Implementing simple habits into our lifestyle can assist in supporting our immune system, especially during the winter months. Lifestyle measures such as movement, sleep, quality supplements, staying hydrated and eating well all pack a punch for impact.
Creating new behaviors which are positive in your life can be wonderful, but making them stick is the tricky part. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, articulates that every habit has three components:
- The Cue – the trigger for the behavior (which becomes automatic)
- The Routine – the behavior itself
- The Reward – why your brain encodes the behavior as an automated routine
Knowing these three components can be potent in harnessing your ability to make habits last. Approximately 45% of our daily activities are habitual (Quinn et al. 2002, 2005), so making a conscious effort to create the habits you choose influences a large part of our daily lives.
The adage that it takes 21 days to form a habit has been debunked, but habits take time and repetition. If you can create:
- The Cue - like putting your workout clothes out the night before
- The Routine - regularly doing the activity you want to make a habit e.g. going for a run, and
- The Reward - catching up with friends or having a massage, you are on your way to creating the habits you have agency over.
All cues fall into one of 5 categories: A time, a place, the presence of others, an emotion, or a preceding action. The more you ritualise all five categories, the more robust Cue you give yourself. When it comes to Rewards, Duhigg notes it is only in the initial phase of habit forming that the Reward is necessary. Once the habit is established, the Reward is no longer needed.
Some suggestions to create daily habits specific to immune health:
- Sleep – create structure around your sleep; particularly regular sleep and wake times – set a reminder an hour before bed and an alarm to wake you. Don’t sleep with mobile devices in your room and limit use 1-2 hrs before sleep as the blue light they emit can interfere with your melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle so it’s important to keep it in check. Create a peaceful environment in your bedroom that makes you feel calm and restful.
- Movement – Move your body every day! Whether walking the dog, doing yoga, a gym session or a circus class! Whatever floats your boat but diarise the specific details of your movement plan to help the habit stick ie.‘Walk with Joe” “Meet Sarah at the gym’
- Immunity Supplements – Taking a well-rounded immunity supplement can help support your immune system function. As a reminder, pop it at the kitchen sink for a few months along with a glass of water. Alternatively place it where you make a smoothie to remember to add it to your mix. Our immune system is most active during our awake times so taking immunity supplements in the morning is best. Having it associated with a morning ritual will help to imbed pattern and therefore, make the habit stick.
- Hydration – having water accessible throughout the day is critical to drinking it! A drink bottle in the car, at your desk or a glass of water at your kitchen sink, in the bathroom and by your bed are great spots to catch your eye and remind you to have a sip. Plan ahead and find the most practical spots and remember to take note of how much you are drinking throughout the day.
- Eating well – Prepping meals on the weekend can set you up for good eating for the week. Some helpful hints are pre-chopping veggies, making sauces, or stocks to use in meals during the week. Prepping nutrient dense snacks and lunches, or organising and freezing smoothie ingredients in advance, such as berries, nuts & seeds, and quality cold-pressed oils, will all make the week ahead so much easier.
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change, Penguin, 2013
Wood, W., Quinn, J.M., & Kashy, D. (2002). Habits in everyday life: Thought, emotion, and action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1281–1297.
Wood, W., Tam, L., & Guerrero Witt, M. (2005). Changing circum- stances, disrupting habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 918–933.