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Where Are Your Habits Leading You?

We are all creatures of habit because we're all human.

Being a creature of habit is a good thing... if your habits are healthy. Are you a creature of the sofa or of the outdoors? I know which one I want to be!

The definition of a habit in the Cambridge English Dictionary is: 'something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it'. Take brushing your teeth for example. This is a health habit that most of us do on a daily basis as part of our daily routines, and doesn't really take any thought.

Your Habits Rule You

In the moment, you don’t think to make a choice. Your brain and body normally rely on the habits you’ve created to know what to do next. Now, if this is true, you better make sure that your habits are good habits – as opposed to eating crisps in bed every night, or stopping each day on route to work for a cinnamon bun (an old habit of mine). That would fall under the “Bad Habits” category.

Not choice, but habit, rules the unreflecting herd. – William Woodsworth

It’s understandable that we stick to our habits. Change activates fear, and fear triggers negative emotions that will stop us in our tracks. Also, changing our habits can be hard work, especially in the beginning, so it's not always overly appealing, especially if we've got a lot going on.

What Are Your Non-Negotiables?

Make your good habits non-negotiable. Even if they’re not fully part of your life yet, live them, feel them, and dream them. Visualise yourself doing the habit.

So, let's focus on movement and activity habits. At home, I move regularly, but I have to make a definitive, non-negotiable schedule for my movement or activity time. This appointment is like all others – it does not get cancelled. How can you schedule movement or activity into your day? If it’s important to you, you will find the way. If it’s not important to you, you will find an excuse. It's that simple.

So, what makes it important to you? Let's take the movement habit (or lack of it) for example. Write down all the reasons why keeping your body moving, your joints lubricated and your heart pumping will improve your life. Imagine your day with more activity. You may find it easier to tab your movement on to something else, for example when I get up to go to the bathroom I will stand up from my chair and sit down again ten times and then do ten wall press ups in the bathroom.

For me, on days where I go to my NHS job I walk to work, so I'm guaranteed at least one hour of walking per day. If I'm not at work I ensure I get up often if I've been on my laptop a lot, and I make sure I do at least ten minutes of exercise, although I go with whatever I'm in the mood for, be it yoga, pilates, strength training, core training, stretching, a walk....whatever I can see myself doing that day (often weather dependent here in the UK)! I find mixing it up is a great way to keep it interesting and there's SO much online now, the options are endless.

For some people, things like seated yoga, seated tai chi or the Otago Exercise Programme can be of great benefit, especially if balance and/or pain are an issue. Another option is getting some home exercise equipment like an exercise bike or a few resistance bands, or a set of dumbbells that you can just use when you can fit it in. Leave them in places that are very visible and where it's easy to do a little bit of activity safely.

Cancelling Your Movement Time?

If you have to cancel your 'movement' appointment, you need to look yourself in the mirror and explain why. Feel free to debate with yourself, but don't be harsh. Here’s an example.

“Hi, Suzanna, it’s Suzanna! I can’t do my movement session today because... um... my cat's sick! I mean, um, I don’t have time!”

“Oh, really, you don’t have time? Well, while you’re talking to me, couldn’t you be doing some squats or balancing on one leg? How much time will you spend on Facebook tonight when you get home from work? How many heel raises could you do while you’re cooking dinner?”

*NOTE: don’t let your neighbours see you debating with yourself, or the men with white coats may be coming your way!

It’s so easy to incorporate movement and activity into your life if you’re willing to try, so there really is no decent excuse. You don't have to go to an hour long exercise class or sweat it out at the gym, although if you're already used to being active and that's something you want to do then great. The bottom line is, start where you're at, start small and gradually build up as the good habits form.

There's much more evidence these days that breaking up sitting and short walks can be so beneficial to health. Take THIS study for instance, which looked at breaking up sitting time with standing and light activity (as opposed to structured exercise)....the results were really encouraging, especially in terms of controlling blood sugars. This is so important for those hitting the menopause years, or with pre-diabetes, or diabetes.

If you are too busy to be active and move your body, you're too busy, full stop. When you get to retirement and you feel depleted, your body and brain won't forgive you for not being active for decades. What can you change? Where can you incorporate some minutes of movement or 'movement snacks' in to your day?

If you want some great inspiration then check out THIS podcast from Dr Rangan Chatterjee called "The Power of Movement and How to Make It Easy'.

A Final Thought on Movement & Activity…

People ask me all the time about the best time to exercise, and the answer is so simple: the best time to exercise is when you’ll actually do it. Some people like exercising in the morning, and some people feel better in the evening or during lunch. It doesn’t matter. Schedule it when you’ll actually do it, and break it down in to five to ten minute blocks if more practical.

What I would say is that evidence suggests that a walk after eating can really help to control blood sugar levels (an example of one such study on participants with type two diabetes is available HERE), and also exercising vigorously too close to bedtime isn't always ideal for optimal sleep and can affect some people more than others (further information from The Sleep Foundation is available HERE), so maybe take those factors in to consideration.

The other thing that comes up often is about getting natural light and moving/walking in the morning outdoors (for at least 15 minutes), as this may help with your circadian rhythm, and again can be very helpful to those in peri-menopause or menopause. This is especially helpful if the outdoors is in nature, as this is associated with a positive impact on wellbeing. However, as discussed above, see what suits you best and fit little consideration. t fits. Your body and brain will thank you for it!

Please note: This article is intended to be for educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice or replace professional assessment or personalised advice.

I do not hold responsibility for the information on any links to external websites within this article and information within these links/websites may change at any time or no longer be accessible. Any website pages/links added are also for education purposes only.

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