Breaking Old Habits: How to Lead a Healthier Lifestyle
Your habits shape your day and give rhythm to your life. Good habits raise you up and make your daily chores that much easier, while bad habits make the challenges in your life that much tougher.
Unfortunately, breaking bad habits is notoriously difficult. Unhealthy habits like binge eating undermine your health, sap your energy, and ruin your teeth. However, millions of us still overeat and reach for the cookie jar when we’re feeling bored.
That said, breaking up with bad habits and leading a healthier lifestyle is possible. Even if you have a poor health history, you can make a change today and start experiencing the joy of healthy living.
Living a healthier lifestyle isn’t easy. Even small changes, like reducing the amount of sugar you eat, can feel like a herculean effort in the early stages. However, leading a healthier lifestyle is proven to extend your lifespan, improve your quality of life, and reduce your risk of chronic illnesses.
Leading a more active life can also increase your physical strength, help you manage your weight, and improve your mental health. Getting up early and working up a sweat improves your mood throughout the day and helps you feel calmer.
Even small changes, like reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. Alcohol is proven to depress your central nervous system (CNS) and disrupt your digestive system. This can have a knock-on effect on the rest of your life, as you’ll be less likely to form strong relationships and may find it difficult to socialize due to conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Where to Start
Millions of people want to form healthier habits, but don’t know where to start. Researchers suggest that cue-response habit formation is the best way to start leading a healthier lifestyle.
Cue response simply means that every time you do action “A” you also do action “B”. For example, every time you get in the car (action “A”) you put your seatbelt on (action “B”). Over time, the actions become automatic — when was the last time you had to think about putting on your seatbelt?
You can use this principle to achieve your health-related goals. For example, if you want to drink more water during the day, try to find cues to help you pick up the water bottle. If you work in sales, take a drink every time you finish a call. Or, if you work in retail, take a drink after every time you help a customer.
Over time, your response to cues will become automatic and you’ll form a healthy habit that requires no mental energy to maintain.
The idea of “healthy living” often means that you have to go without. You have to reduce your consumption of fast food, cut down on sugar, quit smoking, and drink less alcohol. Unfortunately, all of these behaviors are inherently negative and focus on what you “should not” do.
However, a Harvard study shakes up that paradigm and reasserts the power of joy in habit formation. The longitudinal study began in 1938 and published its results in 2017. After collecting a lifetime of insights, researchers found that “people’s level of satisfaction” was “a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were”.
Researchers also found that loneliness was as detrimental to human health as smoking or alcoholism. Conversely, healthy relationships were found to have a shielding effect on brain health and well-being.
The takeaway from the study is clear: focus on the behaviors and relationships that bring you joy. Eat healthy foods because they make you feel good and boost your energy; exercise because you get to meet interesting people; drink water because it hydrates your body and focuses your mind.
You don’t have to give up your vices altogether, either.
Instead, modify your crutches to bring greater joy and health to your life. For example, if you love nothing more than espresso, consider making healthier coffee at home. Use low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar, add cocoa and cinnamon instead of syrups, and make your own frappes without the added sugar. Offer up your homebrew to your friends and family to strengthen your relationships and dispel loneliness from your personal network.
Build a Team
Old habits are hard to break; they’re even tougher to crack if you’re trying to do it alone.
Let the folks who are closest to you know that you want to make some lifestyle changes and that you need their help to see it through. For example, if you want to cut down on junk food, let your partner know that you don’t want junk food to come into the house during your diet. Or, if you’re trying to exercise more frequently, involve your kids and let them brainstorm a few workouts with you.
Getting your family and friends on board can help you stay accountable and reduce your exposure to temptations. Research shows that support from spouses, family members, and friends is beneficial for habit formation, and can help you stay for the long haul.
Our habits are central to identity. Healthy daily habits have a profound impact on your quality of life and can help you overcome life’s challenges. Make the process easier by forming habits around things you love. Bring in support from your family and friends and try to create mental cues that make maintaining healthy habits effortless.
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