10 health habits every woman should have 

10 health habits every woman should have 

About 40 per cent of what we do every day is a habit, so why not make your habits healthy? Habits aren’t necessarily negative. Daily exercise, eating as well as possible and making regular time for meditation and reflection are all good rituals to create. However, it’s the negative health habits, such as stress, smoking, drinking or bad diet, that tend to capture our attention and energy.

“Creating good habits is all about changing your lifestyle and your approach to your everyday life and priorities,” says clinical psychologist, Victoria Kasunic. “We all have 24 hours in a day; learning how to prioritise yourself and your health is the best habit you can possibly learn.”

According to Dr Nora Volkow, director of National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse, habits play an important role in our health. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviours,” she says.

Learning and adopting new habits is much easier than it sounds. After all, we tend to follow a relatively similar routine each day: we brush our teeth twice daily, we shower every morning and eat around three times a day. It’s the additional health habits, though, that can really make a difference to our long-term health.

Habits can also develop when good or enjoyable events trigger the brain’s “reward” centres. This can set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media.

“We use the same part of our brains for developing good and bad habits,” says Kasunic. “It’s relatively straightforward, then, to decide which ones that will benefit you, and which ones won’t.”

Secrets of success

So what’s the secret to adopting habits? Just how can you stick to your super-duper new healthy lifestyle? “Your brain actually does the work for you,” says Kasunic. “When you do something over and over again, and you enjoy it, such as an early-morning walk followed by a healthy breakfast, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When your brain releases this chemical, your body becomes used to its effects, prompting you to repeat the action, or habit, over again.”

Unfortunately, dopamine also works on negative habits: if you smoke or drink too much on a regular basis, this chemical creates the craving to repeat the action, even if you don’t feel great afterwards. That’s why, Kasunic points out, it’s so important to create healthy practices that are easy to achieve and that you also wholeheartedly enjoy.

The good news is that humans are not simply creatures of habit, according to research conducted by Dr Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University. He believes humans are better than any other animal at changing behaviour, particularly towards long-term goals. His studies on decision-making and willpower have led him to conclude, “Self-control is like a muscle. Once you’ve exerted some self-control, like a muscle it gets tired.”

Baumeister’s research shows that after you successfully resist one temptation, willpower can be temporarily drained. This can make it harder to stand firm the next time around. In recent years, though, he’s found evidence that regularly practising different types of self-control — such as sitting up straight or keeping a food diary — can strengthen your resolve.

10 good habits

So which habits are the best ones for you to adopt and integrate into your daily life? Here are the top 10.

Do yoga every day

While many devotees enthuse about the benefits of their chosen form of yoga, citing weight loss, better sleep and increased energy levels, there has been little research to support this. A study at Boston University School of Medicine, though, may have unearthed a positive discovery, with reports that regular yoga sessions help to decrease anxiety and stress levels. The catch? The participants who experienced the biggest decrease in their stress levels practised for one hour and were long-term yoga devotees.

But with around 14 per cent of Australians affected by an anxiety disorder, and more women than men suffering, what more of an incentive do you need to roll out your mat? Don’t be disheartened if the yoga class you find doesn’t suit you. Try different types and different teachers to find the class and teacher that suits you and your body. Whether it’s Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram or Kundalini, there’s a yoga style that will resonate with you.

Take fish oil
It’s touted as a weight-loss aid and cancer fighter, and is great for dry skin and premature ageing, among other things. Can this little golden supplement do so much? A study at the University of South Australia found that taking a daily dose of omega-3-rich fish oil, combined with regular exercise, provided significantly greater benefits in the fight against obesity than exercise or fish oil alone.

If you don’t want to take supplements, load up your plate with omega-3-rich foods, such as salmon, sardines, flaxseeds and walnuts. These foods are constantly shown to benefit you not only on a daily basis but also in the long term and they may reduce the risk of many serious illnesses, including dementia, heart disease and mental illness.

Go for a brisk walk
Just 30 minutes of brisk walking every day is enough to stave off various health issues, including depression and obesity. But taking any old stroll won’t be of major health help. “Walking just by itself isn’t that great for your bones,” says Osteoporosis Australia spokesperson, Professor Rob Daly. “You need to be doing walking ‘plus’, which is brisk, hill or weight-bearing walking, and exercises to see some bone benefits.” Contrary to what you may believe, he says, our bones actually like strain placed on them. “It’s this continual stress that helps keep them healthy and strong. When you remove the stress, such as when bedridden, that’s when you start to have a rapid loss of bone density.”

Daly suggests you set your fitness program to achieve 20–30 minutes of “plus” walking three to five times a week and “try to do some sort of exercise every day”. Need more motivation? A brisk, 10-minute walk has been shown to remove a craving for chocolate. Better yet, if you do feel the desire for a sweet treat, walk to the shop rather than drive. Odds are, by the time you get there your craving will have disappeared, but you’ll have added some activity into your day.

Take up a hobby
Research has shown that an interest outside of home life or work may help to ward of Alzheimer’s disease. “Keeping your brain active helps to keep it healthy,” says Dr Maree Farrow, research fellow at Alzheimer’s Australia. Research shows that people who do more mentally stimulating activities, such as having a challenging hobby, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

Get at least eight hours of sleep
Dr Nicholas Glozier, associate professor in the disciplines of psychiatry and sleep medicine at the University of Sydney, says you need to get enough sleep to stay healthy. “[The amount you need] can be quite individual as there are genetic influences on sleep duration. Achieving six-and-a-half to nine hours of solid sleep every night can lower stress levels and may reduce weight gain and your chances of premature death. The hours you sleep are extremely important: fewer than 6.5 hours a day and your risk of dying early increases by 10 per cent; more than 9.5 hours a day and your chances of dying increase even more than if you sleep too little.”

Aim to go to bed at the same time every night and, even more importantly, wake up at the same time, even on the weekends. Research has shown that a weekend lie-in may be detrimental to our health. If you don’t want to forgo your lie-in, try waking up at the same time but start your day a little slower than usual.

Do a crossword, Sudoku or brain teaser
“These stimulate your brain,” says professor Stephen Robinson of the School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University. “It doesn’t have to be a quiz, as long as you’re doing something novel or difficult. Keeping your brain active can stave off dementia.” Doing novel tasks, says Robinson, stimulates the brain to receive more blood to the area, which is associated with the formation of synaptic connection and strengthening of existing ones.

“If you use your muscles and keep them active, you’ll keep your health longer,” explains Robinson. “The brain is the same. The more you use it, the more it remains in good shape.” He recounts a study in Sweden, in which researchers looked at a selection of identical male twins. One twin had dementia; the other didn’t. “They found that the twins who had a very active life, did hobbies, were socially active were the ones that didn’t get dementia. The twins who were isolated and less involved in activities had a higher rate of brain deterioration.”

Laugh — every day
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that repetitive laughter can be just as effective in boosting your immune system as repetitive exercise. “So many of us would benefit from making an effort to laugh more each and every day,” says Professor Timothy Sharp of The Happiness Institute. “Laughing is great exercise, it’s a potent stress reliever, it helps us see things from a different perspective and it often also allows us to connect with others.” Watch a silly comedy, spend time with friends who are guaranteed to put a smile on your dial, or even do something silly, such as playing some of your favourite childhood games.

Smell some lemons
Catching a whiff of citrus directly affects a variety of neurotransmitters in your brain, which can improve your mood and strengthen your immune system, say researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Ohio State University. A good habit to cultivate is to add lemon to hot or warm water for your morning drink. It’s believed to help regulate your digestion and reduce bloating and acidity. If you’re feeling under the weather, add some manuka honey and ginger to soothe a sore throat.

Socialise and chill out
A Swedish study found that the risk of dementia was 50 per cent lower among people who were outgoing and calm compared with those prone to distress or a high degree of neuroticism. “Studies have shown that people with larger social networks and who feel less lonely have a lower risk of developing dementia,” agrees Alzheimer’s Australia’s Farrow. “People who engage in more social activities also have a lower risk, and combining mental and physical activity with your socialising provides extra benefits for brain health. Try joining a walking group or a book club.”

Remember that the secret to a healthy habit is the amount of enjoyment you derive from an activity. So there’s no use in joining a running club if you dislike jogging. Try multitasking by going for a regular walk with a friend — that way you’ll catch up on each other’s lives while getting your 30 minutes of recommended daily exercise.

Have sex — as often as you can
Sex can help boost your immune system, reduce your stress levels, boost your cardio function and even lower your risk of breast cancer. “Evidence indicates that regular, enjoyable sex reduces pain, depression, loneliness, anxiety and risk for and progression of osteoporosis. It can also improve heart, lung, gastrointestinal, circulatory and immune function,” says Rhonda Nay, Professor of Interdisciplinary Aged Care at La Trobe University. “It also, most importantly, strengthens pelvic floor muscles and improves continence. Get to it!”

Source: Wellbeing Magazine

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