What Influences Longevity? Healthy Habits
Whether or not we are aware of them, our daily habits have a profound impact on our health and longevity. The five main longevity tactics at our disposal – exercise, sleep, nutrition, medications/supplements, and distress tolerance – are all heavily influenced by our habits. While we all know people who seem to achieve healthy longevity naturally or “get lucky,” for most of us supporting healthy aging requires intentional and consistent attention.
In this blog, we’ll share some key tips on how to effectively build new habits, delve into how habits are formed, and clarify how our Longevity Medical Consultations can provide more customized support and recommendations tailored to your unique health situation and goals. You can book a consultation with Hudson Valley Longevity Medicine through our website at https://www.hvlongevity.com/longevity-medical-consulting/.
Trust That Tiny Habits Create Long-Term Benefits
We often overestimate the importance of a singular defining moment and underestimate the magnitude of seemingly tiny improvements, made incrementally, over time. While tiny habits may seem inconsequential at first, when implemented consistently, they have the potential of creating astounding long-term change. As long as our seemingly small habits are putting us on the path to a healthier life, we are moving in the right direction!
A great example of how seemingly tiny habits over time can have powerful long-term effects is with daily steps. While 1,000-2,000 steps is considered to be extremely low, and constitutes a sedentary person, 7,000 steps a day will decrease mortality by 50% (see reference below). These steps do not have to be consecutive. A short walk of just 300-500 steps to the water cooler at the office can be repeated 3-5 times over the course of your day to get you almost halfway there.
Another example is exposure to near-infrared light has been shown to have consistently positive effects on aging, as well as setting our “clock” genes to improve the quality and ease of sleeping. For some of us in cold climates, this might mean simply opening our front door while we are drinking our morning coffee, and exposing our eyes (and therefore our brain!) to some early-day near-infrared light for 5 or 10 minutes.
Focus on Your Systems Rather Than Your Goals
Instead of focusing singularly on goals, consider prioritizing our systems or habits that allow us to achieve our goals. For example, to reach the goal of competing in a triathlon, it is most beneficial to construct a week-by-week consistent training schedule, leading up to the event. If we change our focus to a daily program and the implementation of a schedule leading up to the event, we gradually work toward the triathlon being achievable.
The same principles hold true for health habits. If our goal is eight hours of sleep each night but we’ve gotten into the habit of prowling the internet until one am and then sleeping late on weekends to try to make up for lost sleep, we can more effectively change our habit by gradually changing our procedures. For example, we can create a new bedtime ritual such as a quick hot shower followed by a three-minute meditation app, and gradually move our lights-out time earlier by fifteen minutes per week. A new routine can be more effective than just trying to shut down earlier and hoping we’ll be able to stick with it.
Unlock the Power of Positive Habits: Understand The Habit Loop
Actually building out a healthy longevity lifestyle vs. just wanting healthy longevity are two different ideas. The habit loop, as described in James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits,” consists of four parts: cue, craving, response, and reward. The cue is the trigger that initiates the habit, the craving is the motivation or desire to act on the habit, the response is the actual behavior or action that forms the habit, and the reward is the positive outcome or benefit that reinforces the habit. These four elements create a feedback loop, where the more a habit is repeated, the stronger the habit becomes. By understanding and utilizing the habit loop, we can create and maintain new, positive habits more effectively.
Creating New Habits for Longevity
The following four laws of behavior change, as described in “Atomic Habits,” provide a framework for building and maintaining new habits:
Law #1: Make it obvious
Law #2: Make it attractive
Law #3: Make it easy
Law #4: Make it satisfying
The first law, “make it obvious”, involves creating a clear cue or reminder that initiates the habit. For example, to support your activity levels, you may be looking to build a habit of walking outside each morning. A way to make this habit obvious would be to lay out your walking clothes and sneakers the night before. That way, they’ll be the first thing you see when you wake up, and you’ll be more inclined to start your day with a walk.
The second law, “make it attractive”, involves associating a habit with a positive outcome or appealing benefit. For example, to support your sleep health, you may be looking to unplug at a certain time each evening and start winding down. To make this habit attractive, you could draw a bath each evening at that time, put away your electronics, light a candle, grab a light read, and indulge in a 15-minute bath before bed. You are more likely to stick to the habit of winding down at the same time each night if you build a habit around it that is attractive enough that you want to return to it.
The third law, “make it easy,” involves reducing the friction associated with a habit and breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps. One way to make a habit easy is to use the two-minute rule, which involves starting with a habit that takes less than two minutes to perform. For example, to support your distress tolerance, you might be looking to get into meditation. A way to make this easy would be to incorporate a daily two-minute guided meditation into your routine. Headspace and Calm are two apps that you can use to stream guided meditations. Eventually, you may find that you want to lengthen the time spent meditating, but starting with just two minutes helps you show up, build the habit, and avoid getting discouraged due to perfectionism.
The fourth law, “make it satisfying”, involves creating a positive association between the habit and a reward, or a benefit that you find satisfying. You can make a habit more satisfying by tracking your progress and celebrating small wins along the way. For example, maybe you are starting a new supplement protocol that involves taking multiple supplements a day. To make this satisfying, you could treat yourself to an aesthetically pleasing pill organizer so that it’s more appealing to take your supplements each day. In addition, once you make it through the first week of your new protocol, maybe you reward yourself with a self-care activity like a massage or a manicure.
Habits for Longevity Lifestyle
Let’s return to the five main health-building tactics at our disposal – exercise, sleep, nutrition, medications/supplements, and distress tolerance. Where is there an opportunity for you to improve your habits in these categories? If you have particular habits in mind that you’ve been trying to build, grab a journal, refer to the four laws of behavior change above, and get creative as to how you can use this framework to support your journey to better health. Keep in mind that even small habits over time hold the power to transform your health so focus on building habits that move you in the direction of your goals and toward being the person you want to be. The field of Longevity Medicine is an empowering one to the degree we can be active participants in shaping our Longevity in a positive direction. For those seeking personalized support and recommendations, book a Longevity Medical Consultation with us at https://www.hvlongevity.com/longevity-medical-consulting/.
Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study by Amanda E. Paluch, PhD; Kelley Pettee Gabriel, PhD; Janet E. Fulton, PhD; Cora E. Lewis, MD; Pamela J. Schreiner, PhD; Barbara Sternfeld, PhD; Stephen Sidney, MD; Juned Siddique, PhD; Kara M. Whitaker, PhD; Mercedes R. Carnethon, PhD; JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2124516. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24516: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2783711
Effects of light on aging and longevity by Jie Shen & John Tower, Ageing Research Reviews Volume 53, August 2019, 100913: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6663583/
The Peter Attia Drive Podcast: #183 ‒ James Clear: Building & Changing Habits – November 8th, 2021 https://peterattiamd.com/jamesclear/
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House. https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits