Can you afford bad habits?

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Are you proud of your bad habits? Surprisingly, most of us may very well be, if not proud, at least very comfortable with our most popular bad habits. For example, when it comes to eating healthy, many of us talk a good game but walk a much different path out of sight of friends and loved ones. Another poor habit commonly found is chronic procrastination when it comes to exercise and healthy habits. The fad diet industries and health care businesses benefit greatly from our lack of commitment and procrastination that is wrapped so tightly around exercise and good nutrition.

The cost of bad unhealthy habits comes at a very high cost. Statistically, U.S. citizens have a fairly poor health score when we compare with many other countries. The net result of poor habits regarding exercise and nutrition places the U.S. in a unique position around the globe. We Americans are at the bottom of the list for longevity across the top 17 industrialized countries. What is even worse is we pay the most in health care costs, roughly $2.8 trillion, and we are trending with more chronically sick people than our peers in other highly developed countries.

The crooked finger of blame can be pointed at our health care professionals, insurance companies, big pharmaceuticals companies and so forth. I would argue the blame sits squarely on each and every one of us who let our bad habits drive our health or lack of health and wellness.

One particular saying I personally dislike that lends itself to bad habits is: “You only live once.” This all too familiar saying is usually invoked moments before doing something you know you shouldn’t. Now I am not saying we should live life on the straight and narrow by any means, but we can find balance with the good, the bad and the ugly habits we often bring into our lives.

I like to call this habitual challenge the “I can get started tomorrow” syndrome. The net result from this popular “I will get to it someday” approach to exercise and good nutrition is very much in the forefront as to why so many of us are unhealthy. Poor food choices drive obesity, metabolic disorders and diabetes. Sedentary behaviors drive much of the same, plus compounds heart disease, arthritic issues and other chronic health problems.

Where do all these bad habits come from and why do we develop bad habits anyway? This is an age-old question and one that is not easily answered. I can tell you that sugar, for example, spikes the reward centers in the brain much like hardcore drugs, so a sugar habit can be very easy to explain. But procrastination that feeds bad habits seems to give you a feel good response when the road to intention crosses the road to implementation. What I mean by this is your brain uses procrastination as a way to help you feel good about putting things off. Then when you finally get going and jump-start your efforts, your brain gives that rewarding feeling that you’re an all star for getting things done last minute.

This is all well and good with simple daily tasks, but it does not work for exercise and nutrition. When it comes to good habits with exercise and good nutrition, they require consistency over time to give the net gain of solid foundational health. The start and stop of good then bad habits within these two areas will not give you any traction in the long term.

So what drives our procrastination and bad habits relating to our health and wellness?

1. “I am Superman” is one area. People just do not believe they will have a serious health problem. Then one day while pumping gas, shopping or being a weekend warrior, you have a heart attack in your late 30s or early 40s. This age group is in fact statistically seeing a rise in the need for cardiac care.

2. Stress and boredom is the next big one. For the most part, we all live with high levels of stress and culturally we get bored fairly easily, both issues lead to health changing bad habits. Stress drives drug and alcohol abuse, poor eating habits plus it takes its toll on our immune system. Boredom leads to risk taking and risky lifestyle choices, both feed into our bad habits and procrastination.

3. Triggers that drive poor choices. As mentioned, sugar and grains trigger your brain to indulge in unhealthy eating. A good example is gliadin protein found in wheat-based food products. This natural substance converts into an opioid like polypeptide that stimulates your brain to eat more. Manage what you eat to avoid unhealthy or over eating temptations.

4. Getting your head to cooperate with your body. Your brain loves exercise and your brain loves the couch. It all comes down to feeding your desire centers of the brain. If you lay around and give your brain TV, gaming and other addictive behavior, those habits are going to take hold. On the other hand if you feed your brain endorphins from exercising and all the other feel good points from being active, you will build up to a consistent habit of exercising. I recommend you read the book “Spark” by John Ratey if you want an eye opening understanding of exercise and your brain.

By practicing self-control and educating yourself to the cost of procrastination and bad habits, you can push down your personal health care costs, raise your quality of life and enjoy new adventures you never thought you would do.

• • •

Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.

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