Rainy Day Savings

Rainy Day Savings

Rainy Day Savings

A “rainy day” can – and does – happen in both health and wealth.

In the financial world, a “rainy day” refers to crises like the loss of a job, a sudden pile-up in medical bills, or another unexpected disaster (major or minor) that requires you to draw on your savings. In fact, it is recommended that you have between three months and three years of living expenses saved up in order to cope with an unlooked-for transition.

The exact same thing can happen in fitness, and the same recommendations apply.

Life is Unpredictable

Bad things happen. Illness, surgery, pregnancy, and other life events can obviously affect your health and exercise habits, but there are other, less dramatic, transitions that can also set you back – a new relationship, changing jobs, or moving can all create an exercise vacuum in your lifestyle. How you react to these transitions is determined by the amount you have “saved up” for your rainy day – in other words, what your lifestyle was like before the change.

Setbacks are only as bad as our starting point – it is easier to recover from a health crisis, accident, or life transition if you already have a consistent active lifestyle that prioritizes exercise, movement, and mindful eating.

I know this from experience.

One Red-Eye Flight > 20 Years of Consistent Sleep

This year, I celebrated my five-year wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, Michael. Michael and I flew to San Francisco in May to revisit Marin County, which is where we originally stayed for our honeymoon in 2011. It was a beautiful, peaceful, restful trip, but we unfortunately had to take a red-eye back to New York on the last night.

One night of missed sleep unhinged me.

To give you an idea of what kind of sleeper I am, I have consistently been “early to bed, early to rise” for at least 20 years. My work has always required an early rising, and my body has become wired to it over the years. And I am a good sleeper.

That one red-eye destroyed my sleep schedule, because I made the dreadful mistake of crashing into a nap upon arriving home the following morning, and sleeping for six hours. For the next month, jet leg exacerbated by a giant shift in my sleep cycle caused me to feel out of sorts – I wasn’t getting sleepy at night, I was a zombie in the morning, and I was tempted to “eat at” the problem to feel better (when you’re tired, your hunger and satiety hormones get thrown out of whack).

However, because I had years of healthy habits to back me up, I only felt a little off my game for about a week. After that, I recovered my exercise habits and eating habits quickly, and the sleep eventually followed (although it took much longer).

The point is: rainy days happen, but if your consistently self-caring habits are sufficiently firmly entrenched in your lifestyle, you have effectively “saved up” for the rainy day and you can take the hit. Did I eat abnormally upon returning home from the trip? Yes. But I was able to recover fairly quickly because my baseline habits kicked in and protected me from going too far off the rails.

I have to point out, though, how extremely unsettled I felt while I was out of my regular habits. Not being able to sleep through the night was scary, and there were several insane mornings when I thought, “Is this forever?” Because I had “saved,” it was not forever.

However, many people have not saved for either financial or physical rainy days. One surgery, one move, or  something as small as a weird week of all-nighters for school can put people back for years. The key is to remember that rainy days happen to everyone, and to prepare accordingly.

It’s Not Extra

I remember reading a finance book several years ago that reminded the reader to always add an additional $200-$300 to each month’s budget to account for unexpected events like car repairs, medical bills, or house maintenance. The thing that struck me was that the author said something along the lines of, “You will use this money every month. It is not extra.”

That is how I feel about food and exercise. Budget into your lifestyle what seems like an aggressive, excessive meal prep and exercise routine, and you will surprise yourself by hitting your goal 80%-90% of the time. Life has a way of being unpredictable, and you need that cushion for the unpredictability.

Here are ways to “budget” in those savings for a rainy day:

  • Be realistic about your “protected times.” These are times in your schedule when you could pretty much always exercise. Most of the time we used our protected time in stupid ways, like playing on our phones or otherwise wasting it. Instead, use those lost hours to go for a run, hit the gym, or do some bodyweight exercises, every day.
  • Memorize a routine. This is very important, and I emphasize it with all of my clients – most normal people with a work schedule need to have their exercise memorized. It needs to be pretty much the same with few variations every week. It doesn’t necessarily need to be identical each week (because where is the progression there?), but it needs to be similar in format and structure each week. Also, a memorized routine has the benefit of being easy to replicate in any setting, whether you are at home, in a hotel, or in a friend’s house.
  • Create a repetitive food plan. When it comes to food, creativity is fine, but leave that at the edges. The core of your diet should be fairly repetitive and easy. Why? Because life. It’s unpredictable and often leaves you less time to shop and cook than expected.  My husband and I have a roster of about 5 meals that we use on a rotating basis, with only a few variations. This is especially true of breakfast.

Start budgeting in the exercise and nutrition equivalent of that extra $200-$300 per month, and you won’t be sorry!