Building Healthy Habits

A habit is an automatic response we make to something that happens in our daily lives. We don’t need to particularly think about habits, we just do them as part of our normal routine. For example, when we use the restroom we automatically take the time to wash our hand. Another example is the habit of brushing your teeth before going to bed. It doesn’t take much mental power to remember to complete actions that have become habits, but how are habits formed? Can we use habit building to help us achieve our health and fitness goals?

Of course we can! In a study published by the National Institute of Health, people with basic habit building training were five times more successful at losing weight than non-trained individuals.[1] The training consisted of only a small pamphlet with ten tips for building better habits. A very small time commitment to learn the basics of habit building can be the difference between achieving or failing at your goals.

Habits often take months to establish. When in the early stages of forming a new habit it is important to take small steps toward your goals, and not to change too much at one time. Choose one goal to work on at a time. If your goal is one that comprises of a lot of different steps, such as to lose weight, break it down into easy actions that can be repeated daily. A small change to your diet can be very helpful for your long-term weight management. For example, if your diet lacks fruits and vegetables, set a goal to eat one serving of fruit before you eat your lunch, and one serving of vegetables with your dinner. You can keep everything else about your diet the same, just add these two servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet. After a couple months of doing this, it will become normal for you to eat fruit with lunch and vegetables with dinner. Choose simple actions to add to your daily routine. If you try to change too much at one time you will not have to time to consistently train your new habit on a daily basis.

Notice in the fruits and vegetables example there was a habitual cue that prompted you to complete your daily goal. Eating lunch prompted you to eat a serving of fruit. Eating dinner prompted you to eat a serving of vegetables. Choosing a time and a place to achieve your daily goal programs your brain to prompt that action every time it encountered that same situation. Within a few months of continued practice, meaning completing the goal every day, you will notice you will automatically complete the action without thinking about it, just like washing your hands after using the restroom.

Sometimes finding a time or place to prompt your actions can be difficult. To help find something to cue your actions to achieve your goals, try thinking like a computer scientist. Computer scientists use a concept called ‘if-then’ statements when they are programming computers. These statements are ways of telling the computer if something happens, then in response, do something else. Use if-then statements in your plan, such as “if I want to drink a soda, then grab a can of sparkling flavored water instead.” Or “if I am hungry in between meals, then have fruit cut and ready as a snack so I don’t eat junk food as a snack.” When forming habits, your actions should always have a cue that signals when it is time to complete your action that will ultimately build a habit that helps you achieve your health goals.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/

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Habit Building isn’t Rocket Science, but it may be Computer Science

Building a habit isn’t rocket science, but it can be pretty close to computer science. Computer scientists control computers by telling them what to do in a logical step by step manner.  For example, if you want to teach a computer how to open a jar of peanut butter, telling it to twist off the lid would only confuse it. Instead, you first need to explain what the jar and lid are. You need to teach it how to hold the jar with a certain amount of force so it doesn’t fall to the floor, and that the lid will only come off if it is turned a certain amount of times with a certain amount of force. Your instructions need to be step by step and broken into small segments that the computer can understand.

Your health and fitness goals should be broken down the same way. To reach your goal and build new habits, break your goals into sub-goals. Write an action plan for each sub-goal, and complete one action at a time until you reach your sub-goal. If your goal is to lose weight, you want to create habits that allow you to lose and keep off weight. Start by setting a sub-goal, maybe it might be to stop drinking soda. Your action item for this sub-goal might be to limit your soda intake to only 1 soda per day for the next month and then to completely eliminate it. After not drinking soda for a couple months it will start becoming a habit, and you can then move onto a new sub-goal.

Computer scientists also use a concept called if-then statements in their instructions. These statements are ways of saying, for example, if the peanut butter jar is already open, then close it. Use if-then statements in your plan, such as “if I am thirsty, then I will drink water instead of soda.” You can also use this to reward yourself. For example, you can say “if I go a month without drinking a single soda, then I will reward myself with one day I can drink whatever I want.”

By breaking your goals into sub-goals, setting action items that can be repeated daily for each sub-goal, and using if-then statements to plan for different situations that can prevent you from reaching your goal, you will be on track to set new habits that will allow you to sustain long-term goals.

Setting S.M.M.A.R.T. Goals

When you set a goal related to your health and fitness, to give yourself the best chance at achieving that goal you need to make it SMMART.
Specific – When creating your goals, make sure you specify the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what you are planning.

Measurable – Avoid setting goals that you can’t quantifiably measure or track.

Motivational – Your goal should motivate you and those around you. If you are not excited about working toward achieving your goal, then perhaps you should rethink your motivations for achieving the goal in the first place. In the health industry sometimes you will find that the goal does not motivate you, but you need to do it to extend your life. If that is the case, use external motivations such as your family and friends to motivate you to achieve your goals.

Attainable – It is good to be ambitious, but do not be so ambitious that your goal becomes impossible to achieve. If you currently can only walk a mile before you are winded, it is not a great idea to say you are going to run a half marathon in 2 months.

Relevant – Ask yourself if your goal is worthwhile and worth your time. While a goal to eliminate gluten from your diet will help if you have a gluten intolerance, eliminating gluten may not be relevant to your overall goal of improving your health.

Time Bound – Set a time frame for when to complete the goal. Will it take a month, a year, a lifetime? It is up to you to decide, but a goal without a deadline will never be achieved.

Volunteering Improves Your Health

Have you ever wanted to build houses for the poor, coach your kid’s sports team, or become a volunteer firefighter? If yes, then you can use these volunteering opportunities as a way to stay in shape! There are hundreds of volunteer opportunities out there, and many of them require you to be on your feet most of the day. From serving homeless residents at soup kitchens to being a camp counselor, these require you to get up out of your chair and move around. In one camp dedicated to teaching health and fitness, the counselors managed to walk on average almost 8 miles over the course of 12 hours.[1]

With how active you are while volunteering, it is no surprise that according to one Harvard School of Public Health study, people who volunteer their time may spend on average 38% fewer nights in the hospital than non-volunteers.[2] This may be a result of a combination of psychological, social, and physiological benefits of volunteering. On top of the exercise you achieve, volunteering may give you a better sense of your purpose in life, reduces stress, and you get to meet new friends.

The more active social life that results from volunteering has some great health benefits on its own. According to one University of Cambridge study, living with an unfulfilled social life can be considered just as dangerous as other risk factors such as smoking or obesity, increasing your chances of early mortality.[3]

Next time you have a weekend off and are unsure of how to spend your time, or if you believe your time would be better spent helping others, then contact local organizations to see how you can volunteer. I’m sure your local animal shelter, fire department, or homeless shelter would love to have you! Then I am certain you will discover that volunteering your time is perhaps one of the best things you can do for your health.

[1] http://www.extension.uidaho.edu/impacts/Pdf_11/38-11swilliams-steps.pdf

[2] https://www.academia.edu/19753044/Volunteering_is_prospectively_associated_with_health_care_use_among_older_adults

[3] http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

101 Top Health and Fitness Quotes

“Age is no barrier, it’s a limitation you put on your mind” – Jackie Joyner-Kersee

“Always keep moving, even if you’re just walking.” – Unknown

“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you” – Arnold Palmer

“Attitude is everything, so pick a good one.” – Wayne Dyer

“Don’t complain, 80% of people don’t care and 20% of people are happy you have them” – Lou Holtz

“Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done!” – Anonymous

“Excellence is the gradual result of always trying to do better” – Pat Riley

“Expectations Determine Whether or Not You are a Success of a Failure” – Unknown

“Failure defeats losers, but it inspires winners” – Robert Kiyosaki

“Find passion, embrace fear, and create success on your own terms” – Dulce Candy Ruiz

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige

“If Not You, Then Who” – Unknown

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail” – Mark Splitz

“If you get 1% better at something every day then it is a successful day” – Unknown

“If you want to succeed, you have to commit to it wholeheartedly” – Unknown

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it” -Art Williams

“In any given moment we have 2 options. To step forward into growth, or to step back into safety” – Abraham Maslow

“It’s not whether or not you get knocked down, it’s whether or not you get back up” – Vince Lombardi

“It’s simple, if it jiggles, it’s fat” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Limiting the time you’re inactive is even more important than exercise.” – Tom Rath

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second” – William James

“Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.” – Unknown

“People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty” – Timothy Ferriss

“Persistence can change failure into an extraordinary achievement” – Marv Levy

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” – John F. Kennedy

“Sometimes you have to dive in head first” – Admiral McRaven

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” – President Abraham Lincoln

“The body is a mirror of how we live our lives.” – Lissa Rankin, MD

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.” – Morihei Ueshiba

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Kenneth H. Cooper

“The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Thinking and doing are two very different things” – Anonymous

“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Transformation is not five minutes from now; it’s a present activity. In this moment you can make a different choice, and it’s these small choices and successes that build up over time to help cultivate a healthy self-image and self-esteem.” – Jillian Michaels

“Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going!” – Jillian Michaels

“What makes you something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose” – Andre Agassi

“You are one decision away from a totally different life” – Unknown

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.” – Michael Phelps

“You’re never too busy, it’s just a matter of priorities” – Unknown

“1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry. 1 billion people are overweight.” – Mark Bittman

“A fit, healthy body—that is the best fashion statement” – Jess C. Scott

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Larry Elder

“A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.” – H. Stanley Judd

“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” – Unknown

“A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time, pills or stairs.” – Joan Welsh

“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Appetite has really become an artificial and abnormal thing, having taken the place of true hunger, which alone is natural. The one is a sign of bondage but the other, of freedom.” – Paul Brunton

“Be careful about reading health books. Some fine day you’ll die of a misprint.” – Markus Herz

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

“Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Liane Cardes

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

“Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork.” – English Proverb

“Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” – Michael Pollan

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Bill Gates, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.” – Mark Victor Hansen

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” – Norman Cousins

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Eat clean, stay fit, and have a burger to stay sane.” – Gigi Hadid

“Every living cell in your body is made from the food you eat. If you consistently eat junk food then you’ll have a junk body.” – Jeanette Jenkins

“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” – Owen Arthur

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization

“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it” – Josh Billings

“Health requires healthy food.” – Roger Williams

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” – Winston S. Churchill

“I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability.” – Bruce Jenner

“I hated every minute of the training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

“I really regret eating healthy today.” – Nobody Ever

“I tried every diet in the book. I tried some that weren’t in the book. I tried eating the book. It tasted better than most of the diets.” – Dolly Parton

“I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I’ve lost is fourteen days.” – Totie Fields

“If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.” – Joey Adams

“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.” – Deepak Chopra

“If you don’t do what’s best for your body, you’re the one who comes up on the short end.” – Julius Erving

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou

“If you have formed the habit of checking on every new diet that comes along, you will find that, mercifully, they all blur together, leaving you with only one definite piece of information: french-fried potatoes are out.” – Jean Kerr

“If you keep good food in your fridge, you will eat good food.” – Errick McAdams

“If you want to accomplish anything in life, you can’t just sit back and hope it will happen. You’ve got to make it happen.” – Chuck Norris

“If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.” – Unknown

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” – Chinese Proverb

“It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.” – Margaret Mead

“It’s never too late to start eating well. A good diet can reverse many of those conditions as well. In short: change the way you eat and you can transform your health for the better.” – T. Colin Campbell

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

“Most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but, because of lack of commitment.” – Vince Lombardi

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” – Brian Tracy

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” – George Herman “Babe” Ruth

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

“Some things you have to do every day. Eating seven apples on Saturday night instead of one a day just isn’t going to get the job done.” – Jim Rohn

“Success is a staircase, not a doorway.” – Dottie Walters

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn

“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” – Brian Wansink

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”- Tommy Lasorda

“The future is always beginning now.” – Mark Strand

“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” – William James

“The next best thing to winning is losing! At least you’ve been in the race.” – Nellie Hershey Tullis

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – Derek Jeter

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley

“We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” – Dr. Kenneth Cooper

“Whenever I see an ambulance, I like to think there is a baby being born, rather than a death” – Phil Lester

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them” – Michael Jordan

“You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures” – Charles C. Noble

Health Effects of Being Overweight or Obese

In June 2017 an article by the New England Journal of Medicine was released analyzing the health risks of obese and overweight individuals in 195 countries over 25 years. Here are the major conclusions of that study:

  • There is probable evidence that being overweight leads to 20 different diseases including back pain, several types of cancers, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, and osteoarthritis
  • The lowest overall risk of death was observed for a BMI of 20 to 25. Click here to determine your BMI.
  • Globally, 5% of children and 12% of adults are obese. Obesity is generally higher in women than in men
  • The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries in the last few decades
  • In 2015, high BMI contributed to 4.0 million deaths globally with cardiovascular disease being the primary cause
  • High BMI also accounted for 28.6 million years lived with disability
  • From 1990 through 2015, there was a relative increase of 28.3% in the global rate of death related to high BMI
  • “The results show that both the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI are increasing globally. These findings highlight the need for implementation of multicomponent interventions to reduce the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI”

Global obesity is increasing and the evidence supporting the resultant diseases of obesity at this point are irrefutable. What do you think we can do as a community to help prevent the further increase in obesity rates and further disease? Comment below.

How to Stay Healthy While Working a Desk Job

One of the perks of working for a large company is they often have fitness programs and on-site gyms so you can squeeze in a workout during lunch or after work. However, your average company does not have the benefits that a larger company may have. This does not mean employers and employees can’t find ways to make the workplace a healthier place to work.

If you work an office job you probably spend at least six hours per day sitting down. Try to find reasons to get up and walk around. Organize your office space so that any time you need to print, scan, or copy a document you are required to get up and walk to the printer. Park in the farthest parking spot at the office to give yourself an extra few minutes in the morning to walk into work. Instead of calling a co-worker, walk to their office and see if they are available to talk in person. If they are unavailable, walk back later. Instead of sending a mass email to everyone, post information on a bulletin board that requires everyone to get up to read new information.

You can also push to have more programs like the larger companies, but with fewer expenses. An internal ‘biggest loser’ competition can motivate employees to lose weight by offering a nice reward such as a few extra vacation days. Spend a few dollars per person to buy everyone a pedometer and see who can take the most steps in a one month period and offer a reward for the most active employee. Offer a longer lunch period for employees who plan to exercise during that time. Work out a deal with the local gym to give employees a reduced price on their gym memberships. Also, you can cater a healthy lunch every once in a while.

Office outings can be a great way to build camaraderie and a healthier company culture. Instead of the office going to a sports game or someone’s home for a party, plan for everyone to attend a ‘high ropes’ obstacle course, play a sport, or play paintball. If your company is large enough, create your own internal sports league that meets and plays your favorite sport once a week after work. Or even better, challenge other companies in the local area to see who the best firm in the local area is.

Even if your company does not offer all the fancy perks to help you reach your health goals, there are plenty of ways to make your work life work for you and not against you. Pick your favorite idea and start talking to your colleagues about setting something up. It only takes a few people to like your ideas to get the ball rolling.

The Difference Between Being Fat and Overweight

I was recently asked what the difference between being fat and being overweight is. Below is a picture I got from Pinterest, there are many like it. Notice the woman on the right looks skinny and fit, while the woman on the left looks like she may be carrying a few extra pounds. This is the same woman at the exact same weight.

Let’s assume this woman is an even 5 feet tall. At 5 feet 130 pounds her Body Mass Index (BMI) would be 25.4. BMI uses your height and your weight to assign your body a numerical value. Any value from 25 to 30 is considered overweight. Above 30 is obese while below 25 is the normal range and eventually the underweight range. If you are the woman in the picture below, assuming a height at 5 feet, you would be considered overweight in both pictures according to your BMI.

The difference is BMI doesn’t take into account how your weight is distributed. Muscle is more dense that fat, meaning a pound of muscle takes up less space that a pound of fat. If you are carrying 5 pounds of fat then it will have a noticeable difference in the way you look while 5 pounds of muscle may be barely noticeable. That is how it is possible for both of the pictures below to be the same person at the same weight. But even though they are both considered to be overweight, the body time on the right would not be considered fat. This is because of the muscle difference. This is common among people who lift weights. People who lift weights may be very healthy, fit, and skinny, but will often be considered overweight due to all of their lean muscle mass.

 

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Your Health Goals Will Fail if You Don’t Take This to Heart

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

In a famous quote by Lao Tzu, Tzu hits on the progression of self-improvement or self-diminishment. To change your destiny, whether for good or for bad, you must hit every link in the chain starting with your thoughts. A broken link will result in a failed outcome, so you must commit to this progression if you want to set health-related goals.

Thoughts

Any self-motivated change first begins by internally recognizing the need to change. I am not going to assume you have discovered this on your own yet. What I will assume is that you have given at least some thought toward making goals that benefit your health. Think about your current ideas for a goal and ask yourself two questions, why do I need to change, and how do I plan on doing it? The ‘why’ is important because it is what will keep you motivated. If you lose track of the ‘why’, then the chances are soon your thoughts about improving your health will begin to fade, and they will no longer be transferred into action. The ‘how’ is just as important ask ‘why’. You need to create a plan of action for how you plan on achieving your goals. Rehearse your plan in your head. Visualize yourself going to the gym every morning, eating healthy, and losing weight. This truly is a mental game, and it all begins with thinking about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

Words

Once you have thought through your motivation, goals, and plan, talk about them. Tell your friends and family what you’re planning on doing, and keep them updated along the way. Create a blog to keep yourself accountable, or if you want to stay a bit more private, spend about 5 minutes each day writing down what you did that day to reach your goals. I can’t stress enough that you need to write everything down in a journal or on a vision board. Every day you should read over the goals you want to reach and your plan to get there. Place it on the fridge or somewhere you look at every day. Continuously talk and write about your health goal to keep it fresh in your mind and to keep forward momentum.

Actions

As you talk and write about your goals, execute your plan every day. You’ve been talking about it and writing about it, so now you just have to do it. Your plan is set, you are motivated, and your goal seems very attainable. Now you just need to transfer what is on paper to the real world. If you told your spouse you’re going to go to the gym 3 days a week, do it. If you wrote down a list of healthy meals to eat this week, then get into the kitchen and make them. Action is by far the easiest link in the chain to break, but if you prioritize your goals and keep talking about your goals, then everything should fall into place.

Habits

Your thoughts have now become words, and words have become actions. Now as long as you keep up your actions, good habits will begin to form. Waking up early to go to the gym will just become a part of your weekday after awhile, or soon you won’t even care about not eating dessert if that happens to be your goal. How long will it take for a habit to form? Studies have shown it will take anywhere from about 2 to 8 months. This is why so many goals fail in the first couple months! People will try to start healthy habits, and soon their actions will diminish, breaking the link between action and habit. To truly live a healthier life, you need to form good habits and carry them with you into future years. Just keep in mind that it will be difficult and time-consuming to form them, but if you keep talking about your goals and putting them into action, eventually you won’t have to think twice about your actions.

Character

As good habits form, your character grows. Your mental and moral qualities will begin to reflect the hard work you put in to form your healthy habits. Have you ever heard someone talk about their weight loss journey or someone’s training to run their first marathon? Once they reach their goals they always have a large smile on their face and move on to their next challenge, no matter how difficult it may be. They not only did something great for their health, but they are mentally stronger and will never relinquish the good habits they have formed. The result is truly a lifestyle change.

Destiny

Your destiny can be described as the events that will happen to you in the future. If you are born a prince, it is your destiny to be king because you know it will happen when you grow older. By changing your character, you can shape your own destiny by changing future outcomes. These changes from your goal could be strictly health related such as living longer but can extend much further than that. By taking ownership of your body and thinking about a goal that can benefit your health, so many doors and opportunities will open for you if you put your goal into words, create action, form habits, mold character, and shape destiny. Don’t break the chain.

Author: Scott Van Hoy – Click Here to view the author’s profile

References:

http://examinedexistence.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-something-to-become-a-habit/