Habits are subconscious acts we do without recognising we’re doing them. They are a massive staple in what makes us, us and are neatly woven to form our identity from childhood. For example, you might have a habit of not putting the toilet seat down after you go to the loo - yes I’m talking to you, Adam!
Everybody has habits, but sometimes they can do us more harm than good so it is important for us to recognise the ones that we need to let go of and slowly embed healthy ones. In order for us to introduce new and healthy habits, we must iron out and recognise the ones that are not so healthy. However, first, we need to understand what habits are, and why we have them.
What are habits?
According to theworldcounts.com our habits take up 40% of our brain and are formed in order for our brains to be more efficient. If we made every decision consciously we would spend all day thinking and not actually doing. Take brushing your teeth every morning for example, or maybe even brewing coffee before you head out for the day. Those are actions that you do every day without even noticing - those are your habits.
Habits can be formed by traumatic experiences too. Take mine for example; I really hate having dirty hands and feel the need to wash them regularly, so much so that the moisture in my hands is pretty much non-existent. The reason for it? Well when I was younger one time I didn’t wash my hands after using the toilet, and my aunt made me feel so bad for not washing them that now; as a fully grown man - I wash them excessively. Thanks for ruining my life, I mean my hands, aunty! I might just be Prince Zuko with the way I can firebend now (that’s an avatar reference btw)
Now my example is pretty tame, but there are plenty of negative habits that we may have developed over the years that we probably don’t recognise is hurting us. So I want you to try this. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down as many habits that you have and try to separate them between good and bad ones. For example, grabbing your smartphone as soon as you wake up? I’m definitely guilty of that!
Okay, now you’ve completed the first step towards a better you, let’s get down to the healthy habits I reckon you should add to your life.
New Healthy Habit - Regular Exercise.
The thing is, despite us knowing that exercise is good for us and significantly improves our general health, do we understand it’s actual impact on us both physically and mentally?
Physical activity can range from walking, running, rowing, playing football/ rugby etc. Anything that increases the heart rate and gets your muscles working. When you engage in regular activity it’s clear that physical changes occur; such as weight loss, looking and feeling fit, muscle gain etc. However, did you know that regular exercise improves your mood and can help to deal with depression? Studies have shown that regular exercise releases Serotonin and endorphins - when released these hormones can lead to an increase in confidence, better sleep, lift your mood and improves your learning capacity; all whilst decreasing the levels of your stress hormone, cortisol.
Exercise increases your overall heart rate which gets more oxygen to the brain; which also releases another hormone Dopamine.
Dopamine is directly responsible for motivation and satisfaction for when you have achieved something. So if you’ve ever felt lazy and not bothered; it means that you’ve had a dopamine deficit. Have you ever come out of the gym after a tough workout feeling sad? It’s pretty rare to not finish a session feeling great. So adding regular exercise to your routine can ultimately lead to a happier you!
However, let's not neglect the benefits of exercise on your body too. Regular exercise leads to your respiratory and cardiovascular systems to grow stronger. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, meaning more blood gets pumped around the body to supply energy to the muscles that are being used in the exercise. Thus leading to adaptations.
With regular exercise over a period of time, a number of adaptations happen, such as your heart size increasing due to it getting stronger and the demand for it to supply more oxygen. With that, your muscles grow more capillaries, which allows more blood to reach them and it also decreases your chances of cardiovascular disease by 35%. On top of this, resistance training can increase the strength of your bones and help build muscle.
Here’s to learning about our happy hormones, how to increase them and the physical benefits of exercise! Thanks, Science! Onto the next healthy habit.
New Healthy Habit - A Healthy Balanced Diet.
Disclaimer: I am not a dietitian, GP or a nutritionist. If you have any concerns surrounding your health/ diet or possible allergies please speak with one of, if not all three of the aforementioned professionals. The information below is merely a guide to leading a healthy lifestyle.
Diet goes hand in hand with exercise. So I would definitely recommend implementing both healthy habits in your life. Without a healthy nutritional diet, your gym gains, or lack thereof will be evident. In my opinion, the journey to a healthy lifestyle is 70%nutrition and 30% exercise. Both are just as important as the other, but without a healthy balanced diet; kiss your dreams of obtaining that summer body goodbye! Not that you should worry, because we are going to learn about what our body needs in order for it to function at its best.
There are six main nutrients that the body needs for it to function, and they are Vitamins, Minerals, Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, and Water. Vitamins and Minerals are your micronutrients (small quantities) and Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats are your macronutrients (larger quantities). A deficiency in any of them can lead to poor nourishment, so be sure to get enough of these in your system.
Vitamins are micronutrients that have a range of benefits such as preventing or delaying certain cancers, boosting the immune system, strengthening your teeth and bones, aiding brain and nervous system function amongst other things. Altogether there are 13 vitamins that are split into two groups, fat-soluble and water-soluble. These are vitamins that can be solved in their respective group. Fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K and water-soluble ones include B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 and C.
You can get your vitamins from your vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and supplements
Minerals are micronutrients that also come with great benefits. Like vitamins, minerals are also split into two groups; which are both necessary for optimal health. There are major and trace minerals. Examples of major minerals are Phosphorus, Magnesium, and Calcium. The benefits include balanced water levels, and healthy skin, hair and nails. Trace minerals consist of Iron, Selenium, Manganese and a few more. Some of the benefits are that they strengthen your bones and prevent tooth decay.
You can get your minerals from your vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, leafy greens, dairy products, nuts and seeds, egg yolks, whole grains, and seafood.
Protein is one of your three macronutrients and unlike minerals and vitamins, you need to consume these in higher quantities. Protein is responsible for the reproduction of cells, the growth and development of the muscle tissues, bones, hair and nails. In fact, our hair and nails are mainly made out of protein. Unfortunately, unlike carbohydrates, our body cannot store protein for later use so be sure to get enough to maintain your good health.
Examples of foods with Protein
Carbs are essential for the body as they provide energy for our cells and muscle tissues. To save you rattling your brain, there are two main types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbs are sugars which can come from white bread, white rice and pasta - they are good sources of energy as they are easy to digest. However, research has shown that it is important to limit your intake of simple carbs due to them being processed and lacking important nutrients.
Complex carbs are said to be of more importance as they take longer to breakdown in the body, meaning that you stay fuller for longer, plus they are packed full of important nutrients.
Examples of Simple Carbohydrates
Examples of Complex Carbohydrates
Whole grain bread/ pasta.
Potatoes + Sweet potatoes
For the most part, fat has always had a negative stigma attached to it, but the idea that foods high in fat are bad for you couldn’t be more wrong. There are different types: Monounsaturated fats, Polyunsaturated fats, Saturated fats, and Trans fats.
According to research, it is recommended that we don’t consume too many saturated and trans fats because of their link to heart disease and strokes. In comparison, unsaturated fats tend to have healthier benefits. They are found to reduce levels of bad cholesterol, reduce inflammation and build stronger cell membranes in the body.
Examples of foods with healthful fats
Oily fish - Salmon and Tuna
I cannot stress enough about the importance of you drinking enough water every day. Dehydration is the cause of many problems in the body. Did you know your body is made up of 70% water? Crazy right. It is fundamental for the digestive system to work efficiently and for nutrients to be absorbed. We lose water through our urine, exhaling and sweat; so topping up frequently is definitely important. Fun fact: most foods have water in them, fruits and vegetables contain around 80 - 98% of it. So no excuses from now on!
Examples of foods high in water
New Healthy Habit - Regularly Reading.
In this digital age reading and physically holding an actual book seems like something of the past. When in fact, the importance of reading books has never been more necessary. These days we are so engulfed in technology that we can sometimes get lost in it. Again, I am guilty of this. However, whenever I pick up a book I notice a massive change in my anxiety. It allows me to focus on being in the present more and helps me to think more critically - and above all - adopt new styles of writing by expanding on my vocabulary.
Research has shown that reading books can improve our memory. It stimulates certain parts of our brain to function and shakes our brain into action; this increases our ability to concentrate and can also reduce our stress levels. Books tend to lead us into another realm of existence, thus seeing us embrace the main character/s and live their life. Personally, I love books with deeper, hidden, and double meanings because they allow me to come up with my own interpretation, which could then help me with a situation that is actually happening in my life.
If you’re stuck on what books to read here are a few that I’ve read that had a massive impact on me.
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
The Secret - Rhonda Byrne
Your Mind is Your Home - Kamran Bedi
New Healthy Habit - Planning and Organising Yourself.
Okay now this one right here, is arguably the most life-changing habit you could introduce. Why you ask? Well, think about the other habits I’ve mentioned previously. You could introduce those in your new-found lifestyle; but when? Where? Haven’t you got to take your little brother to football training? Didn’t you promise your mum you would take the meat out of the freezer before she got home from work? Oh wait, what about your project deadline for college? I digress. What I am getting at here is that if you fail to plan ahead and are not organised, you will not be able to optimise your new habits.
Just like reading, planning and organising yourself helps to reduce your stress levels. Fear can often come from not understanding or not knowing what is going to happen. However, if you plan your day the night before and know exactly what needs to get done; you probably won’t feel as flustered or worried because you’ve now put a plan in place. Visualisation is a skill you must practice.
How can you organise yourself? You could start with a to-do-list or buy yourself a diary. In there you can write down your list of priorities. Write down how you want your day to be. What time you are going to the gym, how long you plan to stay there for, what workouts you have in mind etc. The most important factor in being organised is to ultimately not FORGET things. Sometimes when there are too many things going on in our minds we try too hard to focus on all of them. The key to organising is to focus on one thing at a time. Get it done, and move onto the next task.
These healthy habits are just a starting point and guide for developing a better and healthier lifestyle. Starting new habits can be hard and it can be easy (especially this time of year) to get carried away and set yourself lots of new habits to start at once. The key to developing habits and keeping them is not to overload yourself. They say it takes two weeks for a habit to form, so maybe try to start one new habit at a time, and stick to it for at least two weeks before starting a new one. Oh, and don’t give yourself a hard time for not sticking to any either - you’re only human!
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I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it - in which I did! I promise