Entering the new year brings excitement and promise for the 12 months ahead and most people enjoy reflection on the year that was and cannot wait to embark on attaining new habits and leaving old ones behind.
As a GP I often deal with specific diseases but overwhelmingly, I am involved in the business of behavior and habit change!
One of all time favourite books is the New York Times bestseller “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg who broke down the anatomy of habits and their influence not just in our personal lives but, in organisations, human rights movements and in marketing!
The concept “Key stone habits” leaped out at me, as adopting or changing these single habits can producing a ripple effect of creating other new habits and thereby changing the course of your life.
This was illustrated beautifully in the beginning story of the book, as it detailed how a broke and divorced woman who was 30kg overweight, a smoker with poor eating habits, turned her life around by unsuspecting changing a keystone habit in her life.
She chose to give up smoking and replaced this with exercise, which in turn had the ripple effect of on how she ate, how she applied herself at work and how she saved money.
With focusing on one key habit or “keystone habit” she was able to bring considerable change into her life by reprograming her other routines.
So I propose to you as you visualise a healthier person looking back at you on the 31st of December 2016, consider your health habits in the domains below and see what “keystone habit” could have a ripple effect in your life.
SNAP – an acronym to a healthier you.
SNAP is an acronym that doctors are encouraged to use when discussing preventative health measures with their patients. They cover four broad lifestyle areas that are essential to maintaining good health and preventing disease.
Personally I find it is a simple way to assess your health and to make necessary improvements if required.
S – Smoking
N – Nutrition
A – Alcohol
P – Physical activity
There isn’t a safe level of smoking and cutting down still injures your lungs and accelerates artherosclerosis (blockage of arteries), which can lead to stroke and heart disease. No matter where you are in your life journey, the best advice is to quit as this will buy your lungs and arteries more years on this planet and save you a small fortune.
An excellent place to start is to visit www.quitnow.gov.au or ring the Quitline on 13 78 48
The word diet implies that there is an end date to your current eating habits. My summary to patients isn’t to ascribe to a “diet” but to apply these common sense guidelines to their nutrition.
Shop around the periphery of the supermarket – minimize packet foods/snacks
Fill your plate with vegetables.
Earn your carbohydrates through exercise, hard work
Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and eggs are OKAY!
Treat yourself with a favourite meal every week
Eat less than you do now – don’t fill your plate, no second helpings and no snacking at night
If you are looking to lose weight or feel healthier in 2016, start with your diet. Weight loss is centrally affected by your diet. Exercise does create a caloric deficit and increase in metabolic rate but it will be physically impossible to exercise to your goal weight whilst eating burgers, chips and lollies.
If you are winning with your diet and at your desired weight, be encouraged to keep fueling your body with fresh preservative free food. As a learned colleague recently commented
“good nutrition isn’t about weight loss but about a lifetime habit that compounds to a longer life and less time spent at the doctor”.
For the majority of people, having a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day isn’t detrimental to their health. It is a perfectly fine wind down and adds to your wellbeing tank. But what isn’t acceptable for health is harmful drinking and alcohol dependence.
Consider that our current recommendations are two standard drinks a day for both men and women with no more that four standard drinks to be consumed on any one occasion.
As a GP I am concerned about alcohol when it starts to affect a persons life (socially, family, work and law) and their body (liver, gut, sleep, mood, memory, heart, practically the whole body!).
For some, drinking is also associated with other bad habits too such as smoking and gambling and behaviors such as violence, sexual promiscuity and risk taking.
As you approach 2016 think about the above. Have you been told by your GP, spouse or friends to cut down? Or is your life starting to be affected by your drinking?
Take heart and know that there is plenty of help is at hand. Your GP can advise you on ways to address your alcohol consumption and arrange for treatment if needed. Conversely you can visit www.counsellingonline.org.au or ring 1800 888 236 to talk to a drug and alcohol counselor 24hours a day.
When it comes to ways to improving their health, most people will allude to exercise as a means to do so. Sadly we know that 60% of Australian adults do less than their daily-recommended 30minutes of physical activity.
There is no doubt that one of the secrets to staying youthful as we age, is to keep on moving and develop a lifelong habit of exercising.
Regular cardiovascular exercise conditions your heart to pump efficiently and trains your muscles to use fuel and oxygen effectively thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, preventing unhealthy weight gain and helping with blood pressure and sugar levels.
As a GP, I am often encouraged when my patients value the benefits of exercise. Intuitively these are the very few that will truly benefit from improved health outcomes, a longer life and less time spent in my office!
The best way to make exercise a habit in 2016 is to start small and when your will power is the greatest, possibly in the morning when the pressure of the day hasn’t begun or during your lunch break or on the way home from work.
Begin with these national guidelines summarised below:
Begin with doing something small and gradually increase. Moving purposefully everyday is the key to good health and living longer. E.g 15minute of a fast paced walk in the morning, graduating to 30minutes over a month.
Minimise sitting. Get up regularly and walk around.
Be active most days of the week.
Aim for 20-30minutes a day or medium paced activity (walking) or 2.5hours a week of vigorous activity (aerobics class, squash game etc).
Mood/Balance – Bonus
Although this isn’t part of the SNAP acronym or a habit, mood and work life balance play a huge part in your health and wellbeing, especially as you plan for 2016. Bad habits or practices can upset your balance and affect your mood making any recovery difficult.
I have written about depression, balance and burnout previously on theHealthyGP and would encourage you read this if you haven’t and to reflect on your work life balance.
Here are some questions to consider:
How are you going? Are you okay? Do you feel overwhelmed? Are you struggling with any disturbing thoughts? Do you have a sadness that you just can’t seem to shake? Are you friends and family concerned about you?
My encouragement is that as you consider one key stone habit in your health to introduce or replace in 2016, is to write down your progress and wait expectantly for the ripples of benefits that changing one key habit can produce.
Live intentionally in 2016 with better habits and enjoy your health!