consistent you will be.

Scheduling workouts can also make you feel more accountable, and having an allocated time in the diary can be a good way of motivating yourself.

Here are some further tips on how you can try to schedule these in:

  • Home workouts; there are lots of free workout videos on YouTube which require no equipment and are only 20-30 minutes long. Try to wake up half an hour earlier and fit one of these in before the busy day ahead. You can find some of these videos on YouTube.
  • Involve the family; if you are struggling to find some time to yourself, try to get the whole family involved. You will be a good role model for your children and show them the importance of exercising.
  • If motivation is something you struggle with, try joining a class/group with a community that supports you. Surrounding yourself with people who are motivating and uplifting will increase your chances of making your fitness goals a habit.

7. Leave work at work

With ever-increasing demands and long to-do lists, many workers find it difficult to switch off at the end of the working day. This can result in working longer hours, and feeling as though your work is eating into your evenings and weekends.

A healthy work-life balance is crucial to both your job performance and your mental health, and will mean more time to focus on your personal and family priorities.

Here are some ways to manage your work more effectively, and put in place some clear boundaries between your work and home:

  • Organising your work; prioritise your task list and manage your time more effectively throughout the day. Ensure that you give yourself enough time to get things done and do not overschedule yourself.
  • Clear working hours; this can be especially difficult when working remotely and your workspace is within the home. Have clear start and finish times to manage both time and expectations.
  • Set boundaries; if it is essential that you need to work out of hours, limit yourself to how much time you spend responding to emails/calls or attending meetings etc.
  • Dedicated work space; if you work from home, try to keep your work area separate from your family area.
  • Mark the end of the working day; have a ritual in place to mark the move from work to home. It can be as simple as changing out of your work clothes or going for a shower.

8. Sleep

A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. It allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you feeling refreshed and alert when you wake up. Inadequate sleep results in an inability to focus on daily tasks, control emotions and make decisions.

It is important to make sleep a priority. Below are some tips which can help put into place a good bedtime routine for both you and your family:

  • Consistency; going to sleep at the same time every evening and waking up at the same time every morning can help to create a consistent routine. Have a schedule in place for everyone in the family and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Disconnect from devices; try to avoid going on electronic devices 60 minutes before bed. These can cause the mind to be stimulated rather than relaxed, and the blue light from devices may supress melatonin levels which will delay sleepiness.
  • Wind down routine; doing things you find calming can help to put you in a relaxed state. Try listening to some gentle music, reading or some light stretching before getting into bed.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evening; caffeine is a stimulant which stays in the body for hours after drinking it. Try to avoid this later in the day.
  • Create sleep shifts; if you are a parent with young children who do not sleep through the night, it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Have shifts with your partner throughout the night. This can prevent the burden falling on just one person.

Alarm clock illustration, someone laying down on their phone illustration, no mobile phones sign

Implement some of these into your daily life in small steps and identify what works for you.

It is important to be flexible, as one routine will not fit your lifestyle forever. As your children grow older and their interests evolve, you may find that you need to evolve.

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Updated on: 21/04/2022