What the Heck is Healthy Habit?

In fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle coaching it is easy to get caught up in the jargon.  It’s all about motivation, feeling the burn, becoming bulletproof, or how your goals need to be bigger than your excuses, right?

But on those days when you feel less motivated, give into your excuses (as we all do sometimes), or your diet is so restrictive you can’t avoid ‘cheating,’ it’s enough to make you feel a little bit ashamed, isn’t it? 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Motivation will come and go, goals will change over time (as will excuses).  What separates the people who achieve their goals for health and fitness and those who don’t are the healthy habits they adopted to match their unique lifestyle, one unglamorous and un-buzzworthy baby step at a time.

But, really…WHAT is a healthy habit? 

You can probably rattle them off by heart: eat well, move often, reduce stress, get enough sleep, find joy in life, practice gratitude, etc.; however, even if you know what you need to do to get healthy, it’s not always clear what these general habits mean. 

Move often: doing what? When? With whom? 

Eat well: how much of which foods and how often?

Even if you know the specifics, it can be a challenge to do them consistently, especially when life throws you curveballs.    

A healthy habit is anything you do on a consistent basis to help you feel your absolute best. 

That’s it!  No magic pill, no secret handshake. 

Healthy habits are unique to each individual.  What works for you to feel your best may not be what your friend needs.  The needs of a 40-year-old are different from either a 20-year-old or a 60-year-old. 

Once you hit your 40’s you simply cannot get away with the same things you got away with when you were younger, like not getting enough sleep, eating junk food, or sitting too long. 

Healthy habits for healthy aging means working a little harder — and a lot smarter!

Must we all get up at 5 to exercise?  Can we all get 7-9 hours of sleep each night?  Do we ALWAYS eat the way we know we should?  Of course not! 

Each of us has the ability to figure out how to incorporate healthy actions into our lives in a way that makes them mindless enough to do them pretty consistently, like brushing your teeth.

Is brushing your teeth fun and exciting to do?  No.

Do you need to feel motivated to brush your teeth?  Not really – for most of us it’s just something we do to take care of our teeth and we fit into our morning and bedtime routines so we don’t even think about it. 

Does it help to have someone to meet to make you brush your teeth or hold you accountable?  Well, maybe the dentist can make you feel guilty at an exam, but generally, no.

It sounds pretty silly to ask these questions about brushing teeth.  But these are the SAME criteria clients tell me they need to move more, eat better and take other actions to look and feel their best. 

Why the difference? 

This is SO important!

Nothing you do in life can guarantee that you will live a long life, not get ill, or suffer an accident.  Regardless, you CAN take steps to stack the deck in your favor and improve the odds so that when life throws its inevitable punches at you, your healthy habits will help you punch back with strength, health, and resilience. 

Aren’t you worth it?

It is a normal human tendency to take care of others before we take care of ourselves, so we need to remember to put on our oxygen masks first before we help those around us.  That means taking the time to build the skills to start doing the things you need to take care of yourself regularly.

Healthy habits for healthy aging

Here are a few starting points for you.  Of all the things you can do to take care of yourself, here are the four most important:

1.  Stress Management 

Probably the most important thing you can do for your health is to manage your stress.  Your body doesn’t distinguish between good stress (exercise, happy occasions) and bad stress (worry, injury, sleeplessness, poor diet).  All stress always triggers the release of cortisol to enable you to fight, flee or freeze.  This is a primitive survival mechanism we all have, and your brain is wired to save you whether the stress you face is a charging bull, a final exam, or a broken photocopier.  Chronic release of cortisol wreaks havoc on your body and its hormone balance and will interfere with your efforts to reach your body composition goals. 

It is important to PROACTIVELY take your brain and your body from sensing “flight or flight” to “rest and digest.”  How?  Take some deep breaths.  Make sure you recover adequately after a workout.  Eat well to optimize your nutrition.  Journal to get your spinning thoughts out of your head.  Get lost in a great book.  Watch silly cat videos.  Practice deep breathing, meditation, tai chi, get a massage or try acupuncture.  A daily practice of even a few minutes to calm your mind will help your body function optimally, balance your hormones, and keep you happier and healthier.

2.  Nutrition

The food you eat provides the building blocks for your body to perform optimally.  As we get older we don’t produce as many enzymes, so digestion issues, including food sensitivities, can start making an appearance in midlife.  Nutrient absorption might be impaired if food isn’t completely broken down during digestion.  To optimize diet I recommend focusing on whole foods, without artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or trans fats.  Digestive enzymes, multivitamins, and other supplements may be indicated, but first, see if focusing on a whole foods-based diet can help make a difference in a how you feel.

Here is an article I wrote that simplifies nutrition for you.

3.  Hydration

Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water to function properly.  Water helps maintain blood volume and allows proper circulation, helps regulate our body temperature, lubricates our internal organs and joints, as well as providing a shock absorber for our brain.  Drinking water regularly can help you to lose weight, think better, stay in a better mood, and protect against kidney stones, constipation, asthma, and urinary tract infections.  How much to drink?  Aim for half your body weight in ounces.  This comes to about 2 quarts/day for a 128-pound person.

4.  Movement

Believe it or not, humans are designed for movement.  We almost always feel better for moving throughout the day and it only takes 30 minutes of movement that elevates your heart rate above resting to provide significant health benefits.

All exercise counts towards a movement goal, but not all movement is exercise.  If exercise is not yet in your routine, focus on the health benefits of simply moving more and make this your action step towards building an exercise habit. 

Keep in mind your healthy habits can include anything from walking with friends or remembering to take medication as prescribed, to using sunblock every day.  Let me know in the comments below what healthy habits are most important for you!

Wondering where to get started?  I’m happy to help!  Schedule a free, no obligation, Midlife Fitness and Nutrition Action Planning Session…Make the time. You’re worth it!