The Power and Sway of Good Habits
Good habits versus bad habits: Habits are powerful things. Bad habits are like a riptide that pulls you out to sea. They make it so much harder to reach your goals. Good habits bring you closer and closer to your goal.
Below are 30 good habits that support the Spartan Lifestyle. Take some time to work them into your life. The more positive the reward you get from building the habit, the more closely tied it is to an important goal or dream, or even your True North, the more you’ll want to repeat it—and make it a habit. Pick two or three of the following good habits a week and make them part of your identity.
30 Good Habits
Work Out Early
When it comes to good habits, this is a special one that I’ve been doing for years. I get my exercise done before most people wake up. That way I never miss a workout. Apparently, working out in the morning gives you a better workout. Get this: A British study found that people who exercised at 6:45 a.m. pushed themselves harder and longer than people who worked out at 6:45 pm.
Exercise When Fasted
Studies have shown that exerting yourself when you haven’t eaten anything for 8 hours or more, forces your body to tap into your fat stores for energy.
Load Your Push-Ups
Place a sandbag on the ground to your right. Assume a pushup position next to it. Do a pushup, then grab the sandbag with your left hand and drag it underneath you forcefully until it’s now on your left side. Do another pushup and drag it back with your right hand. Keep it up for 20 reps.
Drink Water, not Juice
You may have heard that most of us are walking around dehydrated. That’s debatable. But the fact is drinking water is preferable to drinking anything else, especially soda, alcohol, and fruit juice. Drinking enough water daily can help with weight management, skin health, and keeping your body efficient. Make a habit of walking around with a water bottle full of ice water. It’s a good way to ensure you drink between 64 and 90 ounces of water per day, which most experts say is a good goal. Remember that milk, decaf coffee and teas count toward your quota and you do get water from many of the foods you eat. Your pee is a good gauge of whether or not you are drinking enough water. It should be the color of pale lemonade.
Practice Deep Breathing
A lot of people, especially older folks and the out-of-shape crowd, “chest breathe.” In other words, they don’t fully fill their lungs. Short chest breaths elevate anxiety. To develop good relaxation skills learn to “belly breathe.” Take a deep breath so that your belly rises before your chest does. That’s belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Practice five deep breaths before you go to bed, when you wake up, and several times throughout the day at work. When you feel stress rising, you’ll have a well-practiced technique for calming your anxiety and channeling your focus.
Take a Cold Shower
German researchers found that cold baths increased disease-fighting white blood cells, improved circulation, and boosted testosterone for those who took them regularly. Plus, cold showers and baths are a terrific way to develop grit.
Run on Sand
Running on soft sand strengthens your calves, arches, and Achilles tendons and restores proper mechanics to flat-footed runners. It toughens up the bottom of your feet so you can advance to barefoot running on turf and dirt.
Seek Out Silence
Our world is too noisy. We need to experience quiet as much as possible. Gordon Hempton, a sound-recording artist known as the Sound Tracker, has been pursuing rare nature sounds for 35 years—sounds that can only be appreciated in the absence of manmade noise. One of the best ways to reduce stress, he says, is listening to the hum of insects at dawn. “Our ears are essentially animal ears, hundreds of thousands of years old and naturally tuned to the sounds of a fertile, healthy environment. So going into nature and listening is much more than an activity. In a way, it’s also a homecoming.”
Be a Better Employee
Never whine. Ever. But do communicate with the boss, proactively. When your boss dreams up a new project or seems under the gun, volunteer. You’re not kissing ass if you do the work. You’re working. And whether or not it ices out your rival, the important thing is that it advances the company’s goals. And you’ll feel good about that. Not only that, but your boss will notice that you’re proactive.
Break Out the Kettlebell
You’ll be happy to return to burpees. Place a kettlebell on the floor. Sand over it with your feet spread slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend at the waist, pushing your hips back and grab the horn with both hands. Hike the bell between your legs and then thrust your hips forward as you swing the bell to chest level. Swing it back between your legs with a controlled motion (that makes it harder). Do 20 reps without stopping. University of Wisconsin researchers found that kettlebell swings properly done burn about 14 calories per minute, about the same amount as running 6 miles an hour.
Rearrange Your Fridge.
Move all your produce to eye level. According to Cornell University researchers, you’re 2.7 times more likely to eat healthy food if it’s in your line of sight.
It’s easier to stay committed to your promise when you share that commitment with a partner or team. Think about it: It’s 5:30 am on a cold, drizzly morning and you’re contemplating either going for a 3-mile run or staying under the covers for another hour. You are more likely to jump out of bed if a friend or friends are waiting for you at the park in the rain. Friends keep friends accountable.
Nourish Your Neurons
Just 15 to 20 minutes of cardio a day can lower Alzheimer’s risk, according to Gary Small, MD, coauthor of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. Increased blood flow helps brain cells communicate better, he says.
You Screwed Up? Do This
Look him or her in the eye and say, “I messed up. I’m sorry.” Then shut up. Your brevity shows remorse, respect, and sincerity. And it keeps you from rambling into excuses. As your grandfather used to say, “honesty is the best policy.”
Check the Label
When it comes to embracing good habits, this is low-hanging fruit. The best foods for your body don’t come in boxes or cans. For those foods you need to buy packaged, check the nutrition facts label first. If the ingredient list is long and full of words you can’t pronounce, feed it to the squirrels.
Take a Walk
Instead of having a big lunch, take a brisk 30-minute walk. Reward yourself with a piece of fruit at the end. Even a moderately-paced walk for only 30 minutes per day can lower your risk for heart disease, according to cardiologists at the American Heart Association.
Have a Smoothie
People who eat processed meats have a higher risk of death than those who get their protein from plant sources, according to Harvard researchers. An easy way to replace meat protein is by making a smoothie with plant-based protein powder, such as pea protein. A Harvard study found that for every three percent increase in protein from plant sources, there was a reduction in risk of death by 10 percent.
Lift Heavy Things
Every decade after age 30, men and women lose 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass, a natural process called sarcopenia, due to a reduction in testosterone. To counteract muscle shrinking, do strength-training exercise every week. Resistance exercises, like weight lifting and bodyweight calisthenics, build lean muscle mass, which increases resting metabolic rate, protects joints, improves balance and even improves bone density.
In a study reported in Psychological Science, college students who practiced mindfulness—awareness of the moment—for two weeks showed memory improvements.
Keep a Food Diary
Training yourself to be a mindful eater is one of the best ways to lose weight and adopt good habits when it comes to eating. A University of Arkansas study found that people who keep a food log for at least 3 week lost 3 ½ pounds more than people who didn’t track their food intake.
Take a Cue to Stand
If you have a desk job, do your back a favor and get in the habit of standing as much as possible at work. Get yourself a stand-up desk or, at least, use cues to remind you to stand every half hour. Set a timer on your computer or stand up every time you receive a phone call.
Do Things You Suck At
You’ll help grow new brain connections. Can’t sing? Keep trying. A mess at chess? Challenge the kids. Doing things that you aren’t very accomplished at is a way of stepping out of your confort zone and growing – in skills and brain cells.
Get to Sleep Faster
Drink six ounces of tart cherry juice before going to bed. Tart cherries contain natural melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. And the carbohydrates in the juice increase the production of serotonin, which is a calming brain chemical that can help you fall asleep. Also, do what I do: sleep cold. Turn down the heat. Kick off the heavy blanket. Lowering core body temperature helps induce sleep. Keep your bedroom cool, about 65 degrees or cooler. Another trick that works well in wintertime, especially in Vermont: wear socks to bed. Warming feet causes blood vessels in your body to enlarge, allowing more heat to escape your body, which lowers your body temperature.
Once an hour, take a stretch break from work. Stand facing a corner of the room with your feet together about two feet back from the corner. Place your forearms on each wall, with your elbows slightly below shoulder height. Keep your head neutral, tucking your chin back slightly. Inhale and pull your abdominal muscles into your spine. Exhale and lean into the wall. You’ll feel your shoulder blades squeeze together. Hold the stretch for five to 30 seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat five times.
Grow Your Gut Biome
Instead of a 10 am coffee break, drink a glass of kefir, a fermented drink made from cow, goat or sheep milk. It contains enzymes, yeasts and probiotics, plus high levels of vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium and has been shown to heal “leaky gut” syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and boost the immune system.
Good habits can be adopted simply by making a choice about where you conduct a practice. If you have a choice of exercising indoors or outdoors, always choose to get outside. A recent study at University of California San Diego found that people who exercised outdoors were more active and completed about 30 minutes more exercise each week than people who exercised indoors.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
Have it checked every year. If it’s high, that is above 120/80 mmHg, work with your doctor to get it down. High systolic blood pressure limits the brain of blood and nutrients, making it more likely that you will lose gray matter in critical areas as you age.
Lean How to Cook Fish
Salmon, tuna, and other oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is important for all-around brain and heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA and EPA, which are highly concentrated in the brain and are crucial for optimal brain function, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These fatty acids are so important to consume because our neurons use them to build brain cell walls and maintain good brain health. In fact, people whith low blood levels of omega-3s had lower brain volumns than people with higher levels, suggesting their brains were aging more rapidly. One study at Tufts University found that people who ate oily fish three times a week reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40 percent.
Run for a Reason
Add purpose to your run. It’ll make the workout more fun and a lot harder to blow off. Run to get to somewhere you need to go. Run through a new part of town. Run longer than you ever have before. Run because it’s a beautiful day. Run because it’s cold and pouring outside and you enjoy the look of respect people give you. Run with a friend. Ditch your headphones and run as silently as posible, listening to the world around. Run because of the satisfaction and awesome physical exhaustion you feel after a run.
If you find yourself ruminating on your problems, you’re just wasting time. Smack yourself out of that bad habit. When it comes to good habits, this simple one may have the most profound effect: Before bed every night, write down three things you are grateful for. It’ll force you to shift your focus away from the things you want and toward the things you have. Practice being grateful and it will become something you do naturally every day. Need an idea for something to be grateful for? How about adversity? Adversity makes you stronger. Overcoming it is one of the surest paths to happiness.
(Adapted from THE SPARTAN WAY, by Joe De Sena, with Jeff Csatari.)