Take a deep breath and welcome yourself into 2021. Hey — there’s no guarantees that 2021 isn’t going to be full of challenges just like 2020. In fact, it’s almost a given. Every year has its trials and tribulations. It’s time to grow out of the “next year will be better” by some stroke of chance. It won’t be. Next year (i.e. this year) is only better when you get better.
If the new year reminds us of anything, it’s that we can start afresh whenever we want. The new year always feels like a perfect opportunity to start forming healthy habits. And it is. Healthy habits make our lives better, not because challenging things stop happening to us, but because we’re well equipped to deal with those challenges. When our bodies and minds are healthy and clear, the challenges that come with life are easier to navigate and we can come out of them in one piece.
In this article, we’re talking all about some of the healthy habits worth starting off this year with and the best ways to integrate those habits into your daily life and routine.
Happy new year, happy new you!
How do we form healthy habits?
They say that humans are creatures of habit. We can use those to our favour or detriment, depending on who we are and what our habit is. For example, if you’re in the habit of waking up every morning and smoking a cigarette, you’re not doing yourself any favours. But if you wake up with the habit of putting your running shoes on and exercising, that’s a very healthy habit.
In one UK study, researchers found that it took, on average, 66 days for a behaviour to become a habit. It varied anywhere from 18 to 254 days, depending on the complexity of the behaviour. Naturally, the more complex the behaviour, the longer it typically took for a person to feel automatic doing it.
In another study, researchers concluded that those who were able to link their habits with their long-term goals were more likely to choose effortless strategies, i.e., good habits. This is imperative when it comes to forming good habits — tie them in with your long term goals. At the end of the day, habits take time to form, and so it’s more conducive to align them with what you want for your future. Interestingly, in this study just mentioned, researchers found that self-control capacity didn’t necessarily have any impact on habit formation. So it’s not necessarily about discipline, but about repetition.
Finally, in a consulting psychology review, the author, Berkman, points out that habit formation works best when it is preceded by very specific cues and repeatedly rewarded. For example, doing something every time that you finish eating (something that happens multiple times a day and is a specific cue), and then rewarding yourself for completing that task. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding how you’re going to incorporate those new habits into your life.
Healthy food habits.
Food is typically the biggest thing standing between people and their health. And forming healthy food habits is arguably the hardest because food hits us where it hurts the most — culture. But again, it’s all about habit formation, and you can do it with food too. Here are three healthy food habits worth creating in 2021.
1. Eat breakfast.
It’s one of those things you’ve been told since a child but still don’t do (or at least, a lot of us don’t do it). If you’re not in the habit of eating breakfast, 2021 is a good year to start. According to a study in Nutrients, those who consume breakfast are less likely to consume large amounts of sugars, while those who skip breakfast are more likely to consume higher saturated fat and less fibre.
With a lot of us working from home at the moment, there’s also more time that can be used for preparing breakfast. If you’re still short of time cooking breakfast, get in the habit of cooking a little more at dinner (such as extra rice or extra quinoa) and using that food for breakfast. Otherwise, put some oats on to soak overnight or boil your eggs at night. It’s safe to eat left over foods if they are refrigerated overnight.
2. Less red meat, more vegetables.
Did you know that excessive red meat consumption is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease? This is because animal fat sources are typically saturated fat sources, while vegetarian fat sources contain unsaturated fat. And saturated fat is also the one most associated with cardiovascular disease. Animal sources of food also contain more cholesterol.
Eating meat is important for health and wellbeing. But even the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming no more than 3 servings of red meat per week. Good alternatives during meal time to promote satiety are mushrooms, legumes, and textured soy protein.
3. Eat colourful food.
A good habit to get into is incorporating colours into your food. Aim for at least three colours when you’re preparing food. Colours actually represent different pharmacologically active compounds in food. For example, darker vegetables (purple sweet potatoes, beetroots) are full of antioxidants. Orange vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato) are full of carotenoids. By making your plate colourful, you’re diversifying the compounds that get into your body.
You can easily turn a green salad into a rainbow salad by adding yellow capsicum, red onions, tomatoes, carrots, squash, or beetroots. The same goes for your veggie fry-ups and your breakfasts. The more colours the better, but if you can get three colours in, you’re already covering a wide range of different nutrients.
Healthy exercise habits.
The human body was built for… wait for it… moving! There are actually fluids in your body that don’t move if you don’t, so if you want to support the healthy movement of lymph (and blood), you have to get your body moving.
Exercise can be hard because people are time poor. Remember earlier in this article when we talked about specific cues and reward? Exercise is a great place to implement those habit-forming tools. For example, you can tell yourself that everyday, when you come home from work, you’ll spend 45 minutes walking outdoors. When you complete your exercise, you can reward yourself with a delicious dinner, a bath, or anything else that you enjoy that is also conducive to your health.
You can also use the habit forming techniques we mentioned to incorporate exercise into your life in more incidental ways. For example, you can start riding your bike to work and reward yourself with a hot coffee on arrival. You can also walk from your house to the train station instead of driving there, and again you can reward yourself with something that is still aligned with your goals.
As little as 30 minutes of daily high-intensity exercise puts you in better health status than those who do no exercise. Remember, it doesn’t have to be at the gym. It can be on your way to or from work. It can be in the quietude of your home in the mornings before breakfast. It can be in the evenings with your headphones on in the woods. It can be wherever you feel most comfortable exerting yourself. If you like exercising by dancing to loud music, do that too!
Healthy sleep habits.
Getting a solid, 7-8 hours sleep per night puts you in a lower risk for developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and depression. On top of this, inadequate sleep is associated with lower immune function, increased physical pain, and impaired performance. Getting a good night’s sleep every night is the single best habit you can form in your short time on earth.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is what people say when they don’t know how to take care of themselves. The reality is that you’ll be dead a lot sooner if you don’t give your body a chance to rest. Rest is when your immunity gets to work and when your body gets healed. Rest is when we get the REM experience which is fundamental to the feeling of wakefulness and alertness. Rest is just as integral to performance as activity.
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Humans are not nocturnal. That’s to say — their physical processes are much less active at night, so sleeping at night is conducive to health. Ideally, we would rise when the sun does, but that can get pretty late in Canada. So scrap that rule. Aim to sleep between 10pm and 12am, and aim to rise between 6am and 8am. From 7-9 also happens to be the prime time of the digestive system, which is a perfect time for breakfast (and also why healthy people poop first thing in the morning).
Eat. Move. Sleep. Repeat.
This really sums it up. Health isn’t complicated. It’s a lifestyle. Health is made up of lots of small, healthy habits. And it really all comes down to food, movement, and sleep. Forming healthy habits in these areas of your life are the foundation for whatever other health quirks you want to implement. The point is — you’ll never really feel healthy until you’re eating well, exercising, and sleeping well. So if it’s healthy habits you’re going to form this year, let it be getting a good diet into your body, getting a good exercise routine and enjoying the restful part of the day.
What habits do you plan to implement in your new year’s resolution? Let us know in the comments.