Habits are created. They are not random. They don't just happen by themselves. Think about how a child learns to take care of themselves. They are taught how to use a toilet, how to brush their teeth, how to floss, how to make cereal to eat, how to tie their shoes and by teaching them self-care skills, habits are unconsciously created. When we children are learning and mistakes happen or they forget to do something, children are told it is OK. They are beginners and they have to learn.
Learning how to do something new does not stop when we become adults. Unfortunately, adults bring negative emotions to learning. This is one of the many reasons new habits fail. Adults have very little patience and expect to follow a new habit immediately and perfectly. We do not allow ourselves time or give ourselves patience to make a mistake or to forget. We do not tell ourselves it is ok to make mistakes, we are learning. Instead, we feel we aren't good enough, smart enough, don't have enough willpower or motivation to make the change and we go slide back to our old habits.
The truth is it is impossible to follow a new routine perfectly. Life happens! A business trip, vacation, holiday, family situation, stress or just plain forgetting can easily mean we aren't practicing a new habit. The key is to recognize that something is going to get in the way and create a plan to deal with it when it happens.
This brings me to the first non-negotiable daily habit to avoid illness:
YOU ARE WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Beliefs originate from what we hear and keep hearing from others, ever since we were children, and from what we tell ourselves. The sources of beliefs include environment, events, knowledge, past experiences, visualization etc. One of the biggest misconceptions people often harbor is that belief is a static, intellectual concept. Nothing can be farther from truth! Beliefs are a choice. We have the power to choose our beliefs. Our beliefs become our reality. (Source: NIH)
You want to stop eating chips late at night
It is hard to stop because late at night, when the kids are in bed, you finally have some time to yourself. It is easy to go to the pantry, grab the chips and treat yourself in a self-soothing way. The children aren't around so you are able to eat the chips without distraction. Before you know it, 30 minutes later, the entire bag is gone. This is how you see yourself: When I am alone, I can treat myself to chips and not have anyone else to answer to.
Instead, tell yourself: "I treat myself with a warm relaxing cup of tea after the children go to bed." This means you are visualizing a new version of yourself. A person who can treat themselves with a soothing cup of tea after the kids go to bed.
When you have the urge to eat chips late at night, remind yourself that you are a person who self-soothes with a cup of tea.
Become the self-soothing person by drinking the tea after the kids are in bed. This action changes the mental image you have of yourself.
Eventually, you will define yourself as a tea drinker not a late-night chip eater. Changing your self-image, eliminates your old ideas and helps you become the new version of yourself.
If the idea of what we believe influences our health seems "woo woo", here is what Psychology Today has written on the topic:
Your brain is constantly using visualization in the process of simulating future experiences, but this process happens so naturally that you generally aren't even aware of it, the same way you usually aren't aware that you are breathing. The more details you have in a visualization the more real it will seem, and the more it will increase performance as the brain starts to develop connections that result from the repeated visual image along with enhancing motivation that increases the likelihood of taking an action toward your goal.
In the chip eating example, details to add include the type of tea you like to drink, where you drink it (sitting in a favorite chair or room for example), your surroundings (is there a lit candle or diffuser going?), the physical feeling you get from drinking the tea (warmth and stress reducing) and the resulting mental good feelings you have about yourself for drinking the tea.
What happens if you try the above and you still reach for the chips? Or you forget to drink the tea? You can learn from the experience without bringing in self-doubt and negative thoughts. How do you learn from the experience? Notice what was happening when you ate the chips and did not drink the tea. Defining the moment that made you skip the new habit increases your ability to notice old patterns that keep you stuck in, or returning to, your old habits.
#2 is: EXERCISE
A consistent workout routine is a great way to avoid illness. It doesn't matter if the exercise is using a rowing machine, taking a Pilates or HIIT workout class. If any of those exercises scare you, my favorite kind of exercise is walking. Walking is the most underutilized form of exercise that just about anyone can do for free. Let's look at the research on walking and illness prevention:
Studies suggest that even small improvements in the amount of daily walking is better than no walking, and greater increases provide larger cardiovascular health benefits. Short-term gains are improved fitness, body composition, blood pressure and lipid profiles. Long-term benefits include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary events and mortality. (Source: PUBMED)
An American Cancer Society study showed that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing)
Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing)
If you haven't been exercising or walking regularly, make sure to discuss the opportunity to start with your doctor. Also, don't think you have to join a gym or walk at a certain speed to get the above benefits. The research shows it is the amount of time spent walking not the speed or level of difficulty that gives results.
Try the below to walk more during the day:
Park the car farther from the door of the store or office you go to often
Invest in a pedometer and give yourself a goal of the number of steps you will take in a day
Take a 15 minute break from whatever you are doing and take a quick walk. If you do this a couple of times a day, you'll be amazed how quickly it adds up.
Take 15 minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk. Recruit other people in the office to make it a social break.
Take stairs not the elevator or escalator, if you are in a building that has them.
#3 is: EAT HIGH CARB FOODS!
I know this is going to make some people very upset! Especially when we have been driven to believe that we need protein (a lot of protein) to maintain a healthy weight. The fact is, we don't need to eat 100 grams of protein or more a day AND we need high carb foods to promote a healthy immune system.
Let's start with examples of carbohydrates that are healthy carbs and nutrient dense foods.
Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Complex carbohydrate foods provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important to the health of an individual. The majority of carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates (starches) and naturally occurring sugars. (Source: Medline Plus)
Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, milk products, candy, baked products and soda. Fruits and dairy products contain some simple carbs, but they are drastically different from other foods that contain simple carbs, like cookies and cakes. Processed sweets tend to contain refined sugar, too, and lack key nutrients your body needs to be healthy, according to the AHA. “There are health benefits to eating fruit versus eating a piece of white bread,” Galvin says. “Fruit does contain fiber, and also antioxidants and polyphenols and other good nutritional benefits." Dairy also contains healthy nutrients, such as calcium, protein, and sometimes probiotics (if live active cultures are present), Galvin says. The protein component is key to helping dairy behave more like a complex carbohydrate. (Source: Everyday Health)
Now that we have a definition of carbs, what makes a high carb diet so powerful that it helps prevent illness? Fiber! Essentially, eating a high carb diet means you are eating a high fiber diet. Avoiding carbs means you are eating a low fiber diet and are missing out on vital nutrients that prevent illness.
HOW DOES FIBER WORK TO PREVENT DISEASE?
Dietary fiber is broken down by bacteria in the colon, a process called "fermentation." Fermentation of fiber supports the growth of a healthy balance of good bacteria in the colon. In addition, the process of fermentation produces substances that promote health of the colon and body as a whole. (Source: University of Florida)
Studies show compared to those who ate less fiber, people who ate more fiber lowered their risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, as well as their risk of dying early from any cause, by 15% to 30%. And the more dietary fiber people ate, the lower their risk. For every additional 8 grams of fiber consumed, the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer dropped by 5% to 27%. (Source: Time)
Good sources of fiber include foods that some people are afraid to eat! Foods such as beans, sweet potatoes, apples, berries, pears, artichoke hearts, bananas, carrots and beets, to name a few. A couple of tips to get more fiber into every meal:
Use a smaller plate and fill 3/4 of it with vegetables, beans and grains. The last 1/4 of the plate can be used for animal protein, if desired.
Try a meatless meal or maybe two everyday! It could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Limiting animal protein to one meal a day (or even trying to not eat it for a full day) will mean you are getting plenty of fiber.
Serve a side salad with lunch and dinner. Romaine lettuce is a really inexpensive salad green and works really hard in the body. It is like an ice scraper for the gut. Just try to limit the amount of salad dressing which can easily add a lot of fat to a meal.
#4 is: DRINK WATER, a lot more water, every single day!
Drinking water is a basic practice that makes a lot of sense because our bodies are 70% water. Water is a critical nutrient whose absence will be lethal within days. (Source: NIH) Drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. (Source: Harvard Health)
So why is it so hard to drink enough water? Options! We are inundated with promotional messages from companies wanting to sell sweet, sugary drinks that don't promote good hydration for the body. Once we train our taste buds to love these drinks, it is hard to stop drinking them. But there are a couple of water drinks that you can drink to promote good health and avoid infections:
Lemon water is a great way to start the day. Squeeze half a lemon into warm water and drink it before you drink anything else. Then wait 15-30 minutes before you drink anything else. Lemon water good for you because it supplies a good dose of Vitamin C, promotes hydration and helps support healthy levels of potassium in the body.
Coconut water is another super-hydrating drink that can help shake up your water routine. Coconut water is the original electrolyte drinks containing more potassium than the sugar laden drinks you'll find on the supermarket shelves. Plus, it contains 10% of the daily value of vitamin C, helping to support the immune system. (Source: Real Simple)
#5 is: REDUCE STRESS.
Ever hear of the phrase "worried sick"? The phrase is not wrong. If you are constantly worried, the likelihood you will get sick is quite high. You might get the common cold, seasonal flu or something much worse when your immune system is weakened from stress.
When we experience stress such as the loss of a job or a personal tragedy, our body responds by sending defense signals to the endocrine system, which then triggers the release of stress hormones designed to prepare the body for an emergency. In doing that, the hormones, particularly cortisol, also depresses the immune system. Increased levels of cortisol, in fact, can decrease white blood cells and inflammation, while increasing tumor development and growth and the overall rate of infection. (Source: Hartford Health Care)
People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury. (Source: The American Institute of Stress)
Being 100% stress free is not a realistic goal. Stress is always around us but when stress becomes excessive, it has the ability to make us sick. Stress symptoms are listed at the American Institute of Stress website and include difficulty concentrating, frequent crying spells, neck ache, back pain, overreacting and difficulty breathing, to name a few.
Stress management techniques are designed to lower cortisol levels. There are many different techniques ranging from simply taking deep belly breaths, doing a short meditation, going for a walk or even looking at a YouTube video that makes you laugh. The key is to find an action that works to destress you in the moment. Here are a few science backed ideas:
A short, 15-minute stroll is enough to lower levels of stress and fatigue, finds a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. You can thank both a release of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins, and exposure to nature for the benefits.
According to research in the American Journal of Public Health, divert your own attention to someone else to sink your stress levels and reduce the cumulative effects stress can have on your health.
Research finds that even mild dehydration (which crops up before you’re even thirsty) can negatively impact cognitive processes and mood. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day or water which may include herbal tea. Green tea has an added antioxidant bonus of potentially reducing the effects of environmental stressors on the body.
Many studies show a dose of nature can help you recover from stress, face future stressors with more ease, and think more clearly. But to amp up the benefits, take your shoes off. ‘Grounding’ or ‘earthing,’ as it’s called, may help normalize cortisol levels, lowering your stress. (Source: Prevention)
The 5 non-negotiable habits listed above are likely habits you know you should be doing but aren't. Maybe you are doing some of them and not others. As you learned, a big stumbling block to what we do every day is what we believe.
You may not believe you can follow the 5 non-negotiable habits but I would challenge you to really think hard about how i