5 Habits that Really Make a Difference
It’s never too late to live a longer, fuller and happier life! How amazing is that? Whether you’re fifteen or fifty, changing five simple habits can extend your life and add some pep to your remaining years.
Researchers looked at a recent study from Harvard University, as well as data from the Nurses’ Health Study, and found that beginning five simple habits gave fifty-year-olds at least ten more happy, healthy years. In fact, women lived fourteen extra years, and men lived twelve extra years. Years that were mostly free of cancer, diabetes and heart problems. Regardless of other factors, like income, race and ethnicity, these findings held true. Even when individuals had already been diagnosed with cancer or heart problems, changing these five behaviors gave them a longer, more joyful life than those who did not. This is exciting and empowering news!
Anyone can change their behavior if they’re willing to put in the time and effort. It can take anywhere between 18 and 256 days to form a new habit, depending on the individual. Most folks form a new habit in 66 days, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Putting in sixty-six days of habit-changing effort can earn you an extra decade on the clock. That sounds like the bargain of a lifetime! No pun intended.
So, let’s check out the five habits that can help you live a happier, healthier life.
This one is a biggie! Of all the behaviors we’ll discuss, choosing not to smoke is the most impactful. Excessive smoking is defined as fifteen or more cigarettes a day, but even one cigarette a day has a negative impact on your health. Smoking any amount of tobacco increases your likelihood of developing cancer, heart problems and diabetes.
So, if you want to ditch this habit, how do you do that? Mayo Clinic suggests starting by using nicotine replacement therapy, and then using exercise, relaxation techniques and social support to step away from nicotine all together. What is nicotine replacement therapy? It is when you use something like nicotine patches or nicotine gum in place of cigarettes. When we’re addicted to something, our brain releases feel-good hormones when we indulge in that addiction. Exercise, relaxation techniques (like mediation, painting, gardening and listening to music) and spending time with friends and support groups can release the same hormones in our brain. This can give you a real leg-up in battling your cravings and ditching nicotine once and for all.
2) Healthy Body Weight
The next biggest factor is your BMI, or body mass index. Body mass index refers to a math equation that estimates how much of your body is made up of fat. Fat is really important, and everyone needs a decent amount of it to be healthy, but a BMI of 30 or more can be harmful. Having too much body fat can increase your chances of developing cancer, heart problems and diabetes, especially as you get older.
Research shows that a BMI of 18.5 to 25 is ideal for a healthy, happy life. Exercise, as well as what we eat, plays the biggest role in maintaining a healthy weight. The easiest way to find out your BMI is to look up “BMI calculator” on the internet and input your numbers (weight and height).
Even thirty minutes of exercise a day helps keep your heart happily pumping. That means going for a brisk walk, doing tai chi or swimming laps in a pool every day can help add ten or more years to your lifetime!
Thirty minutes of exercise means thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. But, how do you know if you’re hitting the mark? Mayo Clinic says that moderate exercise is when:
Your breathing gets faster, but you’re not out of breath
You’re sweating within ten minutes
You could hold a conversation, but you wouldn’t be able to sing
They go on to say that vigorous exercise is when:
Your breathing is deep and fast
You break a sweat within minutes
You can only speak a few words between breaths
There are so many ways you can get your heart pumping, try different activities and do what you enjoy!
4) Eat Well
What you eat and how much you eat is as important as exercising. It seems like everyone has something different to say about what it means to eat healthy. That can be confusing and overwhelming. Let’s break it down into three simple rules:
1. Portion Control
You can’t overdo it on fresh fruits and veggies. That’s why these foods make great snacks and side dishes. Servings of protein shouldn’t be larger than the palm of your hand, nor should servings of grains (like rice, pasta and bread) or starches (like potatoes). When it comes to meats, try not to eat red meat more than twice a week. Remember that poultry and fish are easier on your heart. And, avoid processed meats (like sausages, jerkies and canned meats) as much as possible or even all together.
2. Proportions Matter
When you put food on your plate, imagine it’s divided into four pieces. Half of it should be fruits and veggies. A quarter should be protein (meat, fish, beans, tofu) and the other quarter should be grains or starches.
3. Moderation, Moderation, Moderation
Variety is the spice of life, so mix up what you eat! Fruits and vegetables are different colors, because they each contain different combinations of vitamins and minerals (which makes them the color that they are). The more colors you eat, the more balanced your meals will be - which means a healthier you. The same is true of proteins, grains and starches. Every food has something special to offer.
Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. How much is that? The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as up to four alcoholic drinks for men, and three for women, in a single day. The Institute goes on to say that men shouldn’t drink more than 14 and women more than 7 alcoholic drinks per week.
It’s important to remember that alcohol is a toxin (or poison) and that your body has to work hard to get rid of it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever enjoy a drink, but it does mean you shouldn’t enjoy too many. Drinking too much alcohol increases the odds that you’ll develop cancer or problems with your liver and kidneys. Since the liver and kidneys are responsible for keeping your blood clean and healthy, it’s important to look after them. Blood provides oxygen and energy to your brain and body. If your kidneys and/or liver are sick, the rest of your body will quickly become sick too.
By changing these five habits, you can live a longer, healthier life. That means more time with your family, friends, hobbies and passions. Time where you feel good and are able to do the things you enjoy. Developing new habits takes time and patience. It means trying every day, even when you don’t want to, and it means surrounding yourself with people who support you. Most importantly, remember that it’s never too late to start living a healthier life. Again, this study looked at people who were fifty years old. The results were undeniable. People who made all five of these changes were rewarded with at least ten extra years. You deserve the extra time. Give yourself this gift!