When you hear the word "balance," what comes to mind? Tree pose? Chasing a 5-mile run with a doughnut? Getting out of work at 5 p.m. to see your kids? A scale?
Most of the noise in the health-sphere is dedicated to helping you reach your best—whether that's your max productivity level, your ideal weight, your fastest 5K time, or your cleanest diet. With this comes the convincing illusion that more is better—more veggies, more exercise, more sleep, more organization, more hours in the day. Really, how often do think to yourself: "I should try less, do less, strive for less"?
Never? Thought so.
There are a zillion reasons it's important to have health and fitness goals, but spending an eternity relentlessly chasing perfection is exactly what life isn't about. You can't go all-out effort at everything in your life, 100 percent of the time. It's all about give-and-take—and that's especially true when it comes to your health and fitness routine. Which is exactly why we're dedicating the entire month of May to becoming more balanced as part of our #MyPersonalBest campaign. Not convinced to give it a go? Here, three ways your life doesn't just want but needs balance.
Eat what you want sometimes—and don't call it a cheat day.
You probably know by now that healthy eating is a lifestyle—not a temporary fix to drop pounds. If you plan to keep this lifestyle throughout the rest of your life, it needs to be something you can actually maintain day in and day out for decades. Why, then, do we act like the occasional #treatyoself moment is such a naughty thing?
Cheating at the Olympics is bad. Cheating on a spouse is bad. Every once in a while, eating some food that might not exactly fit the definition of "healthy" shouldn't constitute cheating, because there's nothing bad about treating yourself. Cutting out too much from your diet has been said to be the worst weight-loss mistake that you can make, and research shows that yo-yo dieting (read: eating healthy for a few days then splurging like crazyyy) is just as bad for your body as eating junk food regularly.
The key? Splurging with purpose. Following an über-restrictive diet usually results in bingeing, according to Cynthia Sass, R.D., but making a conscious choice to indulge in something you'll truly enjoy is the best bet. Many health pros (including Jillian Michaels) advocate the 80/20 rule: eating healthy 80 percent of the time and treating yourself 20 percent of the time. The result? Healthy eating that lets you enjoy life without going totally off the rails.
Take a rest day—and be calm about it.
ICYMI, balancing your workout is essential to keeping your body working well. (Example A: these cross-training workouts that are made for each other.) If you crush this 30-day push-up challenge, you need to do some "pull" exercises to even out—it just makes sense.
But another *key* part of balancing your workout routine is allowing for adequate time off. Yes, rest days are just as important—if not more important—than your training itself. Overtraining can cause mood swings, sleep issues, weight-loss plateau, and physical and mental burnout. (And that doesn't even cover all the negative side effects of overtraining.) Research shows that the recommended number of rest days per week depends on the type and intensity of your training, but one to two days per week for advanced and beginner exercisers (respectively) is a safe bet. The best way to take a rest day is to engage in active recovery (like this gentle recovery routine), versus spending all day on the couch. Just don't let it turn into a full-on workout sesh—the goal is to loosen any tightness and increase circulation, but not to break a sweat. Your body and mind both need time to recover so you can gear up to crush your next workout. (Check out these signs that you seriously need a rest day.)
Go to happy hour—and then go home to Netflix and chill.
I know—it can be soooo tempting to stay in and treat yourself to some #selfcare every single Friday night instead of going through all that going-out fanfare. There is absolutely #noshame in staying in; spending time alone can have tons of health benefits, from reigniting your self-confidence and sense of independence to encouraging some much-needed inward reflection. Solitude can boost productivity and actually strengthen the relationships in your life. Plus, a recent study found that most people consider solo activities the most restful—even if they're physically or mentally active behaviors like walking or reading.
But finding that solo-social balance is important for your mental and physical health too. Socializing with friends (or bae) can help your immune and stress systems recover, as well as release hormones such as oxytocin and testosterone, which boost energy, elevate mood, and even reduce pain, according to Blair T. Crewther, Ph.D., a sport science consultant, as we reported in How to Use Active Recovery Rest Days to Get the Most Out of Your Workouts. Not to mention, loneliness is linked to depression, stress, high blood pressure, worse sleep habits, and a weakened immune system. So while some alone time is key for re-charging, too much might backfire.
So go crush your HIIT workout, eat your kale, and #selfcare the crap out of your Sunday. Come Friday night, head out for a burger, a beer, and some much-needed GNO time with your BFFs. Sounds too good to be true? It's not. Healthy living ~balance~ can be that simple.