Useful Habits for a Long and Healthy Life

Humans are creatures of habit and the habits we learn early in our lives stick with us throughout.  Don’t believe me?  Do you brush your teeth every morning and night?  Do you use your sleeve to wipe your nose?  Do you take off your make-up and give your hair one hundred brush strokes before you fall into bed?

Which habits we retain and which we lose depends on two factors:  how stringently the habits are enforced while we learn them and how often we apply them in later life.  Nobody I know uses their sleeve as a handkerchief but quite a few people skip the hair and make-up routine on occasion.  In the same vein, many of us cannot stick for any length of time to a lifestyle that will keep us healthy, fit, and active into our golden years.  The simple reason for this is that we have not yet turned our good intentions into habits.

TV, radio, papers, and magazines continually feed us the newest research about food, sleep, health, and exercise.  And most of this information is confusing, if not contradictory.  One week, the superfood is oily fish and we are told to avoid red meat.  The following week, fish is deemed unhealthy and cranberries are the item to chase.  So, what are we to do?  It takes 28 days to form a habit and to retain it we must practise it repeatedly.  But instead of developing healthy habits and using them to improve our quality of life, most of us throw our hands up in despair and do nothing.

But there is health advice that has been around for hundreds of years, long before TV and radio were ever thought of.  It is characterised by its commonsense and the fact that is not contradicted by whatever new results scientific research provides.  Well worth turning into a habit, the following recommendations for a healthy life have stood the test of time.  Adopting even one of them will certainly improve your health.

  1. Moderation

The ancient Romans preached moderation, even if they didn’t always practise it.  But it’s held true enough ever since.  Excesses, even healthy ones, are not good for your health.  Too much exercise can be just as damaging as too little, so strive for a balance in all things.

  1. Variety

As well as balance, variety is beneficial.  But make sure you don’t just apply the concept to diet and exercise, but to all areas of your life.  Variety brings new experiences, prompts us to learn new skills and stops us from becoming complacent.  Go ahead – try something new today!  Your life will be the better and richer for it.

  1. Water

The advice to drink 8 glasses of water a day has been very popular since the fitness craze started in the 1980s.  And since air-conditioning and central heating have become the norm for most of us, drinking water benefits us even more.  Just drink two litres of water a day for two weeks and watch the condition of your skin change!  Foods with high water content, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, also contribute to our daily intake of liquid.  If you cannot manage your 8 glasses of water a day, opt instead for a tomato or cucumber salad, a few slices of melon, or a handful of berries.  Remember:  when you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.  Drink before you get that far.

  1. Exercise

The dreaded e-word is being bandied around incessantly these days.  But take heart:  you don’t need to don embarrassing clothes or run until you cannot catch your breath.  Just make it a habit to be active throughout the day.  Don’t drive if you can walk the distance.  Take the stairs, not the lift.  Walk down the other end of the office to talk to a co-worker, instead of sending an email.  Go for a walk in your lunch break.  Take the kids to the park at the weekend.  Don’t dread the e-word!

  1. Sleep and Relaxation

A good night’s sleep is vital to recharge our batteries for the next day, but it is equally important to find little “pockets” of relaxation throughout the day to keep mind and soul in harmony.  Unfortunately, these little pockets of relaxation and indulgence are often the first things to be dropped from a busy schedule and many of us feel guilty apparently wasting time on ourselves.  Don’t!  Schedule them into your day and take time out: look at flowers, listen to a song or two, or go for a stroll in the park, sit quietly with a cup of tea.  Most of all calm your mind and take a few deep breaths – you will feel refreshed, revived and ready to take on the rest of the day.

  1. Socializing

Humans are social animals, craving companionship and interaction with other individuals.  In times past, many people lived their lives in tightly knit communities, where everyone knew everybody else’s concerns.  While this can be annoying at times, it also has untold benefits for our mental well-being.  If you’re in trouble, someone will be there to offer help.  If you’re worried, somebody will reassure you.  If you’re happy, someone will share your joy and elation.  Most of all, whatever your state of mind, sharing your emotions with other people will put them into perspective.  So, cultivate your friends – share their troubles and joys, so they will share yours when you need it.

  1. Diet

This must be the most misused word in the English language!  According to the dictionary, diet is not a temporary restriction in food intake, but encompasses all the food we consume.  The type and quantity of food we consume in relation to our activity levels ultimately determines our weight.  These days, many of us are caught in the “diet trap,” veering between starvation and binge, between “good” foods and “bad” foods.  Loosing the diet mentality can be the first step to a comfortable weight and a more comfortable relationship with food.  So, stop “dieting.”  Make healthy food choices instead.  And that does not mean chewing on carrot sticks for the rest of your days!   Make it a habit to aim for balance and you can’t go wrong.

At a time when we are overloaded with confusing and conflicting health advice, the most sensible course may be to stick to the basics, the knowledge that has stood the test of time.  If, instead of slavishly following each new fad, we turn tried and tested advice into health-improving habits, then we stand a much better chance of leading long and healthy lives.



Sue Marchant