The new year inspires people to focus inward, reset bad habits, and try for a fresh start. Yet, it’s not as easy as it may seem to simply wake up with a new outlook for the coming year. It takes more than one day to change habits and even longer to implement practices into your daily routine. With that said, looking inward is the best place to begin.
While there are countless inspired resolutions, focusing on health-based changes offers a platform to transform your entire life — from amplifying cognition, mindfulness, and productivity, to increasing energy and endurance, and even heartening personal relationships.
How Does a Habit Become a Habit?
The human brain offers endless mystery, much like an endless hallway with locked doors. Neuroscientists, the pioneers of this new frontier, have yet to open a majority of these doors. Yet, even with the number of things scientists don’t know, there are many discoveries occurring on a daily basis.
One of these is the science behind habit.
Neuroscientists have pinpointed the origination of habit behavior within the basal ganglia in the brain. The basal ganglia is responsible for motor control and motor learning — the body’s ability to “activate and coordinate muscles and limbs” — as well as basic cognitive processes and emotions. Once an activity is learned and practiced, the basal ganglia kicks into gear allowing the prefrontal cortex — the decision-making part of the brain — to go into sleep mode.
Per Charles Duhigg, former New York Times writer, Pulitzer prize winner, and author of The Power of Habit, complex behaviors become automated due to the ability of our basal ganglia “to take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine.” This automated routine is also referred to as a habit loop. In an interview with NPR, Duhigg breaks down the habit loop into three parts: the trigger that initiates your automated mode, the habit itself, and finally a reward for completing the habit.
5 Surprising Benefits of Health-Based Resolutions
Understanding habit is simply the first step to keeping those new year resolutions. Breaking the habit loop and ridding yourself of unwanted or unhealthy habits can be difficult. With that said, the benefits gained from healthy habits are worth the work!
1. Increase Positive Emotions
It’s a given that healthy habits create a healthy body, yet living a healthy life can also lead to a better mental state and a longer lifespan. The key is boosting positive emotions such as happiness, satisfaction, contentment, interest, and love. The effects of positive emotions are so powerful that they actually change your brain allowing for more creativity, openness, relaxation, and playfulness.
Yet, it’s not simply about improving momentary emotions, but working to reduce deeper, inbred stresses. Integrating healthy habits, such as mindfulness practices, relaxation techniques, a nutrient-rich diet, and regular exercise, increases your ability to produce positive emotions and therefore possibly extend your lifespan.
2. Improved Brain Activity
While there is much to be learned about the human brain, one thing found to be true in studies is that healthy habits lead to a healthier brain.
Studies have shown that brain health is incredibly important in fighting dementia. One such study performed in Finland in 2015 suggested that “older adults with a number of healthy habits — such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and socializing — improved or maintained thinking skills and reduced the risk of cognitive decline.”
Each healthy habit has its specific brain benefit.
Exercise, specifically aerobic, increases blood flow, reduces cholesterol buildup in blood vessels, and stimulates the release of a molecule called BDNF, which repairs and connects brain cells.
Add a healthy sleep routine to your resolution list! Sleep not only rejuvenates and energizes the body, but it also allows the brain to cleanse itself of waste material. One such material is amyloid proteins, which is a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Save Money
Many believe that living a healthy lifestyle is an expensive endeavor: from gym memberships to expensive organic food and costly nutritional supplements. Yet, if thought about strategically, healthy habits can actually reduce your cost of living.
Invest In An At-Home Gym
Don’t buy a gym membership. Instead of shelling the monthly membership fee go on a one-time purchasing spree. Buy the essentials such as a yoga mat, a set of free weights, a workout band, and even a medicine ball. Invest in some quality tennis shoes and earbuds. If you’re an indoor exerciser, try one of the many free workout apps such as Sworkit, Aaptiv, or Qinetic. If the outdoors calls you, strap on some tennis shoes, program your favorite music, and hit the pavement for a walk, jog, or run.
Strategize Grocery Shopping
When it comes to budget grocery shopping, avoid trendy packaged food, buy in bulk (such as grains, nuts, and seeds), invest in frozen food items, and look for generic brands. Focus on cooking meals for the week. By creating tasty, easy to prepare meals at the ready, you are less likely to spend money eating out. While some restaurants may initially offer low prices, remember to tag on taxes and tip, as well as additional costs for extras such as a drink with your meal.
Use Food Instead of Supplements
Lastly, if you’re eating a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet supplements can be avoided. It’s important to speak with your doctor or a certified nutritionist to devise a diet that fits your body’s specific needs. With that said, if you want to integrate supplements into your diet, make sure to find a trustworthy company that has been FDA approved.
4. Better Sleep
Lack of sleep has serious side effects. From moodiness and irritation to unhealthy eating habits and poor cognitive abilities, getting the right amount of sleep every night is incredibly important.
When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, many people look to getting more sleep as a resolution. While this is a great and healthy goal, it’s more complicated than it may seem. In order to get better sleep, you may need to first ditch some unhealthy habits and then incorporate healthy habits that help your body reach a place of relaxation.
Eliminating screen time before bed, planning an eating schedule, getting outside, incorporating activity or exercise, avoiding caffeine, and sticking to a regular bedtime routine are just a few healthy habits that can help you reach your goal.
5. Healthier Relationships
The beauty of this benefit is that it works in two ways: a healthy lifestyle improves the health of your relationships and healthy relationships can improve and support a healthy lifestyle.
Several studies have shown that those lacking relationships are more likely to develop conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, recurrent myocardial infarction, and even cancer. Scientists have spent many years researching the relationship between health and social relationships, discovering that they improve health via three main avenues: behaviorally (exercise, nutritional diets, attending to medical needs, etc.), psychosocially (social support, personal control, mental health, etc.) , and physiologically (reduced amount of stress).
Therefore, incorporating better habits has a 365-degree effect on improving social relationships and your personal happiness.
In order to keep your resolutions this year, try downloading the Food Monster App to help you stick to healthier eating. Food Monster is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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