When it comes to health, there are no true quick fixes. Rather, the habits you form day-in and day-out largely influence your health and well-being over time. Habits related to daily movement, sleep, stress management, social time, and nutrition all contribute to overall wellness and quality of life.
In this article, we’ll discuss how some of these habits can have serious impacts on your short- and long-term health, as well as some tips for how to overcome unhealthy habits in these areas.
Key Components of a Healthy Lifestyle
Let’s define what a healthy lifestyle is before we discuss what it isn’t. What exactly does a lifestyle that promotes overall health look like? It will vary from person to person and change throughout the stages of your life. However, there are some common things that can stack the health odds in your favor.
You likely already know that exercising, eating right, and maintaining a healthy weight are important, and we’ll cover those – but there are more aspects to healthy living that you may not have considered. Here’s a quick run-down of a few basic healthy living principles:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Drink lots of water
- Eat lean meats and/or plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fiber often
- Limit excessive caffeine, sugar, and alcohol consumption
- Get regular exercise
- Manage your weight
- Get enough sleep
- Learn healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress
- Don’t smoke or stop smoking
- Strive for balance, not perfection
Incorporating these things can help you create a lifestyle that prevents illness and promotes well-being and a good quality of life in the long-term. It’s important to keep in mind that it may not be realistic for you to implement all these things at once.
But if you start with one change you can slowly begin to make it a habit. You’ll be surprised at the momentum it provides for you to incorporate the next habit.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the unhealthy habits that can sabotage your health journey. While not an exhaustive list, these bad habits may be getting in the way of your ability to have the energy, focus, and health outcomes you’re aiming for.
Unhealthy Habits that Can Sabotage Your Health
A sedentary lifestyle means you spend most of your day sitting or not being active. If you work a desk job or a job that involves a lot of driving (aka sitting), this likely applies to you.
Some research suggests a sedentary lifestyle is less than 5,000 steps per day, but there’s some debate over this number. What scientists do know is more activity (10,000 steps a day or more) is linked to better health. This is partly because those who are more active tend to have a lower weight, which is often associated with better heart health and longer life.
Not getting enough physical activity can sabotage your health over time. It’s normal to have fluctuations in activity levels.
Perfection isn’t required to be healthy but aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. This will help you reduce your risk of illness and have better flexibility, strength, mood, in addition to helping with weight management.
Low Fruit or Vegetable Intake
Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. That means they may be missing out on many essential nutrients. The USDA recommends adults consume at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables provides many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. These help promote immune health and combat everyday stress.
Low-Nutrient Beverage Intake
Many people start their day with drinks that contain high amounts of added sugars and caffeine. These may include coffee, energy drinks, sodas, or teas. While these may help jump-start your energy for the day, over time they may also increase your risk for weight gain, metabolic issues, poor cardiovascular health, and dental problems.
It’s also important to note that these drinks often displace water intake. Much of the human body is water, especially the brain. Getting enough water helps you focus, maintains a healthy mood, and helps lubricate your joints. Combined, too much sugar and caffeine and too little water (or other hydrating drinks) can be damaging to your health.
Poor Fiber Intake
Less than half of Americans get enough fiber each day. The daily requirement for women is 25g, while for men it’s 38g.
Fiber is important for a healthy digestive system. It promotes friendly gut bacteria, which are linked to a strong immune response, healthy mood, and better nutrient absorption.
Fiber can also help with weight management. It keeps you full longer by slowing digestion and can decrease the number of calories you need to eat to feel full.
Additionally, fiber helps your body get rid of cholesterol, which many people consume too much of. Excreting this extra cholesterol can help keep your heart healthy.
Without enough fiber, you can experience digestive problems, weight gain, and reduced quality of life. Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and supplements.
Poor Portion Control
It’s not just with sweets – many people tend to pile their plates high regardless of the course. This habit is easy to form, because hunger sensations can be overwhelming at times, and many people grow up with the “clear your plate” mentality.
Though this tradition may be good-intentioned, falling into the trap of overeating can be detrimental to your health. This habit can lead to weight gain, which is linked to a shorter life span and poor health outcomes. While it’s true that everyone who’s considered overweight or obese isn’t necessarily metabolically unhealthy, excess weight can still be hard on your body and reduce your quality of life over time.
Aiming to create a balanced plate with modest portions will help promote a healthy lifestyle by reducing excess calorie intake. You can try using a smaller plate and going back for seconds if you’re still hungry.
Eating Too Quickly
Everyone’s busy, and that often means eating on the go. Unfortunately, this can lead to not eating mindfully, which can have a whole host of consequences. One of these consequences is eating so quickly that you don’t give your body time to register that it’s full, thus leading you to eat more calories than necessary.
Research suggests that eating quickly can promote weight gain. As was mentioned earlier, excess body weight is associated with poor health outcomes. Since many people have a goal of losing weight, this is one bad habit that can easily get in the way of you meeting this goal.
Removing distractions, planning meals, and being mindful of what you’re eating are all ways to help you slow down and be intentional with each bite. By doing this, you can prevent overconsuming calories and be in tune with your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Focus on Social Health
Regular interaction with other people is necessary for mental and emotional health. Studies show that humans in isolation are more vulnerable to low mood.
While it may seem outside the realm of traditional wellness, social well-being affects stress levels and brain chemistry, which influence your physical health. Finding people with similar values and goals can keep you on track with your health goals. Also, who you surround yourself with has a large influence on your daily choices that make up your health in the long run.
So, that friend that invites you to go for a run or makes healthy treats to share is a good one to keep around!
Tips for How to Change Unhealthy Habits
Here are some basic tips for getting past unhealthy habits. If you find yourself struggling with any of the unhealthy habits listed above, you’re not alone.
- Start small. Don’t try to change every bad habit overnight. Burnout with behavior change is real, and it’s important to pace yourself if you want lasting results. Choose one goal that you can implement immediately and focus on it until it becomes a habit.
- Set realistic goals. Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and realistic goals. That means stating exactly what you want to do, how you’ll know when you’ve accomplished it, and giving yourself enough time to do it. This goal must be realistic for your life at this point. No goal is too small to start with, and the best time to start is now.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Your wellness journey is your own, and comparison will only drain your motivation. Although it’s easy to compare yourself to those around you or online, they have their hurdles to overcome just like you. Consider bumps in the road as par for the course and keep challenging yourself daily to meet your health goals.
- Have accountability partners. Sharing your journey with others can be a healthy way to cope with the challenges that come with changing your habits. Perhaps you’re competitive and you challenge a friend or family member to a goal-oriented challenge or do regular check-ins with a like-minded coworker to keep each other motivated. Whatever it looks like for you, having a good support system can help you stay on track and meet your goals faster.
When it comes to health, daily habits can make a big difference. Many bad habits are commonplace, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change them if they don’t align with your health goals.
By creating a realistic plan and surrounding yourself with the right support, you can create a lifestyle that reduces your risk of illness and helps you feel your best.
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