Let’s face it, we are creatures of habit. We all have habits and they are not always bad.
Some habits are good, like brushing our teeth or driving the same way to work. Some habits are unhealthy, like excessive drinking, smoking, and overeating. When trying to kick an unhealthy habit, it is best to replace it with a healthy habit instead of just quitting cold turkey.
Get in the habit of exercise! Exercise is a great alternative to unhealthy habits for many reasons including:
Many unhealthy habits come from boredom and stress. The mind and body need something to do, so we develop a habit to combat the boredom. Exercise can replace the time used for the unhealthy habit. For example, if you always go to the refrigerator during commercials of your favorite program on television, try doing some body weight squats or march in place instead. Studies with animals have shown that when given a choice of exercise or being sedentary coupled with an unhealthy or addictive behavior the animal is less likely to choose the addictive behavior.
Along with releasing dopamine into the blood stream, the body also naturally decreases the stress hormone cortisol during exercise. Exercise coupled with a reduction in cortisol clears the brain of stress and makes it easier to make better decisions.
Exercise naturally fights the tendency to gain weight when we give up an unhealthy habit. Even just 10 minutes 3 times a day is a great start to fight dreaded weight gain.
When trying to stop an unhealthy habit that feels good, like the high from certain drugs or alcohol, exercise has been shown to be one of the best alternatives for the unhealthy behavior because there is a “natural” high that comes from exercise. When someone does low to moderate level cardiovascular exercise, the body releases hormones or endorphins, one of which is dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure center hormone, meaning we feel good from the release of it into the blood stream. Depressive symptoms are relieved that could be a trigger for the unhealthy habit.
Unfortunately, many of our unhealthy habits are just that… unhealthy and can be causing disease. Even the habit of being sedentary is disease causing. A sedentary lifestyle causes diseases like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and liver disease. Exercising 30 minutes a day at a moderate pace or 150 minutes a week can combat these diseases and more.
Once you have admitted that you have an unhealthy habit and have embraced it and are committed to change, you have taken the first step in a series of recommended steps to replacing your unhealthy habit with a good one such as exercise. You’re ready to take the next step. Experts recommend journaling about your unhealthy habit. Write down how you feel when you participate in the unhealthy habit. Also write down what you were doing at that time. These things can help you connect the habit with triggers. Triggers are things like stress, depression, boredom and time of day. Third, you should tell someone about your attempt at replacing the unhealthy habit with the new healthy habit. This holds you accountable. Finally, replace the unhealthy habit with the new healthy one. Be ready for setbacks and understand that it takes awhile to make big changes. In some cases it can take 6 months to a year. Don’t beat yourself up when you slip up.
One of the best things you can do is reward yourself when you do well. Take it day by day and one step at a time!