5 ways to break bad habits & start getting healthy

October 2, 2015

Getting healthy often means breaking your old habits. Following this advice could help you break your routine and start making positive changes.

5 ways to break bad habits & start getting healthy

1. Take your brain off bad habits

  • Forming a new habit, one you'll do automatically as your "default" setting, takes at least two weeks of faithful repetition. The reason: You're rewiring your brain.
  • Researchers have discovered that giving up bad habits, things that may feel good but aren't so good for your health, works against the brain's pleasure systems.
  • Your brain may actually go into withdrawal when you swap bad habits for good habits.
  • This is because you're no longer supplying the activity or foods that send surges of the feel-good chemical dopamine to your brain cells.

2. Outsmart your own mind

  • Outsmart withdrawal by substituting another feel-good food or activity.
  • Experts suspect that sticking with a new, healthier pleasure long enough will teach your brain to release dopamine when you experience it.
  • If you do, you may actually look forward to your walk or slice of whole-wheat cinnamon toast in the morning.

3. No pain, still gain

  • A lot of people stick to the old "No pain, no gain" myth, but many fitness experts disagree.
  • Karl Knopf, EdD, a professor of Adaptive/Older Adult Fitness, argues that "if it feels bad, it will be very difficult to stick with it. Exercise should make you feel good."
  • Knopf suggests that your exercise routine should "match your body type, your likes and dislikes, and your needs. When it does that," he says, "You'll be able to stick with it."

4. Listen to your body

  • As you make changes, check in with yourself throughout the day. A change that's right for you will help you feel energized yet relaxed.
  • You may feel a little tired if you've just taken a walk or performed a few strength-training moves, but you shouldn't feel achy or exhausted.
  • You may feel a little lighter in the tummy if you're eating more moderate portions, but you shouldn't feel starved.
  • If you're trying to add more relaxation, more hobbies, and more socializing to your day, you should expect to feel excited and busy, but never overwhelmed.

5. Change without stress

  • Change shouldn't become a source of stress.
  • Research shows that when it does, stress hormones impel us to do whatever we've always done to calm down.
  • That might mean eating a cupcake or smoking a cigarette, having a glass of wine or complaining.
  • Stress, then, can interfere with efforts to change.

If you start with changes that are easy to make, and stick with them for a few weeks, you'll find that the next wave of changes is even easier. And suddenly, you can be well down the path toward the long health you desire.

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