Can you ditch bad habits?
Posted on 13 December 2019
Seemingly small, everyday habits can have a major effect on your health. Get a head start on making manageable changes – and reap the benefits.
PROBLEM: Being a couch potato
After a busy day at work, followed by household chores, making supper, looking after the kids and pets, the only thing you really want to do is slouch on the couch with the TV remote in your hand. Exercise? Who has the energy for that?
Start small. You don’t have to spend hours in a gym – or force yourself into a strict, complicated regimen to reap rewards. Ten minutes of gentle activity is better than no activity, and easing into it means you’ll avoid the risk of injury. You’ll feel more confident about your abilities as you gradually build your fitness levels. Expecting too much, too soon only leads to frustration. Rather be realistic about your fitness goals. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (a brisk walk, ballroom dancing) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity (swimming, boxing, running, soccer) exercise every week, broken into 10-minute chunks.
“Regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and many types of cancer,” says Dr Nic Batev, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Highveld. Need more motivation? Exercise slows the ageing process on a cellular level and can ease symptoms of anxiety or depression.
REGULAR EXERCISE HELPS PREVENT OR MANAGE MANY HEALTH PROBLEMS.
When nicotine unlocks the nicotine receptors in your brain, a feel-good chemical called dopamine is released. However, this “buzz” doesn’t last long and within a short space of time, you’re craving another cigarette. Nicotine addiction is a physical chemical addiction that causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. If you’re an addict, you know the drill: whether it’s finishing a meal, taking a break from your desk, having coffee or talking on the phone, certain triggers can spark a strong urge to smoke.
Think of all the reasons you want to quit. Identify your triggers – and have a plan in place to occupy yourself when the short, intense craving hits. Consider getting help – various Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) such as gum, patches and sprays exist to ease your transition to non-smoker. Support from friends, family and online groups also helps.
Within days of quitting your heart rate will drop and carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your blood will return to normal. Within weeks, your lung function improves and your risk of heart attack is reduced. You’ll also experience less coughing and shortness of breath.
PROBLEM: Drinking too much
You certainly don’t think you’re an alcoholic, yet every social engagement involves drinks – beers after work with your colleagues, shooters at a club on weekends, or a few glasses of wine with supper. Although your drinking doesn’t affect your work performance – or your personal relationships – you might find you can’t imagine having a good time without a glass in your hand. Perhaps you’re tired of feeling tired every morning after a night out? Or are realising that you need more alcohol to achieve the effect you’re after?
Think through your week to see if you have a specific drinking routine or habit. If yes, commit to finding a substitute for it. Could an after-work walk with teammates replace afterwork drinks? Choose a pleasant substitution for your standard tipple – like iced tea or a fruit smoothie. Start keeping note of how many units you’re drinking. Being mindful of alcohol consumption goes a long way towards cutting down.
“The less you drink the lower your overall risk of developing health problems including liver cirrhosis, stroke, mouth cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and sexual dysfunction,” says Dr Batev. You’ll also sleep better, look better and feel better.
PROBLEM: Avoiding health screenings
The issue can be twofold. Either you feel 100% healthy and don’t see the need for your annual check-up and age appropriate screening tests; or you have a niggling health concern and you’d rather not know that it’s a serious condition. Other common excuses include: “I don’t have time,” “It’s difficult to get an appointment” and “I’ll go next year.”
See your annual health checks and necessary screenings as an investment in your future. At the beginning of each year, schedule the necessary appointments. Remember, health checks and screenings offers the opportunity to examine your lifestyle to see what improvements can be made, in consultation with a healthcare professional.
“Regular health checkups are essential because they help identify potential problems at an early stage,” says Dr Batev. “In critical cases like cancer, early diagnosis can be the difference between a cure and a long-drawn battle. In addition, catching high blood sugar levels or high blood pressure early – and taking action – can significantly slash your risk for diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.”
“When battling bad habits, it’s easy to judge yourself harshly if you slip back into old routines,” says Durban-based clinical psychologist Dr Sherona Rawat. Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”. For example: “I drank too much last night, but I’m working on cutting down.” As Dr Rawat adds, being kind to yourself gives you more impetus to continue with your good intentions.