What would you choose; a chocolate bar or a glass of water, the sofa or a long walk?I have a vending machine literally just outside my office door; I can hear it humming a subliminal tune all day long, tempting passersby to part with their coins. The decision they make, standing with coin-in-hand can have a huge effect on their long-term health and wellbeing.
Will they make a decision to tap in number 41 and watch as a chocolate bar throws its self into the little dispenser tray waiting to be devoured? I mean, who doesn’t like chocolate? Who wouldn’t want to luxuriate in its smooth, yummy taste? Or, perhaps they might choose A2 and encourage a bottle of water to land with a thud. But, why would they do that? Where is that instant gratification from drinking boring tasteless water? Where’s the pleasure in that?
Once the initial high of enjoying the taste of chocolate has gone we may then start to feel a little disappointed that we have given in and eaten yet another chocolate bar along with all the implications that are caused by this brightly coloured gift wrapped lump of sugary fat. The choice of drinking water, however boring will have a much more positive affect on our body; it keeps us hydrated at a cellular level which helps our bodies to function better inside and out so although it doesn’t give us that instant hit, over time it is so much better for us. OK, I can see you’re not convinced…
It all boils down to our health behaviours, these are specific health activities and decisions which we choose that can have a positive or negative affect on our long-term health. We all make these decisions throughout our lives:
- We can choose to be active or avoid exercise at all costs,
- We eat a balanced healthy diet regularly or we reach for processed foods.
- We choose to drink alcohol within the recommended levels or we exceed this on a regular basis,
- We practice safe sex or we indulge in unprotected sex
- We puff our way through 20 cigarettes a day or choose not to smoke,
- We take advantage of free regular health check- ups or stick our head in the sand; if we don’t know that we are at risk then it doesn’t matter does it?
The choices we make can be influenced by many things:
- Peer group pressure- we tend to hang around with likeminded people who choose the same health behaviors which, if the choices are negative can be difficult for one person to make the decision to change. It’s hard to stop smoking if everyone around you is lighting up and offering you one! On a positive flip if your peers are sporty people you will be encouraged to be active to stay a part of this social group.
- Role Models: We copy the behaviours we observe by role models, either friends or family or sporting heroes and celebrities. There are good and bad examples of health behaviors endorsed by these role models.
- Adverts-The power of advertising is all around us; eat this, drink that, do these exercises and you too will look like this in two weeks. Don’t forget that adverts cost an absolute fortune to convince us that a product works!
- Personal experience, if you were given sweets by a parent to make you feel better when you were upset or feeling low then you will associate comfort eating to improve your mood or choosing alcohol and cigarettes to cope with stress.
The problem with choosing negative health behaviours is that they give you that instant buzz. You’ve been at work all day and all you want to do is to sit down in front of the TV with a take-away pizza, a glass of wine or beer and maybe a cigarette or two. Straight away you begin to unwind and feel better about the world. But, if you do this every day over time the implications to your health is not good; weight gain and all the associated health problems such as, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke are just around the corner plus you will feel yuk! On the other hand, if, when you finish work you choose to take part in some form of physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced meal without alcohol and nicotine the long-term looks very different and you feel good!
I see this all the time with people wanting to lose weight or get fitter. For years their health behavior has been negative choices. There’s usually an upcoming event like a holiday or they’re getting married that has led to them wanting to make a change, But, how difficult is it to un-train years of health behaviours that have resulted in weight gain and being unfit?
This is one reason why most diets and attempts to get fitter fail, it’s such a big change all at once and people find it hard to sustain. You can’t expect to change everything at once, my advice is that you focus on eating a diet 80 % healthy and have 20% of the naughty stuff so that you don’t feel deprived! Gradually build up your activity levels, don’t go head first into a punishing routine that you know you won’t enjoy. Once you see a difference in your waistline and your energy levels you can then start to address other health behaviours such as alcohol and smoking, oh, and make that medical screening appointment at the GP’s you keep putting off!
It really does come down to the choices YOU make, the pain of discipline or, the pain of regret? Drink the water or, eat the choccie bar? Sit on the sofa all evening or go for a walk? …..you decide!!