Getting to the Heart of Healthy Habits


  • Healthy habits are behaviors that are good for our health and well-being.
  • Repetitive habits can be formed by triggers related to specific events or locations.
  • Healthy habits consist of good nutrition, ample exercise, and a healthy body weight.
  • Healthy habits also include getting  adequate sleep, and avoiding smoking and alcohol.
  • Replace bad habits by taking small steps to reach desired goals.

When we think of the word “habit,” what often comes to mind? We probably think of the  bad habits that are hard to break. We know that we shouldn’t be eating junk food, drinking too many cups of coffee, or skimping on our sleep or exercise. Lifestyle changes aren’t always easy to accomplish. However, making small adjustments can turn our bad habits into healthy habits. Adopting sensible habits will lead to significant improvements in our health and wellbeing. It’s never too late to start!

What are Healthy Habits? 

Behaviors which are beneficial to our physical or mental health are healthy habits. As opposed to bad habits, healthy habits require a great deal of discipline and self-control. Creating healthy habits may seem like an overwhelming task. However, taking this step by step is a good way to start. Achieving these health-related goals can add 10 or more years to our lives. Here are five examples of healthy habits to strive for. These have been recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS):

  1. Eating a healthy diet 
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight
  3. Exercising regularly
  4.  Getting better sleep
  5. Cutting back on alcohol and smoking

Recently, there has been interesting research from the ACS. They  indicate that Individuals who adhered to these five healthy habits were 74% less likely to die than those who did not. This is especially true during the follow up period.  They were also 82% less likely to die from heart-related disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer. These results are noteworthy. In fact, they highlight the positive impact of incorporating healthy habits into our daily lives.

A Closer Look at the “Big Five”

 

1.     Eating a healthy diet  

Each of the “big five” health habits listed above are equally important to consider. Good health begins with adequate nutrition. This is consistently done by forming healthy eating habits. 

Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Fish, poultry and beans are preferable to eating red meat. This is because red meat has been linked to high cholesterol, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.  

Cutting down on sugar and refined carbohydrates is also recommended. These include desserts, candy, and sweetened breakfast cereals. Dairy products that are low in fat and salt are great choices! This includes low-fat milk and naturally sweetened yogurt. Finally, make sure to stay hydratedDrinking ample amounts of water throughout the day will give you a lot of benefits. This includes regulating your body temperature, lubricating your joints, and supporting healthy functioning. 

 

2.     Maintaining a healthy weight

Keeping our weight within a healthy range for our body type is important. In fact, it’s another key component of good health. The recommended guidelines for a healthy body weight is a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5-25. This is more easily attained through both diet and exercise. 

 

3.     Exercising regularly

A well-rounded program of at least 30 minutes of exercise per day is optimal. This may consist of cardio workouts for aerobic fitness and strength training. You may also include core exercises, balance training, and stretching to increase flexibility. Studies have shown that physical activity can also lower our risk for dementia. It can also improve our brain functioning. Physical activity is also a way to socialize and network with others in the community. The connections we form with other people can assist us in staying in shape. It also helps avoid risk-taking behaviors. It will be much easier to stick to our healthy habits goals and objectives.

 

4. Getting better sleep

Having a daily exercise routine will promote better quality sleep. We should aim for at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night. This will be beneficial for heart health. Sleep may help lower our stress levels. It also reduces anxiety and depression. Sleep is effective for supplying energy to our bodies. In fact, it also has a hand in controlling our appetites. When we are sleep-deprived, our hormonal levels are affected. This in turn can contribute to weight gain. The addition of quality sleep and relaxation will ultimately help us reach our goals. It will help us make good habits for healthy eating and overall well-being.

 

5. Cutting back on alcohol & smoking

The ACS has specific guidelines for alcohol intake. There should be  no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the safest practice to follow is to not drink at all. Quitting smoking or never smoking in the first place is a good idea. In fact, it is one of the most significant changes we can make to improve our health status. Needless to say, smoking falls under the category of a bad habit. Stopping smoking reduces our risk of both cancer and heart disease. It also extends our lifespan by many years. 

How Can We Become More Aware of Habit Triggers?

Many habits are formed through daily routines that become automatic. This can be as simple as washing our hands or brushing our teeth. It can also just be eating our meals at certain times of the day. We may not necessarily regard these as habits. However, both good and bad habits can be triggered by specific events. It’s important to understand why we are doing certain things at certain times. For example, we may be mindlessly snacking when we’re feeling bored, lonely, or under stress. We may have also established particular habits associated with our home or office environment. Maybe we usually have a cigarette while drinking coffee. Others may have a habit of checking their phone messages immediately upon waking up. 

These repetitive patterns can either be helpful or harmful to our health. Therefore, noticing them is the first and foremost goal. Motivation alone does not always work. This is because we may be unaware of many of these habits. We tend to be creatures of habit, which is one reason why it’s so difficult to eliminate bad habits. Nevertheless, we also possess the ability to make healthy choices. Especially the ones that are within our control.

So, how can we become more aware of these triggers? The most effective triggers for initiating change usually have a physical component. Therefore, we do not have to rely on willpower alone. Using a diary or planner may be a handy tool. You can also download goal-setting mobile apps or reminders on our phones as prompts. It’s also important to utilize friends and family as a support system. They will help maintain motivation and encourage us along the way. We might also want to use the “buddy system.” This involves pairing up with someone to work towards better health habits together. We should never beat ourselves up if we have a few setbacks along the way. This is all part of the process of implementing change and developing new healthy habits.

How Do We Convert Bad Habits into Healthy Habits?

First, we need to identify and understand our habits and the triggers. The next step is to set realistic goals that are measurable and attainable. These don’t have to be drastic changes that make us feel overwhelmed. We can begin by simply adding one healthy food to our meal. We can also gradually increase the amount of exercise we do each day. Keeping a record in a written journal or mobile app is advantageous. It will help us stay on track and monitor our progress. This may consist of tracking the foods we eat, our exercise routines, and our sleep patterns. There are also a lot of other factors that contribute to habit formation. 

Setting up our own reward systems when we meet one of our goals can keep us engaged and motivated. Positive reinforcement can come from ourselves, as well as from others. We should aim to make habits fun and enjoyable, or we will not be able to maintain these behaviors for long. There is ample room for creativity! Make sure to select activities that are pleasurable for us. For instance, we can watch TV or listen to music when exercising at home or at the gym. Trying out new recipes can be another incentive! It will be good for healthy eating and adding variety at meal times. 

The incremental changes that we make in our health habits can go a long way. Making modifications to our physical environment is a good idea. It is an ideal way to reverse bad habits. We can purposefully reduce certain temptations. For example, we can eliminate the availability of unhealthy foods at home. Healthy foods and snacks can readily be substituted for unhealthy ones. We may find that we like introducing new healthy foods. In fact, we may not even miss the foods we thought we couldn’t live without. Another technique for boosting our activity level without excessive effort is by changing our habits. We can start taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving, or using public transportation. Overall, mindfulness and moderation are prime strategies. These will set us on the right path towards successful behavior change.

Our daily habits have a tremendous  impact on our health and overall quality of life. Healthy habits can override unhealthy habits. All we need to do is make a conscious decision to respect our bodies and strive for better health. Learning to practice self-control takes time, effort and patience. Therefore, applying the techniques that work best for us is essential. Some of these behavioral changes will have immediate results. Meanwhile, others may take a while to appreciate. We have the capacity to build effective pathways and adopt new behaviors at any age. Yes, it is possible to “teach an old dog new tricks!” Both short-term and long-term goals are necessary when forming healthy habits. You will be able to sustain them over time and reap substantial health benefits.

 

Summary

Most of us practice both unhealthy and healthy habits in our daily lives. Understanding the benefits of healthy habits can make a huge difference. This will be seen both in our quality of life and health status. Making a commitment to developing healthier habits means we have already invested in our self-care. Simple modifications to our daily routines are important. These include those regarding nutrition, exercise, and sleep. These are all we need to feel better both physically and mentally. Tossing out our bad habits and replacing them with healthy ones is good. It will be refreshing and renewing for body and mind!

Scientific Information

  • Aerobic exercise – Endurance training and activities that cause you to breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes that amount of oxygen in your blood and increases blood flow to the heart and lungs.
  • DementiaA chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.
  • Trigger Something that initiates a chain of events, scientific reaction, psychological process, etc.
  • Body Mass IndexA measure for indicating nutritional status in adults. It is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of the person’s height in meters (kg/m2). (For example, an adult who weighs 70 kg and whose height is 1.75 m will have a BMI of 22.9).
Written by:

Alice Schluger, PhD

Health Psychology

Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian
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