We all have a sense of the big things we should be doing to stay healthy in mind and body: things like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. But sometimes life gets in the way, and as much as we want to add healthy behaviors to our routine, we just don’t. So how exactly do we form those good habits to improve wellness? In this article, we explain the steps.
And we know that healthy habits are good for both physical and mental health, so as a bonus, we’ve included 6 top healthy behaviors to try today.
How to form healthy habits
Start by making it easy and simple. Research says we’re more likely to form new habits when we clear away the obstacles that stand in our way of doing them. And don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It’s easy to take on too much. For example, start by packing your gym bag and putting it by the door the night before, or walking for just 10 minutes at first, or choose an exercise that doesn’t require you to leave the house at all.
Here are four additional tips to help you form healthy behaviors:
- Make a plan for the behaviors you want to change. Include small, reasonable goals and specific actions you’ll take to move toward them. Consider what you’ll need to be successful and get those things in place. For example, stock up on healthy foods, or plan a special spot to relax in advance. (And don't forget to plan for obstacles. Think ahead to what will happen when you're faced with extra stress or temptation.)
- Keep a record. Use a journal or mobile app - whatever makes most sense to you - to track things like diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleep patterns. Experts say that even if you think you’re about to ‘fall off the wagon,’ continue to track your behavior, as sometimes when you feel like you’re failing, you learn the most.
- Do the behavior every day. Research says the amount of time it can take for a behavior to become a habit ranges from 18 to 66 days, but they form faster when we do them more often, so start with something easy and simple, and do it often. Once the habit is formed, you can explore more complex or harder behavior changes.
- Reward yourself - early and often This is an important part of habit formation - especially as some results of habit changes take longer to show up. So, build in some immediate rewards to help you reinforce the habit, like listening to an audiobook while running, or watching a favorite Netflix series while on the treadmill.
Lastly, be patient with yourself! Healthy habit-forming is hard work and even though the payoff is big, there may be missteps along the way - and that’s ok.
How do you form healthy behaviors? Leave a comment below or tell us on social media.
Experts say these are top behaviors for improved wellness
Now that you know how to form a healthy habit, here’s how experts weigh in on some of the top healthy behaviors that benefit body and mind (besides the big ones - eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep). Some may be familiar but others may be a surprise.
- Drink lots of water. Check with your doctor to find out how much is right for you. If it gets boring, add fresh mint, lemon, or cucumber slices to switch it up.
- Plan your meals. Experts recommend you get into this habit, as it reduces the chances for unhealthy eating, and also saves time and money (and who doesn’t need more of both?!)
- Train your muscles. Strength training helps replace body fat with muscle - so you burn more calories overall. And it’s really important for women - especially as they get older.
- Go offline. So hard to do! But this gives our eyes and brains a big break and frees up time for other healthy habits.
- Learn something new. New skills keep our brains really healthy and may even provide you with new free-time activities and friendships.
- Get outside in nature. More and more, researchers are learning the benefits of fresh air, sunshine (vitamin D), and the peace that comes from being in green spaces.
Healthy habits ensure a better quality of life. Commit to forming healthier behaviors by starting with just one today.
The New York Times: How to Build Healthy Habits
Harvard Business Review: Building Healthy Habits When You’re Exhausted
NIH News in Health: Creating Healthy Habits