Cultivating Healthy Habits

Ultimately, being healthy is what we all strive for – when we are healthy, we are balanced and most importantly, we are happy.

As such it is important we cultivate habits that keep us in this state of healthiness and in turn happiness.

Or at the very least, habits that will help us get set on a path that will take us toward better health.

The Roman poet Ovid once famously remarked that our habits change into our character. What he probably meant to include was that our habits, just like our characters, are never set in stone, but instead are dynamic, fluid like the water of a river, and just like this water flowing down a river, our characters are influenced by obstacles in their path.

Positivity trumps all

It’s a longer process, influencing our habits, and it’s helpful to remember the baby steps involved, developing new habits won’t happen overnight, but in due time, the act of influencing one’s behaviour positively, can and most importantly will, happen.

Be positive about the change. Embrace it.

Appreciate and enjoy food

In many ways it all starts with food. As food is the energy we use to power our amazing bodies into action every day.

Eating well, helps keep our bodies energised and in balance. The important part here is that all food prepared at home has a net positive effect on our bodies. Whilst in the act of eating, focusing on every bite and chewing slowly appears to let the food enter our bodies in a more pleasant fashion.

On top of this, the act of cooking itself has a very calming effect on our minds, everything from slicing vegetables to frying onions, to pouring olive oil on our salads. All these ‘acts’ are in themselves powerful little reminders of the great gifts that planet Earth has bestowed upon us. So it makes sense to get into the habit of cooking for ourselves and those we love.

Growing our own food

In the same vein, another great habit to cultivate is planting and growing one’s own vegetable and herb garden. There’s nothing quite like seeding a lettuce and picking it during harvest time. Eating one’s own home-grown food can really empower us.  On top of that, growing our own food teaches us the virtues of patience and growth (of body and mind).

Often in our busy and hectic lives, we forget the little things that exist on this planet, like the fact that a tiny little seed can turn into something vast like a tree or a potato that we can eat.

The Sun: Our healthy healer

Among many other things, Vitamin D is important for bone health and also to strengthen our immune systems. Getting out in the sun every day is another habit we can adopt in regards to optimising our health, focusing on the rays hitting our face – really trying to think about and envision the powerful biochemical processes occurring in the outer layers of our skin, where sunlight converts cholesterol into pre-vitamin D. Conversion from pre-vitamin D to vitamin D can take up to 12 days in our bodies. So, when we are out in the sun, we are actually building up reserves of pre-vitamin D for later conversion to vitamin D two weeks down the track.

Like a squirrel storing its food for winter hibernation.

Vitamin D in our food

On a side note, the effects of ultraviolet light from the sun on organic matter are so powerful that even shining it on to various food groups increases their vitamin D content. Incidentally, in 1923 an American biochemist named Harry Steenbock cured a group of rodents of rickets (a form Vitamin D deficiency) by shining UV light on their food. After patenting his technique, Steenbock’s idea was incorporated into the American dairy industry’s standard operating procedure where it was so successful that upon expiry of his patent in 1945; rickets had been all but eradicated in America.

The sun-starved Scandinavians have now taken Steenbock’s concept to another level. Researchers there have discovered that by exposing field mushrooms to UV light, they managed to enhance the mushroom’s vitamin D content.

Of course, as we all know here in New Zealand, wearing sunscreen if we are out in the sun for longer than 15 minutes, is absolutely advisable, even if it is cloudy.

The simple act of breathing

The simple act of breathing is not really a habit as it takes place automatically, but thinking about how amazing the process is, can definitely be a beneficial habit to adopt. We don’t necessarily need to be knowledgeable of exactly  how our lungs are converting oxygen into energy in our cells, as that would be tedious, but just being aware of the mechanisms our bodies have in place to ensure our survival, is definitely a habit we may want to train our minds to appreciate.

When it comes to our breathing, there isn't any other discipline out there that focuses more on the benefits of breathing, quite like yoga. Yoga is essentially a breathing exercise that has been practiced by some humans for nearly 3000 years but it is only in the last couple of decades that the western world has started paying attention to its powerful benefits to human health.

Attending classes twice a week or simply including simple poses into our morning routine will see huge benefits to our overall health and well-being, and will certainly help us to appreciate each and every breath we take.

Gratitude works

And then there is the simple act of expressing gratitude.

Being grateful for what we have is a fantastic way to remind our minds and in turn our bodies of the preciousness that is human life.

The concept of gratitude is so powerful that mainstream science is taking note of it. Researchers have discovered that people who have incorporated gratitude as a routine upon waking in their everyday life, consistently report that they experience higher levels of positive emotions (such as joy, optimism and happiness), act with more compassion and generosity and feel less isolated and lonely in everyday life.

If we’re focused on gratitude, the stress can’t take over. Gratitude helps us appreciate the value of something. In this state of mind, we’re much less likely to take things for granted. It also helps us become participants in our lives as opposed to just spectators.

Mindfulness is the way forward

Lastly there is mindfulness. A habit which ties all of the above habits together. The idea with mindfulness is that we focus out of the big picture and into what is happening right here, right now. To focus in on the moment. It can be incorporated into everything that we do, from going for a walk, picking a flower and even the simple act of eating food. Really zoning in on the moment and appreciating everything we do and experience in life.

And remember: Inhale, exhale and appreciate the little things, as it is the little things that really matter.

Most importantly, have fun with your healthy habits everyone!

by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology


We’d Love Your Feedback

What healthy habits have you been working on in the past? How did you go about cultivating them?