Meet Sam. Sam is an average person, not much different from you or me. Each day, he has a series of life choices to make that impact his physical and mental health. Some of these impacts can be felt immediately, while others won’t become known for years. The rest of us face these decisions as well. Let’s take a look at an ordinary day in the life of Sam, and examine the decision he makes that impact his long and short term well-being.
Starting The Day
He wakes up in the morning and goes through his normal week day routine. Sam knows that he absolutely must have breakfast, or he will be a distracted, foul-tempered mess. Sam just has to decide what it is that he will have for breakfast. Because it’s a weekday, whatever he has to eat, must be ready in five minutes or less. There are such products in the fridge – single serving juices, commercially prepared granola bars, string cheese, a few hard boiled eggs, apples, banana, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, milk, cereal, and a blueberry muffin. What should he eat?
Unhealthy Choice: Either the muffin or the granola bar paired with the juice would have been the worst choice. Granola bars and muffins and full of refined sugars and have little fiber or nutritional value. The juice would add even more sugar. As a result, Sam’s blood sugar would crash, and he would feel tired and hungry in an hour or so.
Healthy Choice: The cheese, milk, eggs, and peanut butter are all good choices because they contain both fat and protein. Any of the fruit is also a good choice because of the nutrition and the complex carbs. Finally, the whole wheat bread adds filling, heart healthy fiber. Toast smeared with a thin layer of peanut butter, an apple, and a hard boiled egg would be an ideal breakfast.
Sam is a lucky guy. He lives in a city center where public transportation is always available. He also owns a car. If he drives himself to work, his commute time is 45 minutes. If he takes public transportation, he must ride for an hour and fifteen minutes. What should Sam choose?
Unhealthy Choice: It may seem more efficient for Sam to just drive himself, but there are other factors to take into consideration. When Sam drives, he adds more CO2 emissions to the air. In addition to that, the 45 minutes it takes him to drive to work, are 45 minutes where he is accomplishing nothing but driving. Then, there’s the stress and frustration of driving for 45 minutes in morning traffic.
Healthy Choice: Sam may need to adjust to getting up a bit earlier in order to take the train, but there are numerous long and short term health benefits to doing so. First, rather than dealing with a stressful morning commute, Sam can uses his hour or so on the train to relax, check his work emails, or review his daily to do list. He could also spend the trip simply listening to some music. He’ll arrive at work much more relaxed than he would have if he had spent the morning fighting traffic.
Getting to His Desk
Once Sam arrives at work, he can get to his office in one of two ways. The first is to simply hop on the elevator and ride up to his floor. If he does this, he’ll be at his desk in a few moments. Otherwise, he can walk down the hall, past the coffee bar and take the stairs.
Healthy Choice: This is an obvious, yet important, answer. Sam should take the stairs. It won’t take that much longer, and he can make a quick stop by the coffee bar if he wishes. Of course, if he does that, he should stick to black coffee or tea, or better yet, opt for water. If Sam takes the stairs, one flight, up and down four times per day, he will add several steps to his daily count. This is very important to people working sedentary jobs.
Unhealthy Choice: Sam should absolutely never take the elevator unless he is nursing an injury.
Work Day Stress
Even though Sam works in a fairly nice work environment, he is in the middle of a few very hectic projects, and he has a lot on his plate. Unfortunately, not every task he has to perform is all that enjoyable. Some of them are actually quite stress inducing. Sam hates ending his day feeling worn down and on edge. What is the healthiest way for Sam to structure his day to minimize his stress levels and to be as productive as possible?
Healthy Choice: Sam should “eat the frog”. Eating the frog is a phrase that means that Sam should tackle the worst task of the day first, and then leave the easiest tasks for the afternoon. If he does this, he will leave work feeling as if he had a very productive day, and he’ll feel less stressed because his last tasks were relatively easy.
Unhealthy Choice: Even though it is tempting to put off difficult tasks, waiting until the end of the day is never a good idea. Sam would feel too much stress rushing to get an unpleasant task finished by the end of the day, and he would leave work feeling distressed.
Dinner and Evening Relaxation
It’s been a rough day. Sam is tempted to throw a frozen dinner in the microwave and spend the evening surfing the internet. It seems like a great way to wind down after a stressful day. How should Sam choose to end his day?
Healthy Choice: Sam should skip the frozen dinner. It’s full of fat, salt, and preservatives. He should also put off surfing the internet at least for an hour or so. If Sam were to take a quick walk, perhaps to the grocery store, he could grab a salad from the deli and a bottle of water. Then, he could return to his apartment to eat a dinner that is fairly healthy. Taking the walk will give him time to decompress from his day, and he will return home in a much more positive frame of mind.
Unhealthy Choice: If Sam eats the frozen dinner, he will probably feel sluggish and gross afterwards. He won’t have the energy to do anything but surf the internet or watch television. He’ll also miss out on a chance to get a little bit of exercise.
Sleep Beautiful Sleep
It’s nearly midnight. Sam has a renewed burst of energy and doesn’t feel tired of all. Unfortunately, he has to be awake in less than eight hours. He’s engaged in a really interesting chat with some friends on Facebook and he’s been looking up information about his favorite sports team. Logically, Sam knows he will be miserable in the morning, but right now he feels happy and engaged. What should he do?
Healthy Choice: No question here. Sam should turn off the computer and go to bed. He may take an hour to wind down and fall asleep, but he will still be on track when his alarm goes off in the morning.
Unhealthy Choice: It is tempting to stay up all night, but if he does this, Sam guarantees himself a miserable day.
Sam is unreal person, but everyone can recognize something familiar in his daily routine. And it’s up to you how healthy or unhealthy your decisions will be.