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Nutrition and Heart Health

Developing Small Habits Is the Key to Preventing Disease

Photo: Courtesy of Jordan Bauer

Jaquel Patterson, ND, MBA

Immediate Past President, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

As a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND), many of the tenets I apply have core principles that are ideal for health and lifestyle management as well as in the prevention of chronic disease. Naturopathic medicine focuses on preventing and identifying illness, as well as treating the root cause of disease. 

From the naturopathic perspective, nutrition and physical activity is key in preventing many chronic disease conditions. Applying aspects that relate to your overall mental wellbeing is central to sticking to healthy habits over time. I often tell my patients that the key to making healthy habits “stick” is picking ones that are the most convenient for you. Here are some key tips:

  1. Preparation of healthy food: It is helpful to incorporate at least one healthy food habit daily. Cut fruit and vegetables to have them readily available for use in salads, juicing, or for quick and healthy snacks. Also, it is important to have a good source of protein as your first meal of the day to help stabilize your glucose levels. Having a diet rich in plant-based foods, like the Mediterranean diet, helps to improve overall health outcomes. It is not only more cost-effective, but it has also been demonstrated to decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  2. Plate Method: Easy ways to incorporate good nutrition for families is to utilize the plate method. Fill your plate with one-half vegetables, one-quarter lean protein, and one-quarter grains. I usually suggest beginning with a nine-inch plate to help with overconsumption. 
  3. Intermittent fasting: Intermittent fasting is effective in helping reduce insulin levels, which allows for a higher amount of fat burning. It also has shown to repair cells and increase growth hormone levels, which help burn fat and increase muscle. 
  4. Setting up a good sleep routine: Avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime. Also, begin dimming the lights and starting a routine that is more relaxing to ensure that you have adequate sleep. I usually recommend calming teas such as chamomile, as they have the ability to help your body unwind and transition to bedtime. Make sure the temperature in the bedroom is cool and has no light exposure. Sleep is a time when your body recovers and repairs itself; it is very difficult to maintain good health, lose weight, and manage stress without a good night’s rest.
  5. Less than two hours of screen time: When you gather as a family, try to spend less than two hours on technology. Try putting your phones on silent and placing them in a basket away from sight. Excess screen time has been shown to decrease physical activity and increase the likelihood that you will consume more passive calories. 
  6. Nature: Ideally, take a walk outside for at least 20 minutes a day. Dozens of studies have shown the importance of nature for overall happiness and clarity of mind. 

Making small lifestyle changes a habit can add up exponentially over time and help you to avoid preventable disease.

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