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Make Healthy Habits Your Resolution
December 29, 2012
James H. O'Keefe, M.D.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions.
Thirty-eight percent of those resolutions are related to weight. Of those who make resolutions, 75 percent keep them through the first week, but six months later, less than half have stuck to their pledges.
In 2013, I’d like to encourage you to make your New Year’s resolution one you can live with—a healthy keystone habit. A keystone habit is a fundamental routine that is crucially important because it has the power to start a chain reaction, which can shift other patterns and eventually transform our lives.
Keystone habits influence how we eat, think, play, work, and live.
A keystone habit can trigger a process that, with time, can transform everything. So, pick one of these five keystone habits that is not yet in your daily routine and resolve to make it a priority to do this regularly until it becomes automatic.
Eventually, if you can establish most or all of these five keystone habits in your day-to-day routine, your health and your life will be radically altered for the better.
Five Keystone Habits
1. Sleep seven to eight hours nightly.
2. Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes daily.
3. Eat two colors and one healthy protein at each meal.
4. Floss and brush your teeth daily.
5. Think of three blessings for which you are grateful each night before dozing off or upon awakening in the morning.
If your 2013 resolution is to lose excess weight, another keystone habit that can be highly effective is to keep a food diary. Most people and physicians assume that the best way to lose weight is to join a gym, workout hours daily and closely follow an extreme diet.
Conventional wisdom holds that only by completely restructuring a person’s daily routine can one’s bad habits be reformed.
However, when scientists looked at the long-term effectiveness of this strategy, they discovered that this approach was generally a dismal failure. Individuals would begin radical diets and strenuous daily workouts, but after the early burst of willpower wore off, they regressed into their old routines of overeating and prolonged sitting.
Trying to make so many disruptive changes all at once made it virtually impossible for the program to succeed.
Then in 2009 a prestigious group of scientists sponsored by the National Institutes of Health evaluated a novel approach to weight loss. They enrolled a group of 1,600 obese individuals and instructed them to simply write down everything they ate during one day, at least once per week.
This proved difficult in the beginning. But with time and reminders, they started recording everything they ate during one day a week.
Eventually, after the food journaling became a habit, something surprising happened. The study subjects started examining their own journal entries and noting patterns that astonished them. Some noticed they were snacking mid-morning on a doughnut, for example, and brought a healthier alternative to munch on.
Others utilized their journals to alter their meals, so when it was time for dinner they had a healthy menu in mind, rather than mindlessly driving through a fast food restaurant.
The NIH scientists who conducted the study did not suggest any of these strategies, they only requested that the participants write down everything they ate one day a week. Yet this keystone habit—food journaling—provided a structure that helped other habits to flourish.
Six months into the study, the individuals who kept a daily journal had lost two times as much weight as those who didn’t keep a food log. Now that’s a healthy resolution that can get results!
Dr. O’Keefe is a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants, located in Lee’s Summit at 20 N.E. Saint Luke’s Blvd., Suite 110, 816-931-1883.
To read Dr. O’Keefe’s newsletter, For the Heart, online visit: http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/saint-lukes-cardiovascular-consultants-newsletter.