Beyond the




7 Steps to Take If You Want to Be a Healthy Teacher

Healthy habits for teachers

What does being a healthy teacher mean? Based on the way I used to live, I can definitely tell you what it doesn't mean. For starters, it doesn't mean grabbing Cheetos and Coke in the morning and calling it breakfast. Nor does it mean buying candy and fudge every time a student comes by for a fundraiser.

But there's more to it than just your nutrition. Healthy teachers don't sit at their desks, grading for hours on end without moving, and they don't lie awake at night obsessing over every single thing they forgot to do that day and every single thing they have to do tomorrow. So yeah, I was nowhere near healthy.

It's far too easy to fall into bad habits. During my first two years of teaching, I gained 40 pounds. I was no longer walking a mile each day to get to my job, and because I had too much work to do, I never went to the gym. With only 20 minutes to eat lunch, I grabbed whatever was quick and fueled myself with soda and candy to get through the day. It wasn't good for me, and I knew I couldn't keep it up. I'm working to get back to health and happiness, and if you want to join me, here's how.

Choose Your Food Carefully

I recently devoured the book How Not to Die by Michael Greger, a physician and founder of NutritionFacts.org. Dr. Greger's scientifically supported book outlines a diet aimed at preventing and reversing many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. The diet is plant-based and focuses on Dr. Greger's "daily dozen," a list of foods we should eat every day. It includes beans, berries and other fruit, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, greens and other vegetables, flaxseeds, nuts and other seeds, whole grains, spices (like turmeric, marjoram, and cayenne pepper), and beverages like water, coffee, and tea.

The list's final item is exercise, which isn't a food, but Dr. Greger believes you should get in one "serving" of 90 minutes a day. Since heart disease and cancer run in my family, I've been working to add the "daily dozen" to my diet. It really hasn't been that hard—as long as I follow the next step.

Plan Your Meals

If I don't plan out my lunches, I end up in the teachers' cafeteria eating shepherd's pie three times a week. So I force myself to head to the grocery store and pick up ingredients for slow-cooker meals and delicious salads. I even grab some quick, healthy frozen entrees for those inevitable days when I'm too tired to prep my food ahead of time. When you know what you're going to eat each day, you're less likely to reach for something easy and unhealthy.

Further reading: 5 REALISTIC Ways for Teachers to Get Healthier This Year

Work on Your Resistance

There have been studies that show that willpower gets stronger the more it's exercised. Each time you resist that candy box, you're actually strengthening yourself for the next time around! Just be careful. Those same studies say you can wear out your willpower if it's used too much, so try to limit the challenging situations you face.

Get Moving!

You absolutely MUST make time in your day to exercise. I know how hard this can be. I recently bought a fitness tracker, and it's been extremely helpful to ensure I'm getting my "steps in." Competing with other teachers and even students in our building has motivated me even more. To make sure I reach my goal, I'll use the second-floor copier or deliver a message in person rather than through e-mail.

Lifting weights will eventually become part of my exercise routine. Essential for maintaining muscle mass and strength, weight training helps prevent the risk of falls and fractures, and it increases metabolism.

Sleep Is Key

While we all know how important sleep is for our students, we often forget that it's a huge factor in our health as well. As you get older, you sleep much less. Sure, you might fall asleep at 8:30 p.m., but you find yourself wide awake at midnight, unable to go back to sleep. A lack of sleep raises stress levels and causes a litany of health issues.

Eight ounces of tart cherry juice, which has melatonin, can help you sleep better. Exercising and laying off the caffeine go a long way toward helping you sleep as well. It's also beneficial to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up the same time in the morning — even on the weekends!

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you cope with the stresses of the day. Stress can have an enormous impact on your health, causing chest pain, headaches, and sleep issues, so it's important to find the right coping techniques.

Meditation is very effective in dealing with stress and increasing focus. While it can be especially hard to calm a teacher's mind, there are several apps that can help with meditation and mindfulness. I find listening to Tibetan bells to be particularly soothing.

Further reading: Exercise and the Brain: How Fitness Impacts Learning

Make Time for Yourself

Too often, teachers' lives revolve totally around school. We absolutely must force ourselves to make time for ourselves to energize and regroup. Whether you actually schedule 10 to 30 minute blocks of "me time" in your calendar or just dedicate yourself to a little quiet recentering when you get home, it will really pay off to keep your energy focused solely on yourself at times.

Teaching is an extremely stressful job, and there are plenty of reasons to make bad choices. Don't go down the same path I did. Take control now, so you'll always be a healthy teacher who's ready to tackle any challenge and face each and every morning with a burst of energy and a big, healthy smile.