Healthy Town: breaking bad habits

Whether it's quitting smoking or demolishing your dependence on sugar-filled snacks, the Pfizer Healthy Town initiative is encouraging a happier, healthier you

Healthy Town

It's never too late to replace bad habits with healthy hobbies


Over the years we all develop bad habits – some people smoke, others drink too much, while the vast majority slip into the unhealthy routine of over-eating and reclining in front of the television every evening.

And while changing bad habits seem immensely doable in the middle of the night after an over-indulgent or particularly lazy day, actually putting new resolutions into action can be a whole lot more difficult. 

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell says the first step to breaking a bad habit is to figure out what you want to achieve and work out what you need to do to make it happen.

“The first step in approaching any bad habit is to ask yourself why you want to stop smoking, drink less or get more exercise,” he says. “The answer you give yourself can become a picture that in turn helps set a goal of being able to walk further, a reduced waistline or less alcohol. 

“If I can imagine myself with a healthier weight, having more energy or meeting more people I can work towards that goal. This imagining and goal setting helps us to form clear associations between our new behaviour and where we want to be. Being clear about cause and effect will remind us what we are doing and why we are making this effort. 

If you let the new good habit slip, tell yourself that was a hiccup and that your goal of a healthier lifestyle still stands and get back to your new ways

“So when setting goals, make them realistic and share them with a supportive person. If possible do the new behaviour with someone. So if TV time is swapped for an evening walk, find someone whose company you might enjoy and where you can remind and encourage one another.”

The Wexford-based psychologist says it’s good to remember the old adage – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’.

“Being hard on yourself doesn’t help,” he says. “If you let the new good habit slip, tell yourself that was a hiccup and that your goal of a healthier lifestyle still stands and get back to your new ways.”

According to the HSE AskAboutAlcohol campaign, cutting back on alcoholic consumption can be hard for people to master at first, but with a little determination and a plan of action, great health benefits can be reaped. 

“Taking a break or cutting down is one of the best things a person can do for health,” says a spokeswoman.  “Reducing intake can really improve your health and make you feel better both physically and mentally. 

Possible short term benefits may include: 

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Lower blood sugar and lower blood pressure
  • Fewer alcohol-related symptoms, like headaches, heartburn, indigestion and stomach upsets
  • Less fatty build up around the liver
  • Improvement in existing conditions, for example, depression, high blood pressure or skin conditions like rosacea, which causes facial redness
  • Better absorption of nutrients like vitamins B1 and B12, folic acid and zinc
  • Cutting down on alcohol also benefits mental health and can make people feel stronger and happier.

“It can also help with better mood and concentration and to reduce depression and anxiety,” says the spokeswoman.  “A lot of people find their mood improves when they cut down or stop drinking, like a cloud has been lifted. And this may come as a surprise as it’s common to feel that alcohol gives us a boost or a relief from difficult times. 

“So breaking the habit of relying on alcohol may mean a person needs to find different ways to try to cope with negative feelings, but this can be good for mental health. Negative feelings – falling out with people, having a day when everything goes wrong, feeling down or alone – are normal.  In fact without alcohol in the way, you’re more likely to find real solutions and build up your coping skills so that you can get over life’s ups and downs more easily. If you find it hard to cope, talk to a friend or your GP.” 
Breaking bad habits is just one of the themes during the Pfizer Healthy Towns campaign and experts will be on hand to help the locals of Tullamore to face up to their unhealthy habits and find the best mechanisms to break the cycle. 

Rose Finlay of Finlay Pharmacy in Tullamore will be hosting talks to help would-be quitters to break their bad smoking habits and says most people want to stop, but just need a little encouragement.

“We will have ongoing free Quit Smoking take-care clinics throughout the Healthy Town campaign where anyone can come in when it suits them to receive help to stop smoking,” she says.  “Research shows that 70 per cent of people who smoke do want to stop – so we can help motivate people to quit and to stay tobacco free for the long term, helping them decide what method works best for them to quit and offering advice on supports to manage cravings.  

“I really believe it is important for people to seek outside help as motivation and support of others is vital to stay long term tobacco free.”

The HSE Quit campaign is also available to help people to nip their habit in the bud as many will try several times before achieving success.

“Quitting smoking can be hard and lots of smokers try to quit a number of times before they are successful,” says a spokesman. “Every time you make a quit attempt you learn something that can help you the next time you try.

“So don’t feel a failure and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved so far. It’s important to get back on the non-smoking track as fast as possible – if you are determined to stop smoking, you can do it. Just ask yourself what caused the slip and decide how you will handle this differently in the future – and promise yourself that you won’t make the same mistakes again. If you found it hard not smoking around certain people, try to avoid them for a bit – or maybe you found it hard in the morning, if so try changing your routine.

“Also think about using a Quit smoking medication, there are lots to choose from. If one type didn't work, try another.  And set up a plan for quitting – so if you have been going it alone, phone the Quit Team to talk to an advisor, it might be just what you need to help you give up.”

Eating the wrong foods is a bad habit many of us are guilty of and Safefood Ireland has plenty of advice offering practical support and ideas for delicious, healthy alternatives to our favourite fast-food.

For more information visit www.safefood.eu 
www.askaboutalcohol.ie or call the HSE Alcohol Quit line - Tel: 1800 459 45
www.quit.ie or call the helpline on 1800 201 203