How to Start and Maintain Good Health Habits

The reason most people cannot maintain transformative behavioural changes has to do with the way the human brain works. The reason we have habits of any kind is that there's usually a reward for the habit. When it comes to food, it is the pleasure senses that are triggered after a satisfying meal or treat.

Sticking to a healthy diet may not trigger the same pleasure senses so you must create a different reward. If you have medical issues, such as high cholesterol or have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the reward should be something that shows your progress in improving your health.

Diet - to cheat or not to cheat - it will show up on your blood test, so schedule a blood test every 2 to 3 months. The blood lipid values are very sensitive, so wanting to see them improve with each test will encourage you to stay on track. We are all competitive, and once you have experienced the elation of seeing your lipid values improve, you'll be hooked. As your lipid values improve, you can start weaning off some of the medications. That's a reward.

Exercise - we know we have to do this regularly because it too will reflect in your blood work and your need for medications. So how do we have a more immediate reward for exercise?

Get a Fitbit, or any other exercise tracking device that you wear. Walking is the easiest exercise and these devices have step counters. Target 10,000 steps daily to begin. As your fitness level improves and you hit your goal daily, increase it gradually until you get to 15,000 steps. Get the HR version which also tracks your heart-rate.

There's an app for your mobile phone or you can track it on the web. Either way it becomes addictive and you don't want to fall below your targets so it motivates you to keep moving. As you exercise your heart muscle becomes more efficient so your resting heart rate also begins to fall. This is another reward for the exercise habit. There's also a place on the app to track your weight. Weigh yourself once per week and enter the value on the app. This is another motivator to stick to your diet and exercise plan.

Go to a place to get your body fat measured. This too can be entered on the Fitbit app. Get the body fat measurement every 3 to 6 months. You want to improve don't you? You don't want to see failure on the app, so you are motivated to stick to your health plan.

"The 3 R’s of Habit Change

Every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same 3–step pattern.

Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)

Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)

Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)"

Quoted from the book, 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg. (Great book, I strongly recommend you read it).

In summary, create an accountability and reward system for positive behavioural change, by tracking the impact of a healthy diet and exercise plan.

I'm living proof of this process. Male aged 54, triple bypass in March 2015, followed by angioplasty, and 4 different medications to take daily. Behavioural change and I've lost 35 lbs, am in the best shape of my life, and no longer require ANY prescription medications. I play ice-hockey every week in the winter and do High Intensity Interval Training 4 days per week.

If I can do it, so can you.

Good luck.

6 Replies

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  • Well done, an interesting post. I was diagnosed as high risk after a coronary artery scan. Have maintained the Esselstyne diet for fourteen months. Blood results all good and I do not want to lose any more weight. Do go to the gym and swim three times a week.The incentive for me is not to have a heart attack or stroke. Feel I could now come off the statins but am a bit wary of doing so. Interesting that you have come off all your meds.

  • Getting off certain medications like statins (Crestor) and beta blockers (metoprolol) can be very difficult. Doctors prescribe medications such as these assuming their patients will be taking them permanently. As a result, there is very little information in the form of a weaning protocol.

    Although I had bypass surgery, I did NOT have a heart attack, so my heart muscle was not damaged. This opens the door to weaning from medications if a permanent lifestyle change, as I have done, is implemented. Those who have other heart conditions may not be able to wean themselves from certain medications.

    When weaning, you sometimes get a 'rebound effect' whereby the symptom being suppressed by the medication returns in greater magnitude. This is usually temporary, but can be discomforting when occurring. Weaning should be done under the care of a doctor.

    Although I have come off of statins, my first post-weaning lipid profile recently showed an increase in ApoB and LDL-C (pro-atherogenic lipid particles) prompting concern from my doctors. My HDL and ApoA-1 (anti-atherogenic lipid particles) though are extremely high, thus resulting in an optimal ratio. Other components of my blood chemistry also at optimal levels, so the mixed results is creating some debate as to next steps. These increases in ApoB and LDL-C may be a short-term rebound effect.

    We resolved to re-test the lipid profile in January and reassess. At worst, I will go back on a very low dose of Crestor (5 mg) as my lipid profile at that previous dosage was excellent. I had originally started with a 40 mg dosage and had weaned over a 10 month period while monitoring blood lipids every 6 weeks. However, there's no reason to consider restarting any of the other medications I used to take.

    Good luck.

  • Thank you for your comments, will ask my doctor to decrease my statin by a quarter in the first place. Have never had any heart symptoms, just trying to stop any coming.

  • Great post, reading this has reminded, and inspired me. Thank you

  • Thank you for an interesting post, am I to understand after your triple bypass you had stent?

    I do believe in life style change and regular exercise and food and drinks intake control.

  • Yes, 3 stents in one artery, and one each in two other arteries.

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