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Drink–Free days

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Would you be surprised to discover that two–thirds of adults who were surveyed on their drinking habits said they would find cutting down on their drinking harder to do than improving their diet, exercising more or reducing their smoking?

The figures come from a survey carried out by YouGov (Public Health England and Drink Aware) on 9,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 85. The survey, which is part of a campaign to raise awareness of the health risks of drinking, also reported that one in five were drinking more than the government’s 14–unit–a–week guidelines.

People consume alcohol for various reasons, for example typically middle–aged people don’t drink to get drunk, but rather to help them relax after a hard day’s work, as a reward for success or imply as a social activity.  After all, who doesn’t like a couple of pints or glasses of vino in the evening to unwind?

Some argue that a few drinks are actually beneficial to your health, we all know too much stress is bad for you!  Unfortunately, that theory has been debunked by the vast amounts of medical research that proves excess alcohol (and it doesn’t take much to reach the ‘excess’ levels) affects your system is countless ways, from liver damage to disrupted sleep to weight gain to raising your blood pressure.

As it happens, this is also ‘Know Your Numbers Week’, the UK’s biggest blood pressure testing event and awareness week.  1 in 3 adults in the UK (16 million people) has high blood pressure, it’s the biggest known cause of premature death and disability in the UK due to the strokes, heart attacks and heart disease it causes. With cardio–related deaths higher than average in the Irish community, the importance of knowing your blood pressure ‘score’ is even more pertinent within the Irish community.

With many of us already aware of the potentially fatal implications from excess alcohol, why do we find it so difficult to make a change? Well, as Dr Julia Verne, a spokeswoman on liver disease for Public Health England put it ‘it’s become a habit and part of their lives’.

Often, when people decide they want to make a change to their drinking, the habit has already become so ingrained into their daily lives that no amount of will power seems to do the trick and the same old habits persist.

And it’s those small, seemingly inconsequential, little daily actions that add up over time to produce our results in life. Take a pint of beer as an example. Having one pint of beer today isn’t going to cause you gain 20lbs, one pint of beer every evening this week still won’t cause a huge weight gain, and you mightn’t even notice much of a difference after a full month of it.

However, after one year of having one pint every evening, you will have consumed an average of 71,905 calories which is the equivalent of over 20lbs in weight gain.

Interestingly, many of the middle–aged people surveyed were struggling with their weight, and they didn’t realise how many calories were contained in alcohol.

So, how do we change our habits then? A good place to start is to clarify your reasons for wanting to make a change, make strong positive associations with the outcomes of implementing new habits.

And just as important, make strong negative associations with staying the same; what will it cost you? Not everyone will care about having a beer belly, some people will be motivated by financial or health reasons, perhaps your relationships are suffering because of alcohol misuse or maybe your job performance is declining.

Next, decide on your end goal. Maybe you are content to simply cut back a little bit; have more drink–free days or swap pints for bottles. On the other hand, you may be the ‘full duck or no dinner’ type of person, a clear–cut goal of quitting entirely may be a better fit for you.

Regardless of your end goal, breaking down the big picture into manageable daily steps can help you stay the course. The Green Hearts Health Guide (available to download for free) contains a handy 30–day tracker that can help you monitor your progress.

Many people benefit from support in making changes. It may be a friend or family member who is cheering you on, or perhaps you’d like to get involved in one of the many groups online that are free to join. There is also professional support available from organisations and individuals.

With a compelling reason, clear goal, action plan and support network, the last step is to replace your existing habit with a new one. For example, if your ‘trigger’ or cue for having a drink is on the way home when you normally swing by the local pub, rather than trying to use all the will power in the world to go past the pub and straight to your front door, try replacing your response to the trigger. 

Change your routine, shake things up.

If you’ve been meaning to get fit for the last few years but never seem to find the time, now’s your chance, try having one drink–free day where you go to the gym instead, you might even enjoy it and decide to register to do a 5K run in aid of your favourite charity…such as Green Hearts!

For more information on ‘Drink–Free Days’ click here and download your free Green Hearts guide here.