HABIT (UN)FORM­ING

ZOOMER Magazine - - VITALITY - By Lisa Ben­dall

WE ALL KNOW that smok­ing, drink­ing too much, sit­ting around and eat­ing junk food are all ef­fec­tive ways to shorten our lives. Some­times, though, we need new in­spi­ra­tion to quit old habits or a good old-fash­ioned doc­tor’s warn­ing: “Peo­ple may have dis­cus­sions with health pro­fes­sion­als about their well-be­ing, or they see what hap­pens to peo­ple who make dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions,” says Dr. Tim Stock­well, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tions Re­search of B.C. at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria. For­tu­nately, at this age, we may be bet­ter equipped to change harm­ful be­hav­iours once and for all. “As peo­ple are older, they have more re­sources,” Stock­well notes. We’ve put to­gether a few new ways to help you shed your bad habits – and lengthen your life.

Dial Back the Drink­ing

If you’ve bought into the be­lief that mod­er­ate drink­ing makes you health­ier, we’re sorry to tell you that a re­search re­view by Stock­well and his team last year dis­puted this claim. The re­view sug­gests that drink­ing mod­er­ately leaves you no bet­ter off than peo­ple who drink only oc­ca­sion­ally or not at all. Heavy al­co­hol use, on the other hand, is linked to can­cer, liver dis­ease and heart dis- ease, es­pe­cially as you get older. Here are three ways to re­duce the hooch.

Do it for char­ity Em­bar­rassed to tell your boozy friends you’re cut­ting back? Tell them you’re hav­ing a dry­athlon – an al­co­hol-free month to raise money for char­ity, like the “Dry Feb” event or­ga­nized by the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety. When you have a just-wa­ter-thanks month, it does make a dif­fer­ence. A 2016 study of dry ath­letes in the U.K. found they re­tained bet­ter drink­ing habits even six months later.

Give your liver a two-day time­out In­stead of just lim­it­ing how much you drink each day, go com­pletely al­co­hol free for two days in a row every week. This has been shown to help the liver re­cover and stay health­ier in the long-term, com­pared to drink­ing a bit every day.

Pick re­duced-al­co­hol op­tions Why not choose weaker wines con­tain­ing six or seven per cent al­co­hol com­pared to 12, or beers with three per cent in­stead of five? In an ex­per­i­ment, Stock­well found that drinkers who were given un­la­belled beer couldn’t tell whether it was reg­u­lar or re­duced-strength. “There’s a strong placebo ef­fect,” he says. “Peo­ple en­joy them­selves just as much.”

Quit Smok­ing – For Good This Time

Try, try, try again A 2016 inves- tiga­tion at the Univer­sity of Toronto found that it can take 30 or more at­tempts be­fore long-term smok­ers fi­nally suc­cess­fully quit. This in­sight turns an old no­tion on its head: “The stan­dard line has been that it takes be­tween five and seven at­tempts,” says lead au­thor and epi­demi­ol­o­gist Dr. Michael Chaiton. “We knew that num­ber might be de­mo­ti­vat­ing for peo­ple who were try­ing to quit.” It turns out the fiveto-seven num­ber is based on faulty science. For one thing, folks aren’t so good at re­call­ing every quit at­tempt over the years. Chaiton be­lieves his find­ings may in­spire smok­ers not to give up try­ing to quit. He adds, “It’s also re­ally im­por­tant for peo­ple in their sup­port net­works – in­clud­ing their health pro­fes­sion­als – to un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult a process this is.”

Steer clear of smok­ing pa­tios If you’re try­ing hard to shake the cig­a­rette habit, avoid out­door pa­tios where smok­ing is per­mit­ted. (Th­ese are banned in many prov­inces, but in some places, in­clud­ing B.C., Man­i­toba, P.E.I. and many Saskatchewan cities, pa­tio smok­ing is still al­lowed.) Don’t fall into the think­ing, “Oh, if I could just smell the smoke, it will help stave off my crav­ing,” trap. Chaiton and his team have proven that be­ing ex­posed to smoke on pa­tios – and pre­sum­ably in other set­tings – re­duces your abil­ity to quit. “They are more likely to re­lapse,” he says.

Eat Less Junk

Help your­self The re­sults of ex­per­i­ments pub­lished ear­lier this year in The Jour­nal of Mar­ket­ing Re­search show that when some­one else serves us un­healthy food, we end up eat­ing more of it. That’s be­cause we feel as though we’re off the hook when an­other per­son has picked our por­tion. The so­lu­tion: Serve your­self, and your junk in­take will be lower.

Mir­ror, Mir­ror Watch your re-

flec­tion while you eat. A study last year at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida proved that choco­late cake didn’t taste quite so moist and de­li­cious when it was eaten in front of a mir­ror. The re­searchers spec­u­late that see­ing our­selves chow down on junk food makes us feel judgy and un­com­fort­able, which in turn low­ers our en­joy­ment of the food. Healthy food – in this case, fruit salad – still tastes good, pre­sum­ably be­cause we’re pat­ting our­selves on the back with the hand not hold­ing the spoon.

Cut Out Pop. Re­ally. Oth­er­wise, It’ll Cost You

Over-the-top amounts of pop are linked to life-short­en­ing dis­eases like obe­sity and di­a­betes Last year, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) called for a tax on sug­ary drinks, cit­ing ev­i­dence that it can make us less in­clined to drink the stuff. Al­ready, a few coun­tries and sev­eral Amer­i­can cities have a so-called “soda tax,” or are plan­ning one. In Canada, the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries may soon be­come the first ju­ris­dic­tion to put a soda tax into place. What can you do? For now, you might check out the real es­tate in Yel­lowknife.

Stop Sit­ting Around

Over­come fit­ness app fail­ings Need a techno-push to get off your duff? High-tech ac­tiv­ity track­ers have be­come pop­u­lar tools for increasing ex­er­cise lev­els, but they may not be as mo­ti­va­tional for older, seden­tary adults, says Aly­cia Sul­li­van at Bran­deis Univer­sity in Massachusetts. Af­ter a re­search re­view last year, she and her co-au­thor con­cluded that the fit­ness tech­nol­ogy on the mar­ket is largely miss­ing fea­tures geared to the spe­cific needs of this group. “Some stud­ies sug­gest that fit­ness track­ing de­vices are less ac­cu­rate for slower walk­ing speeds, some­thing that may be par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant for older adults,” Sul­li­van says. She also says fit­ness apps don’t ad­dress cer­tain bar­ri­ers to ex­er­cise that are more com­mon in older peo­ple, such as con­cerns about fall­ing, find­ing safe ar­eas to walk in the com­mu­nity, and health chal­lenges. Here’s one so­lu­tion: Be your own fit­ness app. “Iden­ti­fy­ing ob­sta­cles to be­ing ac­tive, for ex­am­ple time con­straints, and plan­ning ways to ad­dress them, for ex­am­ple tak­ing a walk while vis­it­ing a friend, may be help­ful,” says Sul­li­van. “Peo­ple could also make goals for them- selves with­out the need for any type of tech­nol­ogy.” Just like in the good old days, so you’ve got this.

Whis­tle while you work but don’t sing while you walk Mod­er­ate-in­ten­sity walk­ing is touted as a ben­e­fi­cial way for older adults to ex­er­cise, but we may be under the mis­taken im­pres­sion that our morn­ing stroll to the mail­box suf­fices. A sim­ple check to mea­sure whether you’re walk­ing briskly enough is that you should be able to chat but not sing. (An­other test: you’ve taken 3,000 steps in 30 min­utes. Here’s where an ac­tiv­ity tracker does come in handy.)

Dou­ble up Want to quit two bad habits in one? Take a 15-minute brisk walk when you feel like reach­ing for junky snacks. Not only will you in­crease your phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, you’ll re­duce your sugar crav­ing, as shown in a 2015 study in Aus­tria. That’s partly be­cause you’re re­duc­ing your ex­po­sure to fa­mil­iar sig­nals that com­pel you to overeat, like sit­ting next to an open pack­age of cook­ies.

“When you’ve got a habit you need to change, you need to iden­tify the cues, and find other strate­gies,” says Stock­well.

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