What if we did not need anymore new drugs to be developed or any new medical treatments to be found? What if the key to a healthy life, was in our personal wisdom? Imagine being able to live another decade, or more than you might have otherwise? If you knew this to be true, would you take the steps to make it happen?
Unfortunately, it turns out that most of us will not. The blame for this lies in the way our brains work as it relates to change management. Simply put, as humans, we are highly resistant to change. There are scores of reasons for this and just as many techniques to kickstart a change regime. But our brains are very tricky characters and they trip us up.
Inertia, or “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged,” is at the headwinds of any change that we make in our lives.
Evidently, our bodies complex sense of inertia provides a very important function, by controlling our temperature. Well not just that, but other things like our metabolism, weight and other functions necessary to survival. It is a very complicated and interwoven dance, going on inside us, all the time. If we try to introduce something radical, like a new exercise program, you can imagine what that does to this delicate equilibrium. Once the first few sessions are over and this new thing is still causing our levels to run all over the place, we decide to throw the towel in, on that nonsense. Add to the mix, our brains are super good at justifying why things should go back to normal, thank-you very much.
Then we have a very instinctive desire to continue doing things which make us feel good, even if we intellectually know they are bad for us. Our brains love to feel good and will go to some effort to keep things that way. So anything that gets in the way of that will be a problem, in the long run. Again, we are ever so good at justification here as well.
Habit loops are ridiculously tricky to change. It can be done, but it takes considerable effort. There is great information available on this and most of us can understand the material. Putting it into practise in our own lives is another matter. Maybe that is a job of the future? A personal habit changer.
There are dozens of other reasons and justifications which we cook up in order to justify not changing. I don’t know where to start. I’m afraid. I don’t understand. It is physically not possible for me. I don’t want to. Will it be worth it? Etc. On and on it goes until you don’t even remember why you started thinking about making a change in the first place.
I know all about this excuse making. I didn’t start exercising as an adult. I was kind of active as a kid, but then nothing. Sedentary. I managed OK, but I really don’t like the photos of myself for most of my life since the world went digital. And before that too.
I have since incorporated exercise into my life. But it is not easy and I have periods where I fall back into my sedentary ways. On the balance, I continue to move in the direction I want to go, even if it is not a straight path.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Back at the beginning I mentioned living longer. It turns out, there are 5 magical keys, but they are the same old things. Now there is another study which shows the years being added to your life if you can manage to change these specific lifestyle habits by age 50. (Phew, there is hope for me, yet!)
- moderate alcohol intake
- no smoking
- healthy BMI
These are no particular order, just random. I started describing my exercise battle first. But I think this list is really inter related. Each thing effects the other. Especially BMI, diet and exercise. Chances are also good that if you are good on those 3, you probably don’t smoke and maybe you don’t drink too much alcohol. But, there is the brain-going-for-pleasure thing, so tackling all 5 of these is a big challenge in our modern world.
When travelling, I find my diet is worse than when I am back home. That is due to a number of reasons. Access to food I recognize and having the proper set-up to cook in. That is an ongoing challenge. I feel like writing the guidelines for airbnb on what constitutes a basic, proper kitchen. It is not much, but some of the kitchens have been unworkable.
I think my BMI is improving, but I have not stepped on a scale in over a year. My clothes are fitting better around my waist, but no measuring tape is at hand, so I can’t confirm that. In truth, my BMI was just a tiny bit over the healthy mark as it was, so not too much improvement needed.
I have not smoked willingly since my twenties, but many of the countries we have been to feel like the 1990’s in Canada, before all the legislation changed and the percentage of smokers fell to 13% of the population. Istanbul was probably the worst, recently and Croatia was pretty bad too. It is shocking to see how many people smoke. Then, to sit on a terrace while someone blows smoke in your face from 3 feet away, well that takes me back.
That leaves alcohol. Again, on this trip I seem to have various reasons to drink a little more than is my normal habit. My sister was just with us for the last 2 weeks. My birthday, then hers and then Mother’s Day. So many holidays. So many interesting drinks to try. Now we are in Greece and this is a country where a drink is not easily turned down. This might be the one area where I need to work harder at over riding my brains pleasure seeking response.
For sure, our life will get a 180 degree change as we move back home. We are looking forward to some of our old routines and designing new ones. Since we have tackled so many fears and tried such a range of new experiences, we are in a good position to choose more wisely. The timing here is critical. There is this nice gap, where nothing is normal, yet. That is the sweet spot to insert the new ideas as if they were always there. Kind of trick our brains a bit. At least that is the idea!
Will my husband and I be assured of living a decade longer? Who knows. In truth, that is not my main motivator. I want to continue to be healthy now, in this moment. I want to walk 10 kilometres in a day and not suffer. I want to enjoy healthy, whole foods which make me feel great. If I am doing well with diet and exercise, the rest seems to fall into line for me. Stress is easier to manage and my relationships are better. It is all interconnected. Our bodies are extremely complex and I don’t need any study to know that.
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