The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Healthy People
“The patient should be made to understand that he or she must take charge of his own life. Don’t take your body to the doctor as if he were a repair shop.” Quentin Regestein, MD
Do you truly want to be healthy? Then get ready to take charge of your own health. These seven simple habits are meant to empower you to lead a happier and more rewarding life through better health provided you’re dedicated.
Habit 1: Stop setting yourself up for failure
Let me ask you a few things:
- Do you automatically associate old age with diseases or debilitating conditions like osteoporosis and neurocognitive decline?
- Have you reached a point where you consider overweight and obesity as an inevitable life journey?
- Have you resigned yourself to your poor health and the compromised quality of life it brings along?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, I’m sorry to say but you have condemned yourself to fail. Stop feeling sorry for yourself; that’s not going to improve anything. Instead change your mindset TODAY. Believe that poor health is not your fate. Be proactive by doing everything you can to improve your health.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s what you can do:
- Don’t smoke — tobacco or weed.
- Say no to alcohol.
- Go to bed before midnight and sleep for seven to eight hours.
- Be physically active, several times a week — a vigorous walk will do wonders for your health.
- Forget the scales and starvation diets — tune in with your body: you’ll know when you’ve eaten enough.
- Eat on time.
- NEVER skip breakfast.
The above tips are adapted from the UCLA study1 led by Dr Breslow who investigated the seven habits of 7000 healthy people for 35 years. Those who followed 6 to 7 habits had a 50% lower mortality rate after 35 years compared to those who followed zero to three habits.
Habit 2: Secure your future health status today
Take a paper now and — I know it’s not a very fun thought but bear with me — write down how you’d like to age.
Well, because if you don’t have a precise vision of the health you’d like to enjoy in your old days, it will be very hard for you to make daily decisions that will help you achieve your health goal(s).
Chronic diseases don’t appear overnight but are slowly fed by our daily unhealthy decisions however insignificant they may seem today.
Let’s consider stress: you’ll tell me that with today’s hectic life it’s hard to be stress-free. I hear you. BUT there are things you can do to reduce the toll of stress on your body — for instance, stop wasting your life with these late night TV shows and say NO to mindless eating.
You see, research suggests that a single night of sleep deprivation stresses the body by inducing insulin resistance2— this leads to an excessive production of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone cortisol. While this hormone is essential for our body to function efficiently, an excess causes increased hunger and cravings for fatty or sweet foods. This can lead to overeating; I’m sure you know the rest of the story.
Now, a regular lack of sleep can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels which have been shown to cause:
- Obesity (especially visceral obesity)3;
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases4 and diabetes3, 4, 5.
- Impaired immune function6;
- Compromised digestion and absorption leading to ulcers7;
- Fertility issues due to erectile dysfunction or the disruption of normal ovulation8.
So choose today who you’d like to become: that person taking two stairs at a time or the one taking two pills at a time
Habit 3: Help yourself; invest in your success
Are you slipping into your sneakers yet? Wait: take time to plan ahead.
Too often do I meet people who take on so many health goals at a time that they burn out and end up doing nothing. Although living a healthy lifestyle isn’t complicated, it does require some investment on your part in terms of perseverance, time and planning.
If your diet is the obesity-causing villain, then identifying the best diet tips for weight loss before you attempt any dietary change can make altering your habits less hair-pulling.
And if you need to lose weight, get some help from a health professional. A recent study showed that coaching (even if by phone), helped people make significant changes in a surprisingly short time frame9. The best part is that they maintained these changes very well over time.
Habit 4: To redeem your health, educate yourself
We have yet to unravel all the mysteries of the human body and since health concerns us all, you can expect lots of conflicting opinions (even among experts). So, when you hop on the health wagon, make sure to get advice from qualified or experienced individuals and, using a critical-thinking approach, filter the information on the wild, wild web.
According to a Northwestern University research, participants who engaged in at least 80% health education classes were more likely to achieve and maintain weight loss9. The scientists explained that understanding what shapes health and governs weight empowers and engages the individual to help herself/himself.
For a productive conversation, welcome and understand the health opinions of others (especially with your close ones) before questioning them. A healthy social interaction — one that’s not hindered by intolerance and bias — will improve your well-being by providing fulfillment.
Habit 5: Support and ask to be supported
So you’ve chosen to eat healthy. That’s great. But, who’s going to cook? And what about these weekly dine outs — your family’s ‘tradition’?
If you really want to achieve your health goals, you’ll need support from your family members or close friends. Imposing your decisions and changes on others will only alienate them, making your health pursuit harder. In his book Love and survival, Dr D.Ornish underlines the fact that it is the nature of social relationships, and not the number of that relationship, that influence our health and well-being.
And a 1993 study that followed 752 men for seven years found that social support offsets the adverse consequences of stress that decreasing the body’s production of cortisol and other stress hormones like norepinephrine10. As mentioned earlier, high levels of these hormones suppress the immune system and render the body more vulnerable to diseases.
Your health goals should be a win-win situation for all those involved. Everyone knows that adopting a healthier lifestyle is a win situation for the one making the changes. So, the way to get your family on board is to tell them how they can benefit from a healthier you. Explain how you’ll be more energetic, perhaps less moody and annoying and thus more fun to be around.
Don’t force your needs on others. Give your close ones some extra sense of worth by asking them how your changes may be problematic for them. This way, it will be easier for you to come up with a solution that will benefit all parties involved — practice the art of disagreeing agreeably.
And of course, do help in the kitchen or, better still, cook yourself; show your loved ones that healthy food is tasty!
Habit 6: Be grateful
You’re probably wondering how gratitude made my list. Well, acknowledging what you have and being thankful for all the favors bestowed on you —family, friends, shelter and so on — can also help keep disease at bay by shaping physiological responses and guiding decision making.
Skeptical? Don’t be: a review of eight studies involving a total of almost 3000 participants found that people who demonstrate gratitude have fewer depressive symptoms and are more positive in general11. A positive attitude makes problems seem less overwhelming and more manageable. This in turn appears to affect decision making in a beneficial way.
That’s not all; a University of Michigan study revealed that the health effects of stress are reduced amongst people who feel more grateful to God12.
One way to show gratitude is to inspire others to be healthy but the aim here is to keep their interests in mind and work together to jump personal hurdles.
For instance, let’s say exercising is hard for you whereas eating more veggies is an issue for your friend. What you could do is encourage your friend by finding easy ways to incorporate veggies in her/his diet (e.g. green smoothies, veggie dips or soups) or sharing a salad for lunch. And your friend will spontaneously offer to accompany you for a morning jog. See? It’s a win-win situation.
Habit 7: Never stop moving your life forward
Keep moving forward… That’s easy to say and do when things are actually moving. But what do you do when you feel stuck? How can you unblock your life?
Here’s a short list for you:
- Review the spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of your life one by one. It could be that the equilibrium has been disrupted because you stopped doing something you were used to.
Let’s say your weight just won’t budge anymore. Instead of throwing your running shoes out the window, review your food journal or your exercise sessions. It could be that you’ve slowed down the pace on your cardio training or that some unhealthy foods have sneaked back in your diet.
- Focus on times when you felt happy — this could bring some of the happiness back. During their study, researchers from University College London found that older people were up to 35% less likely to die during the 5 year study if they considered themselves to be happy13.
- Take the time to slow down, analyze your achievements and making some tweaks here and there — don’t be too rigid. If you’re no longer seeing results with your current exercise routine, get a qualified trainer to help you out of your rut.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your health journey: instead of feeling blue because you didn’t manage to get rid of these 20lbs, be grateful you’ve lost half of it and the remaining lbs will follow.
- Expand your knowledge, especially on the spiritual level to make sure your life is right on track.
It’s normal to occasionally get wedged in our thoughts and actions but the crucial thing here is not to let these go on indefinitely without taking action. The sooner you get back on track, the better you’ll feel.
This list is far from being perfect because only you can perfect it for yourself. But adopting any or all of these habits could definitely benefit you because remember: health is not the end-game. LIFE is.
By Shariah Hussenbocus, RD, CDE, Specialist in women’s and children’s health
- Belloc NB, Breslow L. (1972) Relationship of physical health status and health practices. Prev Med. 1:409–421.
- Donga, E., et al. (2010) A Single Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation Induces Insulin Resistance in Multiple Metabolic Pathways in Healthy Subjects. JCEM 95(6): 2963-2968
- Kanutson, K., et al. (2007) The Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Sleep Med Rev 11(3): 163–178.
- Manenschijn, L., et al (2013). High Long-Term Cortisol Levels, Measured in Scalp Hair, Are Associated With a History of Cardiovascular Disease. JCEM, 98(5), 2078-2083.
- Lloyd, C., Smith, J., & Weinger, K. (2005). Stress and diabetes: a review of the links. Diabetes spectrum, 18(2), 121-127.
- Majde, J. A., & Krueger, J. M. (2005). Links between the innate immune system and sleep. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 116(6), 1188-1198.
- Jones DS, Quinn S (eds). Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Institute for Functional Medicine; 2006.
- Weinstein R. The Stress Effect. New York: Avery-Penguin Group; 2004.
- Spring, B., et al (2012). Multiple Behavior Changes in Diet and Activity A Randomized Controlled Trial Using Mobile Technology Behavior Changes in Diet and Activity. Arch Intern Med, 172(10), 789-796.
- Rosengren, A., Orth-Gomer, K., Wedel, H., & Wilhelmsen, L. (1993). Stressful life events, social support, and mortality in men born in 1933. BMJ 307(6912), 1102.
- Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2011). Positive affect measured using ecological momentary assessment and survival in older men and women. PNAS, 108(45), 18244-18248.
- Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2012). Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 26(4), 615-633
- Krause, N. (2006). Gratitude toward God, stress, and health in late life. Research on Aging, 28(2), 163-183.
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