About this time every year, many of our self-improving resolutions center on changing our lifestyle habits. Yet even when we have the best of intentions, our resolutions are often circling the drain by about mid February as we revert back to ingrained behavior patterns.
Sure we’d all be fit, healthy, and energetic if we could just get into habits of exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods, and breaking the habits of downing a pint of Rocky Road in front of the TV instead of taking an after dinner walk.
But why is it so difficult to cultivate good new patterns and break bad old ones? Experts say that humans are designed to habituate. Our brains are wired that way. It is behaviors like eating and sleeping that keep humans surviving as a species. While these two behaviors are instinctual, most of our habits are learned, often from childhood and from repetition. So don’t fall pray to the old saying that ” you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Because first of all, we are not dogs. We are sentient beings capable of delineating between good and bad. And most importantly, we “all” have the power to chose; that power is called “will”. So “where there is a will, there is a way” is the motto you should stick to this year and make as many changes as you can to improve your health and longevity.
As we get older, things we can do make a big difference, while things beyond our control turn out to be much less significant. According to a 60-year study of life-prolonging factors in a group of 237 Harvard University sophomores and 332 poor, urban teens recruited in 1937, it was determined that while social class, family life, parental longevity matter earlier in life- none are predictors of health beyond middle age. Here are the top ten recommendations made by health expert from all over the United States on improving your life.
Wash your hands
“Wash your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ after using the bathroom, before you eat, after diapering a child or after wiping a runny nose,” suggests Michael T. Osterholm, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. You may find this a bit funny. But I did not realize the importance of hand washing until I took a course in microbiology. The first day in lab, our instructor gave us the routine break done of equipment, hours, assignment, and lastly hand-washing instructions. He emphasized the importance of washing for at least 15 seconds with soap. Well, I did not take it as seriously as I should have and became ill after the first week of class. I got an ear infection, which was mentioned in class as a common occurrence due to lack of compliance with hand washing. As simple and commonsense as this habit may seem, you would be surprised as how often it is overlooked and consequences can sometimes be very grave.
Turn off the TV
Yes, I, unfortunately, have become one of those people who have the TV set on no matter what is on the screen. I come home from school and turn my head off as I turn the set one. That is a habit I would like to eliminate all together. It is mindless zoning that turns people into vegetables. It is the only activity Alzheimer’s patients did more of earlier in life than their counterparts. People who experienced loss of memory, confusion and disorientation of Alzheimer disease in old age were less active physically and intellectually between the ages of 20-60.
If you take herbs or supplements, tell your doctor
This includes St. John’s wort, gingko, ginseng, feverfew, kava, valerian and therapeutic doses of garlic and ginger. Communication is especially important if you have surgery or take cardiac medications-or any drugs requiring periodic blood tests to determine dosage. Interactions have been fatal.
Go square dancing
Go square dancing-to sharpen your geometric and spatial skills, according to Schaie, Ph.D., professor of human development and psychology and director of the Gerontology center, Pennsylvania State University. Schaie directs a Seattle study of midlife traits that correspond with an individual’s ability to live independently as a senior. Two things are highly important: seek stimulation for all your life, and learn to accept change. People who are very rigid do the worst.
Eat a small handful of nuts every day
Almonds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, even macadamia nuts can help reduce cholesterol. Roast them on a cookie sheet in your oven to add flavor and avoid the fats in commercially roasted nuts. Substitute nuts for foods with empty fat calories.
Eat fruits and veggies
Include one fruit or vegetable at every eating or drinking occasion-even with ice cream or frozen yogurt. You will rack up five servings a day before you know it. A diet high in fruits and vegetable is a good start for those on a weight loss program. They are high in fiber as well as disease-fighting phytochemicals and are great substitutes for sugary snacks like cookies and candies. For example, avocado contains large amounts of lutein, which appears to reduce the risk of some cancers and protect the eyes. The phytochemical in blueberries may slow the decline in brain function related to getting older and protect the eyes from macular degeneration. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Scientist are still identifying additional phytochemicals in plan foods and studying how they fight disease. And since every plant food contains different compounds that work synergistically to combat disease, eat a wide variety.
Not bacon and eggs, but ready-to-eat or cooked cereal. You will likely have a greater intake of fiber and lower saturated-fat caloric intake for the day, lowering your LDL cholesterol. Obviously you would want to read the label on the box and stay clear of high-sugar, high-fat cereals. Your best bet would be whole-grain cereals. But either way you are better off with the cereal than with bacon and eggs.
Deal with anger
Many events are beyond our control, but we can control our reactions to them. Become comfortable saying you’re angry and that people don’t need to do anything but listen. If screaming helps, do it in private. If exercise helps, get out for a run or workout that day. Don’t push anger inside for it does real damage to the human body.
Get an extra half-hour of sleep
Catch the earlier news and hit the hay during the evening news. Research shows that chronically insufficient sleep enhances sensitivity to pain and may lead to type 2 diabetes.
Get moving and stop smoking
This is what expert consulted says. Before your head hits the pillow at night, be sure you can look back on the day and recall that you were physically active for at least 30 minutes.