12 Healthy Habits to Adopt for 2017

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January 2, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Today, I want to share 12 simple, life-changing habits for maximum health…and happiness. Habits get a bad rap—we often think of the bad ones out there. But the truth is, habits form the backbone of about 95% of what we do every day—the good and the bad. And that’s why it’s so important to fill your life with as many good habits as you possibly can. They are the key to creating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Starting a new habit isn’t always easy. The conventional wisdom says it takes at least three weeks to establish a new habit. For that reason, I’m breaking down these healthy habits into 12 steps—one for each month of the new year.

Healthy Habit #1: Be active

You know that exercise is great for you. It helps the body grow stronger, work better, and burn up toxins.

But too many people think of exercise as a specific block of time—going to the gym once or twice a week and sweating like there’s no tomorrow.

There’s no doubt that’s great for you. But it also isn’t for everyone—and it’s not something most people can do every day.

So, instead, I want you to focus on a daily way to get your body moving, and get more active.

Most of my patients love to go for walks. It’s something that doesn’t require any special equipment, doesn’t require much time, and you can do it every day—or multiple times a day.

Walks are great for your mental health as well…so there’s a nice bonus.

Of course, if you don’t like walks, you can come up with your own favorite activity—like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking at the far end of the parking lot, or doing deep knee bends every time a commercial comes on TV.

Whatever appeals to you, do it. And do it daily.

Healthy Habit #2: Manage Your Stress

Stress is unavoidable. No one is going to have a completely smooth life without challenges.

But what you do with that stress is up to you.

You can let it linger and fester, elevating your blood pressure, heart rate, and weakening your immune system.

Or you can counteract the stress.

My favorite way to combat stress is with breathing exercises. Let go of what’s going on in the world around you, and spend ten minutes a day sitting still, just observing the sounds and sensations of your breath.

It’s amazing what a concentrated time-out like this can do for your health.

Healthy Habit #3: Practice Relaxation

This is the mirror image of managing stress.

Managing stress can alleviate the negative aspects of tension. Practicing relaxation, on the other hand, enhances the positive aspects of a relaxed mind.

Again, breathing exercises are a great start. Simply letting go of the everyday hustle for a bit is a key to finding balance.

But, to actively find your relaxation—which is almost a paradox—you want to go a bit deeper.

Find an activity that relaxes you, that’s nearly (or actually is) meditative. Make that part of your week.

Learn to observe your emotions as they come over you—and to detach yourself from those emotions, to see them from a distance.

Easier said than done. But, with enough practice, you’ll realize that many of your emotions—especially the negative ones—aren’t necessary. What happens to you can’t be controlled. How you react to events, though, is up to you.

In other words—we’re all going to get cut off in traffic by a jerk sometimes. But you can get upset and angry—and raise your blood pressure, doing subtle damage to your cardiovascular system every time, building to a bad event.

Or you can breathe, decide not to get upset, and refuse to hurt yourself more over someone else’s bad behavior. You can control your emotions, instead of letting your emotions control you.

This might be the hardest habit to master on this list. But it might also be the most important.

Healthy Habit #4: Detox

You’re surrounded every day by toxins. In your air, your water, and your food, harmful chemicals are constantly bombarding you.

The best way to eliminate them is to avoid them as much as possible. That starts with eating unprocessed, organic foods whenever you can. Skip anything that comes in a box, and stick with foods that are recognizable.

Load up on the veggies, as they should be free of toxins, and contain lots of vitamins and minerals that help your body cleanse itself.

And make sure you do something that makes you sweat a few times a week. Sweat is one of your body’s best ways to eliminate toxins, and the more often you do it, the cleaner you’ll be.

Healthy Habit #5: Get Your Sleep On

Your body performs most of its repair and recharge work during sleep. Likewise, cleanup happens during sleep—including the collection and removal of waste and toxins.

So making sure you get a good night’s sleep, every night, is essential.

It helps if you can keep to a fairly regular schedule. Your body loves a schedule, so if you force yourself to go to bed the same time every night, soon your body will automatically fall asleep at that time.

The same is true for waking up.

Also, maintain good sleep hygiene. That means keeping your bedroom reserved for sleep, instead of work or watching TV. And make sure your bedroom is dark throughout the night, with minimal noise.

If your locale makes that last part impossible, get yourself a sleep mask and ear plugs.

Healthy Habit #6: Eat Nutritious, Whole Foods

Prepared foods are a trap. They’re full of sugar, salt, and chemicals designed to light up your brain, and keep you coming back for more.

But those things aren’t nutritious. In anything above small, natural doses, sugar and salt are very damaging.

So eat as many whole foods as you possibly can. Your body is designed to work with this natural nutrition—the sugar of an apple combined with the fiber, for instance.

Likewise, eat whole grains. Processed grains, like white rice and white bread, have had most of the fiber stripped off them. Your body needs that fiber—to aid digestion and to feed your gut microbiome. Processed grains, by contrast, lead to sugar spikes, as the carbohydrates are digested too quickly.

The closer your food is to the food your ancestors ate, the better.

Healthy Habit #7: Drink Pure, Filtered Water

Your body needs water to survive. More specifically, you need water to let all your organs function properly. Water is, literally, the lubricant for your body. And a dehydrated body is like an engine low on oil—grinding away and in danger of breaking down.

So you should drink as much water as possible. A good rule of thumb—take your weight in pounds, divide it in two, and convert that to ounces. That’s how much water you need to drink every day.

So a 200 pound man should drink 100 ounces of water daily.

Getting your hydration from other sources isn’t the same. Juices and sodas are full of sugar, while teas and coffees are full of caffeine.

Those can be ok in very small doses—but they can’t replace water.

At the same time, not all of us have access to clean water. So if your water source is questionable, make sure you get yours out of a filter.

Healthy Habit #8: Balance Your pH

Acidosis is a little-discussed topic in medicine.

Your body operates best when it’s slightly alkaline. But acidosis can be caused by poor diet, toxins, stress, or illness . As you can imagine, acidosis is a major issue right now, but almost no one is talking about it.

Yet it can affect everything from child growth rates, to bone density, kidney stones, and heart disease.

Unfortunately, the only good way to identify acidosis is through blood tests. However, because it’s so common right now, can cause so many problems—and because the solution is so healthy, regardless—I tell my patients just to treat themselves as if they’ve got it.

Most of them do. And, again, the solution is so good for you, you should be doing it anyway.

To rebalance yourself, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which are almost all alkalizing. Even citrus fruits help to balance out your pH levels.

If you feel like you’re all vegged out, try squeezing a little lemon juice into your water. Even that little change can make a big difference (not to mention, it’s delicious).

Healthy Habit #9: Take Your Supplements

Nearly 50% of Americans have marginal nutrient deficiencies. As just one example, nearly every resident of North America suffers from a lack of vitamin D in the winter (we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight).

The absolute best way to get vitamins and minerals is through good nutrition. But even that will sometimes fall short. And some beneficial compounds, like curcumin—found in turmeric—are hard to get in large enough doses, even when you eat well.

So I recommend you ask your doctor for a nutritional screening next time you visit, so you can find out where you’re deficient.

And, in the meantime, the bare minimum you should have is a curcumin supplement, to combat inflammation. If you don’t remember, inflammation is the bane of good health—and nothing combats it like curcumin.

Another supplement that nearly all my patients need is omega-3 fatty acid—the sort found in fish oil.

Omega-3 is an essential oil for the proper functioning of your heart, brain, and just about anywhere your blood flows.

But almost the entire western world has a deficiency. We just don’t eat nearly enough fish, the prime source for omega-3s.

So start with a curcumin supplement and a quality omega-3 oil.

And get that nutritional screener from your doctor. From there, fill in the gaps.

Healthy Habit #10: Get Your Health Team Together

Speaking of doctors, who is yours?

An important part of being healthy is monitoring your health, along with improving your health and focusing in on problem areas.

That means having a primary care physician that you see regularly and trust.

That’s a huge key. You don’t just want a doctor that can draw blood and put you on a scale. You want one who is knowledgeable, willing to explain things to you, and will work with you to help prevent illness, not just treat what’s already there.

A screening question I often recommend to friends is simple, yet will directly tell you who you’re dealing with.

Ask your doctor—what am I doing wrong right now? And how should I change?

One who brushes you off with medical jargon isn’t taking you seriously.

One who is so blunt you feel like crying over five extra pounds isn’t going to be helpful either.

You want a doctor who will take you seriously, explain issues in a manner that doesn’t require a degree, and will give you all the information you need.

Most importantly, you want a primary care physician who will work with you, as a partner, to improve your health—and head off potential problems before they start.

But that doesn’t just apply to your doctor. Your teeth are an important part of your health, as more and more studies show tooth problems lead to things like heart problems, thanks to invading bacteria.

You need a good dentist as well.

And you should go through the same process for everyone else working with you towards your health goals—from doctor and dentist, to, maybe, a personal trainer and nutritionist.

Healthy Habit #11: Have Some Fun

It’s been shown in study after study—your social life is inextricably linked to your health. The more interconnected and involved you are, the better your body does.

That makes sense; we’re social creatures. Take that away, and your health will suffer—first mentally, and then physically.

So make it a point to keep your social life active. If you aren’t used to getting out, find an interest that can lead to social gatherings once or twice a week. Make the effort to reconnect with old friends, and develop new ones.

Lonely people are at greater risk from all sorts of health threats. But there’s no reason that has to be you. Make your social life a priority.

Healthy Habit #12: Find Your Gratitude

One habit of thought might help you relax—and give you a better outlook on life in general, along with a healthier mindset and body.

And that’s gratitude.

Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude is great for you.

It’s wonderful for your mental health. But that translates into a wide world of benefits for your physical health as well. Whether you’re sleeping better, remaining calmer, or your increased empathy is forging new relationships, gratitude is an attitude without a downside.

A great way to develop your “gratitude muscle” is to keep a journal of things you are thankful for. Try to come up with three to five every day.

You can also write letters or thank you notes to those who have made a positive impact in your life.

Or you can just tell them directly. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Showing that appreciation to those you love will make everyone feel better.

This is the time of year when commitments run high. These 12 habits are things that definitely deserve your commitment. Practice them one at a time. Start with the easiest and work your way up.

However you choose to use this list, don’t waste it. These 12 habits can lead to a longer, happier, healthier life. That’s the sort of commitment worth making.

References

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