Six Ways to Build Lasting Healthy Habits | lifestyle


Getting started on the path to healthy habits is often easier than maintaining them long-term. This year, you can avoid the big healthy resolution trap and build healthy habits that stick by taking small, positive steps in your daily life.

In fact, healthy habits are the first suggested treatment strategy for people whose blood pressure and cholesterol levels are creeping higher than normal, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

“Current guidelines for managing high blood pressure and cholesterol recognize that otherwise healthy individuals with mildly or moderately elevated levels of these cardiovascular risk factors should actively try to reduce those risks, and increasing physical activity is a great place to start,” said Bethany Barone. Gibbs, Ph.D., Chair of the Statement Writing Group and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at West Virginia University School of Public Health.

These six ideas from an American Heart Association health coach for good habits can help.

Bust common myths about habit buildingYou might be surprised to learn the truth about creating and sticking to healthy habits. One myth says that getting well means doing things you don’t like. Research shows that positive emotions make habits stick, so set intentions for something you enjoy. Another misconception is that big results require big changes, which can lead to overly ambitious habits. However, the simpler the routine, the more likely it is to become a habit.

Work with your “brain loops”Your brain creates “loops” for habits made up of three things: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Each time the loop repeats, it becomes more routine and can become automatic. With this in mind, you can suggest cues to develop new, healthy habits, such as placing walking shoes by the bed to start the walking habit. The routine is putting on shoes and walking around the block, and the reward is pleasant feelings and a better mood from a morning walk.

Create stimuli that work for youThe most successful health habits start with a hint. The cue can be external in your environment or internal in terms of your thinking. The more consistent the cue, the more likely it is to trigger a habit. Hacking your brain’s reminder system can help you remember a cue. Some examples of visual cues include placing a sticky note where you will see it often, placing a water bottle on the table, or cooling fresh vegetables at eye level.

Create a routine that supports your goalsPositive and consistent habits are important to achieving your personal goals. Small habits done consistently can yield big results. To create a new healthy habit, think of steps that could lead to the desired result. Ask yourself if you want to do it, if it’s easy, and if it has a big impact. It’s important to choose habits that make a difference and move you closer to your goals.

For example, if one of your goals is to improve your heart health, moving more might be a meaningful habit. Increased physical activity can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, along with many other health benefits, Gibbs said.

“Any little activity is better than none,” she said. “Even a small initial increase of 5-10 minutes a day can produce health benefits.”

Use rewards to maintain habitsStart by choosing a habit that you enjoy and that is rewarding in itself. If you’re more of a dancer than a runner, increase your physical activity with a positive dance class. You can also look for a more enjoyable version of a new habit, such as getting more fruits and vegetables by sipping on a delicious smoothie.

Understand that resetting is part of the processNew habits are experiments. If it doesn’t stick, you haven’t failed. Instead, you’ve learned what doesn’t work, which is useful. Be curious and ask yourself what part of the habit didn’t work for you. Perhaps the cue was ineffective. Maybe the routine steps were too ambitious and need to be broken down into smaller, simpler steps. If you find that you don’t enjoy the habit, stop doing it and try something else.

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