Habits – breaking old ones and creating new ones

We all have habits – some good and some not so good.  Every year thousands of people make New Year’s resolutions, often vowing to start new habits or end old ones.  And many of these are health related.  A majority of these resolutions are broken.  So what does it take to end old or create new habits?

To better understand how to break an old habit, let’s examine the habit of eating sugary or fatty snacks during the evening.

Step 1: Identify the cue, the behavior, and the reward that perpetuates the habit. The cue may be a television commercial, or your partner eating cookies or chips in front of you. The behavior is you eating the snack. The reward is how much you enjoyed the snack.  You repeat this behavior again and again; the behavior becomes habitual.

Step 2:  Change your behavior in response to the cue.  You’re watching television and an ice cream commercial comes on.  Instead of eating ice cream, try doing something that will provide the increased dopamine levels you get when eating ice cream.  You want to replace the behavior (eating sugary or fatty snacks) triggered by the cue (commercial or partner eating snack) to a behavior (romantic walk) that gives the same reward (increased dopamine levels).

Let’s now look at creating new habits.

Step 1:  You more than like have heard this step before – set goals.  Many times we set goals that are too big and overwhelming. Break a big goal into smaller, more manageable outcomes.  For example, you want to lose 50 pounds.  Break this down to the smaller goal of losing 5 pounds your first month.

Step 2: Next, identify motivational factors.  What motivates you to lose that 50 pounds?  Is it a sense of accomplishment or maybe you’ll feel more confident?

Step 3:  Pick a goal-oriented behavior.  This means you choose the behavior you want to make a habit in order to lose the 50 pounds.  For example, walk and track 10,000 steps per day.  Pick one behavior to start with.  There is a better chance of success if you concentrate on one habit at a time.

Step 4: Create the cue and the reward. What trigger will help you make walking 10,000 steps each day a habit? Maybe it’s a journal to track your steps.  Or keep a pair of tennis shoes at your desk so you can walk during breaks and lunch.  How ill you reward yourself if you get the 10,000 steps in each day? Is the accomplishment in itself reward enough or does something such as a glass or wine motivate you?  Determine what works best but try and make it a healthy reward.

Step 5: Eliminate disruptors. It’s easy to come up with excuses for not accomplishing a new behavior. You want to identify disruptors and have a plan before they occur. Maybe you work late quite often and can’t get your steps in.  Keeping a pair of walking shoes in your car or at your desk will provide you the cues to fit the steps in earlier in the day, during breaks and lunch. Getting up earlier on those days and walking before you head out for the day is also an option.  It’s important to plan ahead to eliminate these disruptors.

Finally, maybe you need professional help with establishing a new habit.  Engaging a health coach could provide you the support you need.  A health coach can help you with each of these steps and the encouragement.

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Take a hike – it’s good for you

Hiking has been one of my favorite past times for many years.  I got hooked 40 years ago on my first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I enjoy the fresh air, scenic views, and wildlife. But I also love the health benefits for both my mind and body.

Hiking is aerobic exercise, that provides the following benefits:

  • Improved cardio-respiratory fitness
  • Improved muscular fitness
  • Lower risk of coronary heart disease and  stroke
  • Lower risk of high blood pressure
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of high cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Lower risk of colon and breast cancer
  • Increased bone density
  • Reduced depression and better quality sleep
  • Lower risk of early death
  • Weight control
  • Improved balance
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia

If you choose to start hiking, start slowly.  When vacationing, I often started the first day on the most strenuous hike of the trip.  I was sore for a day or two, making subsequent hikes more difficult.  I learned to start with shorter and less strenuous hikes, working up to the more challenging treks. But no matter how strenuous the hike, the views made it all worthwhile. I’ve seen wildlife, scenery, and unbelievable views that I would never have seen if I didn’t hike. Many of the most beautiful sites cannot be seen from a car.

Get out and take a hike.  You’ll feel better, both physically and mentally.

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Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that must be obtained from your diet.  The body cannot produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acid (alpha linolenic acid) plays a role in brain function and may help fight against cardiovascular disease.  They reduce blood clotting, dilate blood vessels, and reduce inflammation.  Omega-3 fatty acids are important for eye and brain development; act to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels; and may help to preserve brain function and reduce the risk of mental illness and ADHD.  Research indicates that omega-3 supplementation does not decrease risk of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, and stroke. (Rizos et all., 2012).

Omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) combines with omega-3 produces many health benefits but must be balanced appropriately.  Most people get too much omega-6 in proportion to omega-3, which can contribute to inflammation and blood clotting.  The recommended ration of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2:1.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in:

  • grains
  • spirulina
  • brazil nuts
  • hempseed oil
  • mustard seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • chia seed oil
  • wheat germ oil
  • canola oil
  • green leafy vegetables
  • raw walnuts and walnut oil
  • flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • tuna
  • herring
  • oysters
  • anchovies

Omega-6 acids are found in:

  • olive oil
  • wheatgerm
  • grapeseeds
  • pistachios
  • sesame oil
  • hempseed oil
  • pumpkin seeds
  • chia seed oil
  • safflower oil
  • sunflower oil
  • cottonseed oil
  • raw nuts and seeds

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Preventing type 2 diabetes

As of 2014, 29.1 million people in the United States, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes.  More than 1 in 4 of them didn’t know they had the disease.  Diabetes affects 1 in 4 people over the age of 65.  About 95% of cases in adults are type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose is too high.  Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes mainly from the food you eat.  Insulin,  a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy.  In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well.  Too much glucose then stays in your blood, and not enough reaches your cells.  Diabetes can lead to problems such as:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • nerve damage
  • kidney disease
  • foot problems
  • eye disease
  • gum disease and other dental problems
  • sexual and bladder problems

Diabetes is also linked to other health problems such as sleep apnea, depression, some types of cancer, and dementia.  Your chances of developing type 2 diabetes depend on a combination of risk factors such as family history, age, or ethnicity. You can change lifestyle risk factors such as diet, physical activity, and weight.

You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you:

  • are overweight or obese
  • are age 45 or older
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
  • have high blood pressure
  • have a low level of HDL cholesterol, or a high level of trigycerides
  • have a history of gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
  • are not physically active
  • have a history of heart disease or stroke
  • have depression
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • have acanthosis nigricans

Research such as the Diabetes Prevention Program, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, has shown that you can take steps to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes if you have risk factors for the disease.  Here are some things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight, and keep it off.  You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of your current weight.
  • Move more.  Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity, such as walking, at least 5 days a week.  If you have not been active, talk with your health care professional about which activities are best.  Start slowly and build up to your goal.
  • Eat healthy foods.  Eat smaller portions to reduce the amount of calories you eat each day and help you lose weight.  Choosing foods with less fat is another way to reduce calories.  Drink water instead of sweetened beverages.

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