With a new year and a new decade approaching, I thought I’d discuss some theories as to why it’s so difficult to develop healthy habits. I’m not trying to give you excuses here, because making the right lifestyle choices can relieve your chronic conditions and help you live longer.
However, in spite of all the “good advice” you’ll find in these articles, good advice can be hard to take. Our decisions, and more importantly our actions are based in a complex mix of qualities, beliefs, instincts, thoughts, emotions, impulses, drives and intuition.
So Why Don’t We Choose Healthy Habits?
I think one of the main reasons we have challenges making the right health choices is our evolution. Our genetic code evolved during millennia of food scarcity and lifestyles that offered many threats that aren’t generally issues in these modern times.
“It is natural and normal to be physically lazy.”
– Daniel Liberman, Lerner Professor of biological Sciences, Harvard University
So just because you know what you should be doing doesn’t mean you will. Here are some of the “bad habits” that our evolution taught our ancestors that don’t make so much sense today.
- Rest whenever you can to conserve energy
- Eat salt whenever you can get it
- Gorge on sugary foods when you find them
- Eat as much fatty food as you can fit in
These habits made sense at the time. Hunter/gatherers got plenty of exercise seeking food, so they certainly didn’t need to motivate themselves to go for a jog. These habits influenced genetic selection to make heart disease and diabetes more common today… but from an evolutionary perspective that wasn’t really important, as long as individuals lived long enough to breed.
- The people who survived were insulin resistant, which helped them store fat and survive famine. Unfortunately, today that helps us (their ancestors) be obese and develop metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
- They healed wounds quickly which helped them survive tigers… and childbirth. The individuals with hypercoagulable blood were more likely to survive to breed, but today it helps clog our arteries.
- They had very sensitive immune systems which reacted to any disease or contamination in their environment with great activity… but today those same immune systems can be overactive and cause low-grade inflammation that leads to many chronic conditions.
So What Lifestyle Changes Help Health?
- Increase your activity levels
- Eliminate seed oils from your diet
- Cut sugar. Almost all of it. In all forms
- Get checked for gluten sensitivity or just cut out wheat. It helps inflammation
- Eat more green leafy vegetables.
- Consume more Omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats
- Cut processed food & eat real food
- Keep your weight healthy
- Sleep lots and sleep deeply
- Cut stress, learn mindfulness, and develop good habits for coping with stress
- Reduce exposure to environmental toxins in food, personal care items, and your environment
- Eat real food to get to a healthy weight – obesity is a cause of inflammation
Understanding Helps Healthy Habits
Of course, I believe that understanding why lifestyle choices are so important helps us make better ones. We’re rational beings, for the most part… and if you get really stuck making bad choices, there is counselling help available to help you learn to make better ones. When you understand the health consequences of continuing to make “caveman choices” about your health, it’s easier to make better choices that help you stay slim, feel attractive, move easily, avoid pain and live longer.
A Useful Tip To Help With Lifestyle Change
One more tip to help you overcome your inner “caveman”: Team activities. One thing that was important in hunter/gatherer societies was teamwork, so doing healthy activities with others makes it easier to actually get out there and do them. Whether it’s heading to the pool or the gym, going for a run or a workout, or team sports… as soon as you involve others in your activity you increase the odds of you completing it.
That means that if you want to change your diet or take up exercise, finding a friend to share in your plan for lifestyle change will definitely make it easier to develop healthy habits!