By the time we reach menopause, we have some pretty ingrained habits. And you can’t tell me that after living for 40+ years you haven’t instilled some actions you do that are mindless because it’s easier than thinking about them.
We all know that there are certain bad habits that will harm us - smoking, drinking to excess, or being a couch potato, for example – but there are other habits we engage in that may seem harmless on the surface, or even a good idea when in reality they are compromising our long term health and causing weight gain. Here's what they are, and what you can do about it.
While most of us are guilty of occasionally putting things off or doing everything but the thing we're supposed to be doing, habitual or chronic procrastination (known as "trait procrastination") can lead to a bunch of physical, mental, and psychophysiological problems.
If you’re constantly putting off something until the last minute it increases your stress levels, which can affect your immune system and lead to colds and flu, as well as causing headaches and digestive issues.
More concerning is a study which found "a significant connection between procrastination and hypertension and cardiovascular disease".
The study of nearly 1000 people by Bishop's University found that people with hypertension or cardiovascular disease (HT/CVD) had much higher procrastination scores than healthy people. This is quite a scary find!
These people also had stronger links between procrastination and harmful coping styles such as behavioural disengagement – like unhealthy eating, and self-blame.
Procrastination is a bad habit to have - but it can be overcome.
If procrastination is an issue with you, try these ideas:
2. POOR POSTURE
While it's a no-brainer to see an obvious link between poor posture and muscular or joint pain poor posture can affect everything from your ability to breathe effectively, to your stress levels, your weight, your digestion, circulation, energy levels, and libido!
Check yourself in the mirror, or better still get someone to check you – you should have your ears, shoulders, knees and ankles in line. You should be drawing your hips back, drawing in your belly button, pulling your shoulders back but not elevating them, and opening up through your rib cage and chest.
If you have bad postural habits, readjusting your stance can take some time, and you may need to look at strengthening your whole body.
It's not a quick fix. It can take six months to a year of daily exercises, and you may need help from a personal trainer, osteopath, etc.
3. EATING TOO FAST
You may have heard that eating too quickly can lead to overeating due to your stomach not registering that you're full until it's too late. This is true as it takes 20 minutes for the signals to be transmitted from your stomach to your brain. But that's not the only issue that can arise from gobbling down your food.
When you're eating too quickly, firstly you're swallowing food in much larger chunks. You've got teeth for a reason! You're meant to chew your food, to break it down to a more digestible size. You've got the enzymes that go through to your stomach when you swallow the food to assist with digestion. If you're not doing fully chewing your food, you're increasing the amount the stomach needs to work to break that bit of food down.
It’s also really important to sit down to eat, mindfully.
If you're eating on the run and are stressed out while you're running around, you're not going to be in digestion mode. You can’t be in stressed out, fight or flight mode and digesting food at the same time. If you do that, you're sending your body mixed messages.
Eating under stressful conditions results in symptoms of a poorly functioning digestive system including constipation, diarrhoea, gas, bloating, acne, headaches, irritability and low energy, so it makes sense to remedy that with an easily-fixed habit change – Eat mindfully at the table.
4. INTENSE DAILY WORKOUTS
Exercise is impotant for good health and vitality, but if you're putting yourself through the same vigorous workout every day, you could be at risk of injury or illness, and hormone imbalance
It’s easy to compare yourself to those super fit athletes, or models out there, or even your 20-something self. So you may still have the mindset “If somebody wants to get a result, they have to work super hard. So I’d better work harder"
To a point there's some truth in that, but your body also needs time to recover. Even more so as you get older. If you don’t recover and you're pushing yourself like some banshee every day, your body's going to say: “Enough's enough, I now demand a recovery”.
This might manifest as a head cold, because you’ve become run down and your immune system's suppressed, or it could be a soft tissue injury that comes about from that constant use of the same muscle in the same way, and lack of recovery.
Variety is key.
Say you're going out on a long run every day, over time you're going to pay for that in terms of the wear and tear on your body and lack of recovery. But if you mix it up so one day you're running, the next you're on the bike, another you're in the gym, that then changes that stimulus and gives the body variety.
You need to build in some “detraining” as well.
If you keep doing the same thing and increasing the load week after week, your body can also break down because it’s too much. You have to build recovery time into your routine. The general rule is three weeks building up and one lighter week, which allows you time to recover.
5. SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH
Everyone has a preferred sleeping position and for many of us, tummy sleeping provides the greatest comfort. But what brings comfort now may well be a pain in the neck down the line…literally.
Sleeping on our stomachs, while helpful in decreasing snoring and sleep apnoea, is considered the worst position for your health, mainly for the havoc it wreaks on our backs and necks. The natural curved position of your spine is disrupted, causing too much extension in the lower back and too much rotation in the upper spine and neck. Turning your neck to the side places a huge strain on the muscles of the neck.
The average person spends about eight hours or a third of their day sleeping, so the chance of damaging your spine long term when you are in a misaligned position for a third of your life is high.
Lying face down also increases pressure on the jaw and the shoulder joints (especially if you sleep with your arms over your head), both of which can make neck problems feel worse and also trigger things like dizziness and headaches.
One way to get out of this habit is to invest in a body pillow which you can “hug” while you sleep. It can prevent you from rolling over.
Many people like lying on their stomach because it feels safe and reminds them subconsciously of being in the womb, so the pressure on the front of your body from the pillow will help mimic this safe feeling and help you to adapt much more quickly to your new position.
Once again, it takes practice and conscious effort to change, so you may find it takes up to 6 months to swap sides!
Of course, you should also practice good sleep hygiene such as avoiding sugar before bedtime, avoiding electronics for at least an hour before bedtime, winding down before you go to bed, etc. in order to improve your chance of getting a good night sleep in general.
If you’d like to dig deeper into which habits may be harming you, I would love to chat. Each week I set aside some time to talk to women just like you and see if coaching would be a good fit. Just click here to book your time. It’s free and you’ll gain some valuable insights, so what have you got to lose? 😉
Click below to listen to a podcast episode I was interviewed for, about building resilience and my journey to being a Health Coach