Scouting magazine

Adopt these seven habits to lose weight and improve health

Biting your fingernails. Texting constantly. Smoking cigarettes. Drinking can after can of Red Bull during Scout meetings.

Habits are tough to break because they are activities we methodically engage in without much thought.

Like breathing (good for you). Or eating an entire bag of Cheetos (not good for you, especially when wearing a white shirt).

What if you could tap the staying power of habit for good health versus not-so-good? You can, but you have to really want it.

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Just as habits are difficult to break, they take time to form — and much longer than the oft-cited “21 days” for repeated behavior to become habit.

Several years ago, the European Journal of Social Psychology published a study that found it took people 12 weeks to adopt a new habit. Analyzing the self-reported data, psychologists determined that it took test subjects on average 66 days.

In this study, the number of days it took for a behavior to feel automatic ranged from 18 to 254, suggesting the speed of habit-forming depends a lot on the chosen behavior change and the individual’s personality. So now you have a more realistic idea of how long it may take to change your ways. As we embark on the season of resolutions, here are some simple lifestyle changes for weight loss and better health.

Healthy Habit No. 1: Go for a brisk walk before breakfast.

This daily routine offers a host of benefits:

Completing your daily fitness quota early ensures you won’t skip exercise when your day becomes busy.

Some studies suggest that exercising before eating, in a “fasted state,” can burn almost 20 percent more fat compared to exercising with a full belly. That’s because when the glucose in your muscles is depleted because you haven’t eaten, your body turns to its own fat for fuel.

In 2011, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported on a study that tracked blood pressures and sleep patterns of middle-aged people who walked for 30 minutes for exercise at three different times during the day. It turned out that those who walked in the morning experienced a 25 percent reduction in blood pressure at night. The early walkers also slept longer and went through deeper sleep stages than the people who exercised later in the day.

Healthy Habit No. 2: Eat breakfast.

Eating breakfast fuels your body and brain after a long night of fasting. It can also help you lose weight and avoid diabetes.

Researchers reporting in the American Journal of Epidemiology found people who skipped breakfast were four-and-a-half times more likely to be obese than those who didn’t miss the morning meal.

Get in the habit of having a breakfast that features protein (like eggs) and fiber (like whole fruit or whole-wheat toast). If you don’t have time to cook eggs, cut up an apple (fiber) and slather on some peanut butter (protein and healthy fats).

Healthy Habit No. 3: Pack your lunch every day.

People who bring their lunch to work tend to pack healthier foods than they would eat if they went out for lunch. That shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the average fast-food meal weighs in at more than 600 calories. In one study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women who took their lunch to work lost five more pounds than dieters who went out for lunch at least once per week.

Healthy Habit No. 4: Unclutter your kitchen counter.

Keeping a clean kitchen leads to a healthier diet. According to a study in the journal Environment and Behavior, people who have cluttered, messy kitchen counters strewn with chip bags, cookie boxes and even cereal boxes tended to consume 40 percent more calories than people with tidy kitchens.

Healthy Habit No. 5: Follow the half-plate plan.

Practice this every time you sit down to lunch or dinner: Fill one half or more of your plate with vegetables. It’s one of the easiest ways to reduce calories and lose weight, say dieticians. Because vegetables are low-calorie, high water-content, nutrient-dense foods, they satisfy your hunger with fewer overall calories.

Healthy Habit No. 6: Count your blessings.

Try this little exercise tonight and every night for a week: Before going to bed, reflect on the day and write down three things for which you are grateful. The practice can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress, and can even make you a happier person, according to research in positive psychology.

In one study, for example, two groups of people were asked to write about their life at the end of a week. One group jotted down things they were grateful for, while the other group listed daily irritations. After 10 weeks, the group members who practiced active gratitude were more optimistic and 25 percent happier than the negative group. They also exercised more and felt better about their lives.

Healthy Habit No. 7: Go to bed by 10 or 10:30 P.M.

If you typically get up at 6 a.m., this bedtime will give you between seven and eight hours of sleep, which experts say is optimal for good health. And a regular sleep schedule can help you drop pounds. Nutritionists advise being rested gives us greater control over our eating habits. Feeling tired, they say, makes us crave sugary foods and carbohydrates to give us energy.