What are the influences on our lifestyles?
We know we should eat a balanced diet, stop smoking, have at least two alcohol free nights a week and increase our level of exercise. We know what lifestyle options are better for our health and wellbeing, only sometimes it is really hard to make these health choices and changes. Or is it?
Following are some guidelines about the influences and barriers that we all face when we want to make changes and some strategies on how to make these changes. Hopefully, reading this will make forming healthier lifestyle habits a whole lot easier!In order to make changes we need to understand what influences our behaviour, how we think and behave as individuals, what aspects of our environment can be used to support change and who can we turn to, to support these goals. In reality, for behaviour to change, we need to set up our lives to support this change.
What influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours?
Many factors will influence how easy it is to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.
You may have been born with a health problem and so have always been aware of what is the best lifestyle for you. If you have a family history of certain health-related problems, like heart disease or breast cancer, then this may provide you with real inspiration to eat a balanced diet and exercise. However, even though we know we have inherited certain risks, this doesn’t always make us do what is best for our health!
How can this be when we know the consequences are so serious?
Because we are human we often need more to motivate us to make healthier choices than fear. We may think ‘It won’t happen to me’, ‘I am not that overweight’, or ‘A few drinks every night won’t hurt!’
Personality also influences our lifestyle choices. Some people are more outgoing and active and this may mean they are more physically active for example. Others prefer to stay indoors and like a regular routine. Some of us get bored easily and need variety, while others don’t like change. The important thing here is to know how you like to operate and then use this knowledge to incorporate a healthy lifestyle in your life. If you get bored easily make sure that you include lots of variety in your diet and activities, if you prefer routine then that is okay too.
Way of thinking
The way that we think also has a huge impact on motivation. Negative thinking can make us feel bad and in turn that can impact on our behaviour and whether we are able to make healthier changes in our lives. For example, if we only think in black or white, good or bad, then it becomes hard to find balance in our lives. If we follow a diet that is restrictive and only has ‘good’ food sooner or later when we eat some higher fat food that might be considered ‘bad’, we can feel guilty. The same goes for lots of healthy lifestyle practices like regular physical activity and drinking less alcohol for example. When we don’t exercise or drink a bit too much, the danger is we think negatively, we think we have failed somehow or let our selves down. It can be helpful to understand the way you think about things; do you think in good and bad, do you think negatively or jump to conclusions and catastrophise? Being aware of how you think will help you come up with challenges to unhelpful ways of thinking.
If we are depressed, anxious, stressed or just overwhelmed by everything it can be hard to make healthier choices to improve our lifestyle. We know that people who are depressed may want to eat more and can put on weight, or alternatively they find it difficult to eat and see their weight drop below a healthy range. Taking some time out to make health a priority in your life is a really important first step. Increasing physical activity is a great stress buster, it helps to create a feeling of calm and circulate those feel good hormones in our body, the endorphins.
Support is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For instance, we know that people who have a supportive social network are less likely to suffer depression, stress and heart disease. This seems to work in two ways. On the one hand having people who care for you and nurture you is generally good for your wellbeing. It makes you feel good about yourself. Having support also means that there is someone to talk to, offload to or seek help from, when you are trying to make changes in your lifestyle. They may provide you with words of encouragement, divert your attention, boost your self-esteem, or they may give you strategies to call on should you need. Support can come from friends, family, partner, children, health professionals, counsellors and also from your own inner reserve (if there is any left!). Of course sometimes people who should be supportive can sabotage our best efforts. It may be helpful to think about the people in your life who you turn to for support and ask yourself ‘Do they have my best interests in mind?’ If you don’t feel you have any supports this might be a great opportunity to join a group or volunteer.
Making changes to your lifestyle
Having a healthy lifestyle is important to our overall wellbeing. Thinking about the different influences and what makes you choose healthier options is the first step. Remember even small things that you can do to have a healthier lifestyle can make a big difference to your health. If you would like to know more about making changes to your lifestyle please see ‘Making changes to your lifestyle’.
Content updated January 10, 2010