A healthy habit is a behavior that is beneficial to an individual’s physical or mental health.
A habit – whether it is healthy or unhealthy – is formed after doing something repetitively. How much it is done and when it becomes a habit varies by individual and by what it is. Some habits are ingrained in us since before we can recall – such as brushing teeth at least twice a day – while other habits may be newly formed due to circumstances – such as mindlessly snacking at night in front of the TV due to being at home because of the pandemic.
Having healthy habits can lead to living a healthier, happier existence by reducing your risk for preventable health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer not to mention the added benefit of weight loss or weight maintenance. However, starting healthy habits and undoing unhealthy ones can seem like a daunting task. In light of this, I recommend making changes in small increments by slowly introducing small tweaks into your lifestyle. Before you know it, your changes will become habits.
Here are tips on how to start – and maintain – healthy habits.
- Assess Your Current Habits: Many of our habits happen automatically so becoming aware of current habits is an important step to making changes. Create a list of habits that are both healthy and unhealthy. Think of triggers that lead to unhealthy habits and ways to break them. For example, you always gather with your friends around happy hour which leads to drinking and eating excessively. Consider other options for meeting up such as going for a hike, taking an enrichment class together, visiting a museum.
- Choose Where You Want to Make Changes: Do you want to start exercising (or exercise more often)? Do you want to eat healthier? Do you want to have a better sleep pattern? Or maybe it’s all of the above. If so, start small. For example:
- If you haven’t exercised recently, start lightly by committing to walking 2500 steps three times a week and trying a beginner exercise class on the weekends. Gradually increase your step goal (3000, 3500, etc.,) and increase your days of exercise.
- If you want to eat healthier, begin by committing to add in 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables to your meals. Increase it to 4 servings and then 5. Eventually you will begin to crowd out other food choices (such as processed snacks) by eating more greens.
- If you want to develop a better sleep pattern, start a night time routine by setting a time to turn off electronics (ideally 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime), incorporating relaxation into your evenings (meditation, herbal tea), and sticking to the same bedtime.
- Be Accountable: Research has shown that people are more successful when they are held accountable for their actions. There are many options to keep yourself accountable: track your steps (on a phone or an app), keep a food journal, ask a friend/partner to be your check-in partner, hire a wellness or fitness coach, or find an online group.
- Celebrate Small Victories: Don’t wait until you’ve reached your final goal to reward yourself. As you progress, celebrate small victories such as eating 5 servings of vegetables for 7 days in a row, or sticking to your exercise commitment for two weeks. The rewards can be small – doing an at-home facial; purchasing a new pair of workout pants; setting aside time to read a book or simply giving yourself a pat on the back and congratulating yourself.
- Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind: There will be slips or unexpected events that stall your progress, but keeping the bigger picture in mind – where you see yourself a year from now – will help to motivate you to get back on track. Every day is a new day to start again.
- Have Patience: It may take doing something 100 times to become a habit. If you really want the change to happen, it will, but it may not be on your intended timeframe so be patient with yourself.
Having healthy habits will benefit your mind and body, not only today, but for a lifetime. If you’re thinking of making healthy changes, I encourage you to do so. You won’t regret it!