The following is a guest post from Naturopathic Doctor, Kate Whimster.
I know Kate quite well and she knows her shit.
She is also academically trained and as such included a long reference list supporting every claim she made.
I have always wanted to say with authority, “Trust me I’m a doctor” but alas I remain sans PhD.
So instead I shall say, “Trust her she’s a doctor” because I deleted the reference list for brevity’s sake.
Keystone Habits For Health
Have you ever wanted to do more with less? I’ve recently been reading ‘The Power of Habit‘ by Charles Duhigg (al).
One of the most interesting concepts to me as a Naturopathic Doctor is how keystone habits can have a dramatic impact on health behaviors.
Keystone habits are habits that “start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”
Basically, this is the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule of habits – invest a small amount of time and effort to achieve the bulk of your results.
Keystone habits cascade into other habits by “creating structures that help other habits to flourish.”
Check out five ways you can use keystone habits to radically improve your health.
1. Keep A Daily Food Log
Did you know that nearly 70% of adults 20 years and over are either overweight or obese?
This is staggering! There are so many habits that lead to weight loss, but perhaps the most impactful is simply keeping a daily record of what you eat.
Diet tracking doubles weight loss
One of the largest and longest studies of weight loss found that participants that kept a daily food record lost TWICE AS MUCH WEIGHT at those didn’t.
Simply writing down what you eat is a powerful keystone habit that flows into behaviors that lead to weight loss, like:
- Consuming fewer calories
- Exercising more
- Making healthier food choices
What’s the best way to track?
Last fall I started using MyFitnessPal to track diet and exercise and I can attest to how tracking what you eat changes behavior!
A normal weight to begin with, I have lost nearly 7% of my body weight and decreased my body fat by 3% just by implementing this simple habit.
I’ve also noticed that my patients who prioritize keeping track of their diet do lose more weight than those who don’t. Plus, tracking helps them:
- Feel more motivated
- Prioritize low calorie, nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables
- Recognize the impact of empty calories like alcohol, fast food, and sugary foods
- Measure themselves against specific goals like the balance of carbs/proteins/fats or daily fiber intake
2. Eat Your Fruits And Vegetables
Remember how your parents were always trying to get you to eat your vegetables? It turns out, they were right!
Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the top two causes of death in the United States.
These diseases develop over a lifetime and both are highly preventable by altering controllable risk factors.
Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (by 31%) and cancer (by between 2-20%), as well as stroke (by 19%), Alzheimer’s disease, aging, and many other concerns.
Eating more fruits and vegetables is definitely a keystone habit. This simple choice cascades into major diet changes:
- Increased nutrient density (high nutrition, low calorie foods)
- Increased fiber, essential for bowel health and detox
- Crowd out less healthy, higher calorie foods
How much do I need?
A good guideline is 5-6 servings fruits and vegetables daily. One serving is equal to one cup or one medium piece of fruit.
Can’t I just take a pill?
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be useful for treating a wide range of health concerns, but they are never a substitute for a healthy diet.
The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are due to additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals found in these whole foods.
Isolating and processing molecules into supplements can never match this complex potion of goodness that nature provides.
In fact, some supplements can be detrimental, while foods that provide those same vitamins and minerals are healing.
One example is beta carotene, which has been associated with increased risk of cancer when taken as a supplement, while foods high in beta carotene (fruits and vegetables!) prevent cancer.
It’s too hard to eat healthy! I want to eat what everyone else eats!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like everyone else!
Everyone else is overweight, fatigued, anxious and/or depressed, and on track to develop heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. If this is what you want for yourself, go ahead, but I think you deserve better.
3. Meditate daily
Meditation is another keystone habit that delivers an enormous return on a small and manageable investment of time and effort.
How will I benefit from meditation?
- Reduce stress, the major contributor to all health issues
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Improve sleep via increasing melatonin (hormone which is key for good sleep)
- Improve brain function, learning, and memory
- Improve metabolism
- Treat other health issues, such as PMS, sexual dysfunction, headaches, hypertension, etc
Get started today!
Tim literally wrote the book ‘Don’t Hesitate – Meditate‘ on this topic, so check it out!
Tims Note: That book is only available for free until 20th August so grab it now!
In addition to Tim’s book, I also highly recommend Meditation as Medicine by Dharma Singh Khalsa (al).
Also, check out the Insight Timer app, available for iPhone, iPad, and Android, in either a free or paid version. It’s awesome because it times your sessions for you and tracks your habit (making you far more likely to stick to it every day).
Tims Note: I use the Insight App and love it!
4. Exercise Regularly
What is the single best thing you can do for your health? Exercise is a keystone habit because it delivers the biggest return on investment, as demonstrated wonderfully in this video from Dr. Mike Evans.
What can exercise treat?
- Arthritis (reduces pain and disability), osteoporosis, and fracture risk
- Alzheimer’s disease (reduces dementia)
- Diabetes (reduces progression)
- Fatigue, anxiety, depression (higher dose is more effective!)
- Obesity (duh!), but activity even if obese still improves health!
- Heart disease (also duh!)
- And so many more… (cancer, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, etc)
How much exercise do I need?
Most research focused on walking, which is a great place to start for most people. However, higher intensity and other types of exercise are also incredibly helpful. For most health issues, the more the better!
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. This averages to about 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week.
Children need twice as much activity as adults, so get out there with your kids and go crazy!
Don’t forget strength training and flexibility! Start with 20-30 minutes strength training 2-3 times per week plus about 10 minutes per day of stretching.
5. Sleep More and Better
When I was still a naturopathic student, I had a hunch that sleep had more impact on weight, waist size, and cardiovascular disease than most people thought.
Sleep is a keystone habit because it has a lot of influence on many other aspects of health. Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome (also know as insulin resistance syndrome) is a cluster of conditions that increase risk of heart disease (the leading cause of death!), stroke, and diabetes.
Specifically, less than 6-7 hours sleep per night is associated with:
- Increased abdominal obesity (belly fat)
- Increased blood pressure
- Insulin resistance (leads to elevated blood sugar)
How does sleep influence health?
When people are sleep deprived, they are less likely to be physically active and are more likely to eat more calories.
I have absolutely noticed this in myself and in my patients. Less sleep leads to more food cravings, often for sugar, fat, and salt, which are the hallmarks of fast food and junk food!
For more information on this topic, I highly recommend the book Lights Out: Sleep Sugar, and Survival by TS Wiley (al).
Based on the studies discussed, the optimal sleep duration is between 7-8 hours per night. Sufficient, quality sleep is key to not only mood, mental focus, and efficiency, but is also clearly linked to physical health.
Kate Whimster is a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto, Canada. Described as passionate, knowledgeable, professional, and encouraging by patients, Kate has a special interest in women’s health, thyroid balance, digestive health, detox, and sleep.
For more articles to help you take the right steps toward wellness, check out Kate’s blog.
Kate has delivered sound advice and most of it is common sense, but here’s the question. What are you doing with the information to improve your own over all health?