If you’re like the both of us, you really don’t have the time to take care of your health and fitness. If you’re like us, you make the time for it anyway.
At Nia Enterprises, there’s always another article to edit, an online survey to develop, a last minute ad-insertion to schedule, or a daily newsletter to produce. We’re overbooked outside of work with board meetings, community-outreach activities, and social commitments. In between all of that, we strive to spend quality time with our families and friends, while keeping homes of which we can be proud.
So there’s really no time to squeeze a morning jog or an evening visit to the gym. No time at all – but we both do it anyway, even if it means that other matters must wait. Taking care of the bodies that must carry us through the rest of our days is that important to us. Plus, the cathartic, mind-clearing exertion of exercise is recharging, making it possible to tear through the long list of to-dos with renewed vigor.
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, if you have the time for all that!” The truth is that nearly all of us are overbooked. At any given moment, there’s some chore to be done or obligation to fulfill, even on weekends. Nearly forty percent of people employed in management, business, and financial operations are actually working on a typical Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, according to 2006 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics!
That’s why the concept of “having time” for something is useless. Most of us are juggling too many balls in the air –– family, love life, career, community –– to “have the time” for anything. When you’ve got more responsibilities than time, the only way out is through prioritizing. It’s something we do constantly, though we’re rarely aware of it. We simply make the time for those things that matter most to us.
When it’s 10 p.m. and you’re still in the office instead of at home with your partner, it’s because you’ve decided that at the moment, working takes priority over your time with him or her. When you skip your morning yoga class for the third week in a row because you really need that extra forty-five minutes of shuteye before you start your busy day, you can say you didn’t have the time for yoga, but the truth is you decided to make time for a little more sleep.
National health statistics reflect the damage caused by putting self-care last, particularly for African Americans. We suffer in greater proportion than the general population from diabetes and hypertension. Less access to insurance and health care services is partly at fault, but poor diet and sedentary habits are also to blame, according to the National Institutes of Health. Two-thirds of African American women and nearly half of African American men participate in little or no leisure time physical activity, so it’s no wonder that the Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly four-fifths of African American women and two-thirds of African American men are overweight or obese, a risk factor for diabetes and hypertension.
The price we pay is a shorter lifespan within which to cram all of our obligations. With a life expectancy of nearly 70 years, according to CDC data, African American men live six fewer years on average than White men. African American women have a life expectancy of 76.5 years, living nearly five fewer years on average than White women.
As you juggle all of life’s balls, make taking care of your health as high a priority as the time you spend at the office or for your weekly hair appointment. After all, you’re no good to your employer when you’re sick, and you surely aren’t any good to your loved ones when you’re six feet under.
Health experts disagree on how much exercise is enough, but if you get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day – playing sports like basketball or tennis is great, but even brisk walking, dancing, or raking leaves can count – then you’re well on your way to a healthier, longer, and less stressful life. If you’re a hardcore multi-tasker, then kill two birds with one stone by walking to the convenience store instead of driving, or play catch with your children as a way to get in quality time and a workout.
If you can’t exercise daily, try this method for fitting self-care onto your weekly to-do list. Make a list of everything you’ve been meaning to do within the next week, even if you don’t think you’ll possibly have the time to get to them. Now go back and rank them in order of urgency. Take the top five items, and list them in a separate “must-do” list. Then pick a sixth item from the bottom of your ranked list – the more fun and active, the better – and add that to your must-do list for the week. Whatever else you do during the next week, make sure you check off all six must-do’s.
Make the time to extend your lifetime.
Cheryl Mayberry McKissack and Sheryl Huggins are co-editors of The Nia Guide For Black Women series of self-improvement books, including Balancing Work and Life (Agate Publishing, $12.95). Mayberry McKissack is founder and CEO of Nia Enterprises, LLC, a Chicago-based company providing research and marketing services focused on Black women and families. Nia Enterprises also publishes NiaOnline (www.niaonline.com), of which Huggins is editor-in-chief.