Research suggests that a combination of four basic, yet powerful health behaviors can essentially reduce the incidence of some of the leading, life-ending diseases by 80%. Think heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer, and even diabetes. The four health behaviors combined are literally the secret sauce for optimal health and longevity; they are—regular exercise, optimal feeding practices, not smoking and securing and maintaining a healthy weight. What’s more, these health practices are ideally established early in life when a little human is developing in mind, body, and behavior as their early health practices can influence them for the rest of their life. No pressure—but this sounds pretty important!
For adults, the good news is that these behaviors are inter-related, with changes in any one of the four categories having a positive influence on one or more of the other categories. Increasing regular movement through exercise—walking, biking, swimming, dancing, heavy gardening etc.—will impact exercise self-efficacy (the belief that you can carry out exercise as a matter of course in your life). Improvements in this area of self-efficacy can impact other areas of self-belief and self-regulation; for example, research demonstrates that people who exercise regularly often endeavor to make healthier food choices. Of course, exercising regularly will likely have an impact on weight management both by expending additional calories through activity, and by strengthening this self-regulation ability. Similarly, if one is striving to quit smoking, adding movement to the day is a productive, mood enhancing activity to reduce stress and increase personal power, all needed when fighting a habit like smoking.
To start this mind-body chain reaction, you can literally just begin with setting a goal of ten minutes of easy movement, perhaps walking, every day. Frame this ten-minute episode for your mind, assuring yourself that it is so quick, relatively easy to execute, and accomplishable. This may just encompass one turn around the block, a couple of trips inside or outside of the building in which you live, or a destination stroll to a specific point and back (five minutes each direction—we can do this!) Be present and accepting of just one goal, make peace with that simple, attainable choice and celebrate each time you bring it to pass. The agency and strength that you cultivate from achieving your 10-minute goal, will spill over into other columns of your health-life—wait for it, it is coming!
With our children we can incorporate simple behaviors and practices that emphasize the care and celebration of their little body and mind. From an early age we can enthusiastically present a colorful array of fruits and vegetables and, when appropriate, tie that to the miraculous functioning of their physical equipment. As caregivers, it will help us too as we “vegetable up” right alongside them. Running, dancing, frolicking and free play can be a daily group-enjoyment-experience, this once again helps children to activate and feel the many and profound benefits of movement. For us all, self-care is a means of self-love through which we are better equipped to choose health, share love, and be grateful for life.