"About 40% to 45% of what we do every day feels like a decision, but it’s actually a habit," said Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review.
Chances are that from the minute you woke up this morning to the time you started reading this article you will have resorted to habitual behaviour at some point. Some of these tendencies have become so integrated into our daily routine that they occur almost automatically. While we don't normally think about why we brush our teeth every morning, for example, it’s worthwhile to consider how negative behaviour patterns influence our physical and mental wellbeing in the long run.
Studies have shown that our lifestyle choices can trigger chronic illnesses [PDF] such as heart disease and diabetes. In fact, these two diseases were among the leading causes of death in South Africa [PDF] between 2011 and 2013, according to Stats SA. A medical aid plan may help to cover the cost of treatment for these illnesses, but prevention is always better than cure.
Hippo.co.za spoke with a few enthusiasts across multiple lifestyle areas about some of the negative habits you can eliminate right now, to enhance your lifestyle and live longer.
In the morning
Drinking coffee first thing
Contributed by Shop Organic
“That first cup of coffee may be doing you more harm than can be justified by its seemingly energising effects. Apart from being acidic to the body, coffee can also cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity as the body becomes used to the daily doses of caffeine. Caffeine can also raise your stress response, in effect raising your cortisol and insulin levels. Too much insulin can cause inflammation, which can be one of the triggers for many lifestyle diseases.”
During the day
Contributed by Debbie Smith at Dr Debbie
Sitting behind a desk all day
“Having less than optimal oxygen levels will affect your energy, moods, concentration and focus.
Just five minutes of focused breathing every day can impact your body positively. The correct method of breathing is focusing on the current breathe using your nostrils. This breathing induces relaxation, a sense of calm and improves health. Whilst breathing in through the nose expand the abdomen – this will fill your lungs completely. Now the key is to schedule this in your calendar. Once you have a habit it will be easy. Some patients choose to do this whilst driving, some whilst having a bath and others just before sleeping. Stick to a set time so this will become routine.”
Consuming too much sugar
“The other thing we all do is consume too much sugar. Sugar has a negative impact on the body, not only for your waist size but it can also create inflammation. Inflammation is what causes most modern chronic diseases. It is estimated that the average person consumes about 35 teaspoons of sugar daily compared to the early 1900 it was only 6 teaspoons.
Sugar is hidden in many foods. Some examples would be tomato sauce, fizzy drinks and many low fat foods. Even some crisps contain sugar. Starting daily by cutting out sugar in your beverages is the easiest way to start reducing sugar. The next step would be to cut out all known sugars: sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits...”
Negative thinking patterns
Contributed by Janine Roos at Mental Health SA
“Make practicing gratitude a habit. No one owes you anything; take personal responsibility for your life and your happiness. Also, differentiate between happiness and being meaningful. People who believe that their life has a meaning or purpose report higher life satisfaction and psychological well-being.
If you have to worry, set time aside for worrying (10 minutes a day will do), then let go and reserve your worries for the next 10 minute session.”
“We are afraid to be still. Practice mindfulness – keep your mind in the now. Be mindful of what is causing you to feel bad, and change that, one step at a time. Refrain from munching your food in front of the TV; this leads to mindless eating. Do not drive if you can walk. Spend time actively socializing with friends. Get enough fresh air. Slow down before bedtime – darken the room, switch off all electronic devices. “
The need for instant gratification
“We can have anything we want right now - food, the internet, video games, TV, online shopping. Rather eat simple food in moderation, enjoy the Internet with limits, get away from TV and computers to enjoy nature and be active, shop less, find focus and be mindful. Try to learn how to enjoy the moment without following the urge. With regards to your health – do not pop a pill as a first resort, rather as a last one.”
Contributed by Telana Simpson at Inner Coaching
“The habit of avoiding and suppressing our emotions has been found to be bad for our health. Yet we push them aside, ignore them, and distract ourselves thinking that the emotions will go away. That only makes them stronger.
Develop a relationship with your emotions. See them as signals that help you evaluate what you are experiencing. They give useful information about what is really going on, which guides you to take the appropriate action to manage the situation or adjust your thoughts and emotional responses.”
“When bad things happen to us, we make the event personal, pervasive and permanent, which make us feel pessimistic and helpless. To change this, cultivate the habit of applying learned optimism, and direct your thinking to explain the event as not about you but about that one experience or thing, not letting it bleed into all aspects of your life but contain it to the here and now, noting that it will pass.
This robustness in thinking can be practiced and developed, leaving you feeling you have power over what you can control, an effective and uplifting state of mind and being.”
Switching on the TV as soon as you get home
Contributed by Shop Organic.
“Long working hours and hectic schedules mean that we often are so tired when we get home that the only thing we want to do is relax in front of the TV. While our favourite TV programmes may take our focus off our worries and onto something more entertaining, chances are that we end up staying in front of the TV until bedtime, exposing ourselves to much more than just a fun comedy show. Watching TV can indirectly affect our weight as we tend to eat whilst watching and not moving, as we are not focussed only on our meal and thus often ignore our satiety signals”
Not Sleeping enough
Contributed by Elan Lohmann at Sleekgeek
“People who make an effort to get at least 6 to 8 hours of decent, uninterrupted sleep are healthier over all. Sleep gives your body time to recover from day to day stresses as well as healing inflammation, injuries and illness. People who sleep more are able to concentrate better during the day and tend to have more energy.
Ban electronics from the bedroom (no TV, laptop, or cell phone). If you can’t have it completely out of the room, make sure it’s nowhere near your bed – this helps your brain to fall asleep without distractions. Have 15 minutes “quiet time” before bed. Breathe deeply and let go of the stresses of the day. Go to the toilet before you go to sleep in order to prevent the 3 am bathroom call.”
And that’s what our SA experts had to say regarding alternative healthy habits which they feel we should all be forming or at least considering. It’s always important to remember, as well, that having a suitable medical aid policy in place can be an essential safety net for your health.