You want to live longer and feel better, but temptations make it easy to fall into old habits. Common knowledge says it takes 21 days to form a habit, but scientific research says it could actually take much longer than that — upwards of 250 days, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. The key is to stick with it, make plans for achieving your goals, take small steps toward your larger goals and find ways to make reaching your goals enjoyable. By this time next year, you could be a healthier and happier you!
Plan Your Menu Ahead of Time
You know you need to cut down on foods that contain refined sugars or saturated fats and up your intake of the healthy stuff – fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, dairy, etc. But knowing is only half the battle. Try to have a plan in place to make healthy eating easy and sustainable.
Plan a weekly menu so you don’t find yourself resorting to take out in a time crunch. Set aside time early in the week to cut up vegetables and bake a few chicken breasts so you’ll always have healthy alternatives on hand. If you reach for junk foods when bored or stressed, have a plan to replace the habit with a walk, a phone call to a friend or journaling. Soon you won’t even have to think twice about these healthier routines.
Make Exercise Fun and Easy
Building an exercise habit takes time and dedication, but once you’re hooked you’ll have a habit that improves your health, weight and mental well-being. Gradually build up to about 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity cardio exercise every week, as is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Take a 10-minute walk before each meal, attend a dance class or go for a 30-minute jog at lunch a few days a week. On weekends, make exercise a fun family event. A group hike, visit to the skating rink or bicycle ride keeps everyone healthy and active. Over time, build greater stamina and take on a 5K or an organized scenic bike ride. With time, you’ll notice that you enjoy and even look forward to these healthy activities.
Start Small to Stress Less
Too much stress can cause weight gain, interrupted sleep and increase your risk of chronic disease. A daily meditation practice can help reduce anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You can make meditation a habit by starting with just a few minutes a day at a time that works best for you, be it first thing in the morning or right before bed. Find a quiet space, deepen your breathing and just watch your thoughts as they pass by. As time goes on, add a few more minutes to your practice. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up or drop the habit all together — just pick back up the next day.
Set Yourself Up for Sleep Success
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to stay mentally and physically healthy. But the demands of work and family can get in the way. Make healthy sleep a habit by planning your schedule so that you can wrap up your day earlier. Cut out one obligation to make more time for sleep. Create a positive sleep environment by making the room dark and cool, moving the TV out of your bedroom and avoiding use of other electronics and doing work tasks in the bedroom. Make a point of going to bed just five minutes earlier every night until you’ve worked up to the full seven to nine hours of sleep. Then, work to sustain those changes — you might be surprised at the effect this has on your mental and physical health!
Building sustainable healthy habits is easier than you might think. Keep these four tips in mind every day and get on the fast track to a healthier, happier you! Dream accomplished.
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