Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Is it really true that healthy habits can lead to a longer life? And, if so, how much longer? A group of researchers compared the lifespans of thousands of adults and found this: One group exercised at least 30 minutes each day, ate a healthy diet, maintained a normal weight, didn’t smoke, and limited alcohol. Women who had all five healthy habits lived to age 93 on average, the men to age 88. In the group without these healthy habits, the women lived to age 79 on average, the men to age 76.1
That’s a lot of “bonus” years. But it’s easier said than done, you say? Oh, without a doubt. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you form healthier habits:
Spot your triggers. What triggers an unhealthy habit in you? Is it eating in front of the television—or at your computer? Is it bringing the bottle of wine to the table, instead of pouring just one glass? Is it letting the weather dictate whether you exercise or not? Awareness is the first step to making a change.2
Make a plan. You may have heard some of this before, but it bears repeating:
· Don’t try to do everything at once. Start with a few small, simple changes. They can add up fast. The changes might be as small as adding a vegetable to breakfast. Or going to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night. Or parking an extra block away from your destination. Once these have become habits, you can set new goals.
· Link your new habit with an existing routine. For example, after you brush your teeth, take the dog for a walk. After you drink your tea, stretch or do tai chi.
· Tell others about your goals and invite them to join you. It really helps to have support on this journey.
· Track your progress. Health trackers such as Fitbit may help boost your motivation.
· Remove obstacles to your goals. For example, try to shop when you’re not hungry. That way, you’re more likely to choose healthy foods.
· Plan for challenging times. How will you cope with those inevitable stressful days? Call a friend? Take a nature break? Snuggle up with your cat? 2,3,4
Imagine your future self. Are you the kind of person who has trouble resisting temptation? For example, is it hard to resist the impulse to eat dessert every day? If so, it might help to imagine how your future healthier self will feel.2
Be patient—and celebrate success. It takes time to change negative habits and to “install” healthier ones. So go easy on yourself if you don’t see results right away. Celebrate positive behaviors, not just the end result you’re reaching for. Made it to the gym this morning? Get in the car and say, “Good for you, you did it!” Skipped that junk food snack? Do a little victory dance. The positive emotions you generate will help you stay on track. 3,4
Now, all of this comes with a caution: The same things don’t work for everyone. So come have a talk with me and we can discuss your plan. I know you can start off the New Year on the right foot!
Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.
1. NIH News in Health: “Healthy Habits Can Lengthen Life.” Available at: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/06/healthy-habits-can-lengthen-life Accessed 10-29-18.
2. NIH News in Health: “Creating Healthy Habits: Make Better Choices Easier.” Available at: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/03/creating-healthy-habits Accessed 10-29-18.
3. Mayo Clinic: “3 ways to make healthy habits stick.” Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/make-healthy-habits-stick/art-20270175 Accessed 10-29-18.
4. American Council on Exercise: “3 Secrets to Forming New Healthy Habits.” Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5733/3-secrets-to-forming-new-healthy-habits Accessed 10-29-18.