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How to make healthy habits stick this Winter

November 27th 2020
Healthy Habits for Winter

Sticking to a new or even existing health and fitness routine can be tough, let alone in the winter when the afternoons are quickly drawing in and it is cold and dark outside. It is all too easy to hibernate in front of the television for hours on end, which can invariably lead to grazing on unhealthy snacks and sitting in not the greatest of postures. Of course this is acceptable in moderation, but wouldn’t it be great to learn some simple tips and techniques to help healthy habits stick all year round, benefiting you both physically and mentally?

When it comes to the specific time it takes to change a habit, the current research is varied but generally suggests that on average, it takes a minimum of 2 months until altered habits start to become second nature. However, in this modern fast paced and tech filled world we have become conditioned to expect and receive instant gratification. For example if you are hungry you can choose from a wide range of takeaway food on your smartphone and with one click it will be delivered to you in minutes. Even ordering that forgotten last minute anniversary gift from Amazon can astonishingly arrive the very same day. However, making positive, healthy lifestyle changes will require a little more time, effort and determination. If you are willing to make positive changes it is vital that the road you take to get there is smooth, with limited stress to you and the people around you. Some of most typical reasons why people tend to give up and fail when forming new habits include;

  • Trying to change too many habits at once
  • Being impatient when they don’t notice changes quickly
  • Trying to do it alone, with no accountability from family and friends around you
  • Blaming life for being too busy and not having time…

From previous personal experience I would like to share with you 4 top tips and techniques I have used in order to make positive healthy changes in my own life. Hopefully it will provide you with some ideas about how you can do the same…

1. The Big “WHY”?

It is vital when trying to change a habit to know the reason WHY you want to do it. If you are doing it just because someone else has told you you should be doing it or you have seen someone on social media doing it then it then chances are it won’t stick.

You have to get to the deeper meaning of WHY you want to make a positive change. For example if you set yourself a target of going to the gym every morning to run 5k on the treadmill with no real end goal, this will most probably fall by the wayside relatively quickly. However, if you have a goal of wanting to keep up with your partner, son, daughter at the local park run every Saturday morning then you have a true reason. Structuring an achievable weekly plan and recording your progress will make it much easier to get out of bed on a winters morning, in order to reach that end goal. I make sure I put my lycra on in all weathers on Sunday mornings just so I can finally beat my friend on the cycling stage of the local triathlon every year. If I didn’t have this end goal then it would be all too tempting to stay in bed when the alarm goes off. A good tip is to write your end goal/ habit somewhere you will see it every morning when you wake up. This will reinforce the true motivation and reasoning behind it.

2. Make POSITIVE changes to support your habits

There is nothing programmed into our brains that makes us see a box of doughnuts and automatically want a sugary treat. However, from previous experiences our brains know that inside the box  there is tasty, sweet piece of food and we start to anticipate the sugary high. If we then don’t eat the doughnut we develop a feeling on disappointment. This is all down to there being 3 steps which help form a habit;

1) The cue (what triggers the action)

2) The routine (the action itself)

3) The reward (the positive result of the action)

A typical example of slipping into an unhealthy habit could be arriving home in the evening after a long stressful day at work (the cue), pouring yourself a nice glass of wine and getting comfortable on the sofa (the routine). Only now you can start to forget about the stressful day you had and unwind (the reward). So If you are wanting to start exercising more and reducing your alcohol intake during the week, it is important to start recognising the specific cues in order to start changing the routine and providing yourself with a positive reward.

Instead, how about packing your running clothes the night before, leave them next to the front door and take them to work with you. As soon as you finish work get changed straight away into your kit and go for a run. This will prevent you associating leaving work straight away, pouring yourself an alcoholic drink and sitting on the sofa as soon as you step through the door. In order for this to sound appealing you need to create a reward which rewards you back for your hard work. In other words, don’t think that because you have been for a run now you can go home and have a couple more drinks as it will negate the benefits of the run. Instead try writing a positive reward down on your calendar at the end of the month. For example, If you run 3x per week after work then why not give yourself the reward of those new running trainers you have always wanted? By ticking off the calendar as you go, this will track your progress and give you that positive end reward. Like a lot of people, I got into the routine of scrolling social media as soon as I get into bed. However, I realised how much time I was wasting and how it was taking me longer to get to sleep. So now when I get into bed (cue), I pick my book up and try and read a chapter before going to sleep (action). My reward after finishing every book is buying a new one to broaden my knowledge! (reward).

3. Setting SMART goals

Setting goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time based will significantly increase your adherence to positive changes. So try to avoid making vague promises to ‘eat healthier’ or ‘work out more’ without having a thought through plan of how you are going to achieve it. For some people this could mean instead of reaching for the sugary cereal every morning before work, take 5 minutes the night before to prepare some quick and easy overnight oats which is a much healthier option requiring minimal effort. You can then progress on to taking an hour out of your Sunday to do some healthy meal preparation for the week ahead. Manageable changes like this require minimal stress and effort whilst leaving you less likely to reach for the shop bought sandwiches and unhealthy snacks also saving you money in the long run! I personally wanted to start experimenting with new recipes at home. So I set myself the goal of just one night a week cooking something I have never done before. This target was SMART as I had to make sure I had time to organise the required ingredients and plan the meals around work commitments. If I had planned to attempt a new recipe every night of the week It would have been extremely difficult making it much more likely to fail at the first hurdle. Remember a smaller healthy change is much more likely to stick as opposed to a massive lifestyle change which will cause you too much stress.

4. Recruit FRIENDS and FAMILY

You do not have to go on your healthy habit building journey alone. Evidence suggests that going through positive changes with friends whilst receiving social support significantly increases the chances of achieving your goal. For example, if you have arranged to meet your friend for a run first thing on a cold morning before work, they will be waiting for you to show up. You do not want to be the person who lets your friend down when they have made the same promises as you, for a healthier life! So ensure your friends, family and work colleagues are aware and understand the importance of your goals and lifestyle changes. They will be there to encourage, motivate and hold you accountable when times can get tough. Especially around 4pm when it is all too easy to reach for the biscuit tin for that mid afternoon snack, they will remind you where the fruit bowl is. I may be speaking from personal experience here..…

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It is important to remember that positive habitual changes need more than just will power and motivation. They need a physical plan.

So, what healthy changes are you going to make this winter?

Adam Harrison

Sports Therapist