A rational person would assume that the country with the most gyms in the world would also be one of the fittest.
The irony is that the US leads with over 40,000 gyms but only 23% of Americans get enough exercise. The fittest country in the world is one of the poorest and is not even in the rankings. People in Uganda don’t have to go to gyms because they already get plenty of exercise during their workday. 1
Ugandans like Jennifer Namulembwa and Abiasali Nsereko can’t afford to own a car and have to walk everywhere. Their daily life demands that they stay active. 2
Jennifer works as a cleaner in Kampala and spends over three hours per day walking to work. She does it five days a week but would rather ride in a car or motorcycle if she could afford one.
Abiasali is also very active and spends up to eight hours a day on his feet. He is a sixty-eight year-old Ugandan farmer who wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to milk his cows and grow all the food he eats.
When it comes to being healthy there is a difference between “need” in order to survive and “want” because I desire. For Jennifer and Abiasali it is not a matter of choice to be fit but a financial necessity.
In contrast most people in wealthier countries drive to work and spend their day sitting. Their only choice to be active is to exercise.
The words “need” and “want” don’t have the same meaning.
Difference Between Needs and Wants
Over the last fifty years our habits have changed significantly.
The majority of people today don’t have physically demanding jobs and the main staple of most meals is not vegetables. By relying on motivation and willpower, we treat exercise and eating healthy as things “we want” instead of necessities.
The average American today spends three hours daily watching television and over two hours on social media. Yet, a recent survey revealed that most people don’t exercise because they are tired, don’t have time, or are too busy working. 3
According to the CDC, sitting too much is just a part of the problem.
Only ten percent of adults eat enough fruits and vegetables. Instead, more than half of our total daily calories come from ultra-processed foods. These foods are low in nutrients and high in sugar, oil, and salt. And very addictive.
Due to the drastic shift in our habits, the US obesity rate jumped from 15% in the 1970s to over 40% today. And this number just keeps rising! 4
A sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition are not only problems found in the US. Over 800 million people in the world are considered obese.
Unfortunately, our bad habits don’t only harm our bodies. Every habit has a direct effect on the brain for better or for worse.
How Bad Habits Hurt the Brain
Your brain needs oxygen, nutrients, rest, and hydration for peak performance. Without these four key essentials your brain becomes weak and ineffective.
According to a 2009 study, it takes at least 2 months for a simple behavior to become automatic. But complicated habits can take 9 months to fully develop.
Unfortunately, not all habits are created equally.
Bad habits damage the brain and impair decision making. They are also easy to form because they reward us immediately. Watching television, eating junk food, and using social media are all easy to do, fun, and addictive.
On the contrary, good habits require patience and effort. They take much longer to form since they pay off in the future. The reward we receive from exercising and eating healthy becomes visible only after we invest a significant amount of time and energy. The fact is good habits require conscious effort.
Our bad habits are effortless.
And once we develop a bad habit, it becomes a vicious cycle that damages the brain. It impacts the daily choices we make by hurting our thinking, learning, and memory. And the weaker the brain is, the harder it is to form good habits.
When we eat fast food instead of a salad we neglect the brain of nutrients. By using social media instead of getting sleep we don’t give the brain enough rest. By sitting on the sofa instead of exercising we give the brain less oxygen. And by drinking soda instead of water the brain does not receive proper hydration.
Every day we are surrounded by products and services that are engineered to keep us addicted to our bad habits. It is simply much easier to stick with an old habit than replace it with a new one. Even the old habit is self-destructive.
The only way to create lasting change is to treat good habits differently.
How to Make Better Decisions
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term growth mindset to explain how you can develop your talents and skills through experience and hard work.
The fact is there is nothing about you that is fixed.
If you challenge your brain, it will create new and denser connections of neurons and become more powerful. This is the science behind a growth mindset. And why your brain grows through effort, learning, and experience.
Unfortunately, not all habits are created equal.
When we eat processed foods instead of a salad we don’t get enough nutrients. By staying up late using social media instead of resting we cut down our sleep. By sitting on the sofa instead of exercising we neglect to get more oxygen. And by drinking soda instead of water we don’t receive proper hydration.
Chronic stress, too much sitting, excessive sugar, and lack of sleep make the brain weak and ineffective. These bad habits impact the daily choices that we make by hurting our thinking, learning, and memory. And the weaker the brain, the harder it is for us to replace our bad habits with good ones that stick.
Because your habits are stored in your subconscious mind, changing them is not an easy process. It takes conscious effort to create lasting change.
Giving your brain power will help you to make better decisions.
Understanding Needs and Wants
This is why it is important to differentiate between a need and a want. The way you think about your habits is important because good habits will never become easy to do. Good habits can’t compete against bad habits that are easy to do and provide immediate rewards. And will always require more effort and planning.
But if you develop the right mindset you can make good habits stick.
Your brain needs a ton of energy to process information and make decisions. It requires nutrients, oxygen, rest, and hydration to function properly. Exercising, eating vegetables, getting quality sleep, and drinking water are not optional. Your brain needs these four essentials. They should be treated as needs and not wants. Otherwise, your mental and physical wellbeing is negatively impacted.
If you develop the right mindset building healthy habits is not hard. When you treat a healthy habit as a necessity it becomes easier to commit to repeating it even if life gets busy or it requires substantial effort.
By giving your brain the energy it needs, it can process information quickly and perform at its optimal level. If you don’t, your brain will lack to the power to make good decisions. And it will be too weak to make good decisions.
The only way to master your habits is to keep your mind sharp. A mindset focused on growth is key to making better decisions and living your best life.
Are You Focused on Growth?
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term growth mindset to explain how you can develop your talents and skills through experience and hard work. The fact is there is nothing about you that is fixed.
If you challenge your brain, it will create new and denser connections of neurons and become more powerful. This is the science behind a growth mindset. And why your mind grows when you develop your talents and skills through effort, learning, and experience.
Even if you grew up believing that your intelligence, talents, and abilities are fixed traits that cannot grow you can develop a growth mindset.
Change the way you think and you will be able to grow your mind.
Why and How to Track Growth
To track your habits and measure growth, a mindset tracker is an effective and simple tool you can use.
It is similar to a habit tracker since you just need to mark an X on a calendar each day you stick with your routine. But by subtracting your bad habits from your good habits you can visually see if you are growing or harming your brain.
I created the Mindset Tracker below to make this process as easy as possible:
Healthy habits like exercising and eating more vegetables help your brain to grow and keep your mind sharp. While unhealthy habits like eating junk food and watching too much television harm your brain and hurt decision making.
Habit tracking works because it keeps you motivated and reminds you to act. Keeping track of how your good and bad habits affect your brain will also make it easier for you to grow your mind and make better decisions.
By tracking your habits each month, you can review your progress and make any necessary adjustments in the new year.
The Mindset Tracker will even show you if “You Have a Growth Mindset!” or if “You Have a Fixed Mindset” to ensure that you stay focused on growth.
Are You Ready for Battle?
To fulfill your potential and live your best life, you will need energy, strength, a focused mind, and good habits. You will need a healthy brain that is functioning at its optimum level to maximize brain power and make better decisions.
And the weaker your brain is, the harder it is to form good habits. This negative cycle becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy since a weak brain lacks the power necessary to form healthy habits that stick.
By rewiring your mind for growth, you can boost your brain power and improve the quality of your decisions. And making better choices changes your destiny.
Your brain can help you achieve amazing things in life if you take care of it. This is why the first step to breaking bad habits is to focus on your brain health.
Sleep also plays an essential role in the function of your brain.
By removing toxins that build up in the brain during waking hours, quality sleep maintains neural pathways. A good night’s rest improves your learning, memory, focus, productivity, and overall performance.
However, if you don’t give your brain the rest it needs you impair your ability to think clearly and make decisions. By sleeping less than five hours per night you can damage your brain and double your risk of developing dementia.
Learn more: Brain Power: How to Boost Your Intellectual Ability
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- The country with the most gyms is the United States with 41,370 locations. Nicholas Rizzo (October 2021), 200+ Gym Industry Statistics 2021 [Global Analysis].[↩]
- Jennifer Namulembwa spends an hour-and-a-half walking to work, five days a week. BBC News (September 2018), Why Uganda is the ‘world’s fittest country’.[↩]
- 48% said they’re too busy from work and other obligations to exercise. Ben Renner (November 2019), Half of Americans want to exercise, but don’t have time.[↩]
- After holding at 15%, the obesity rate shot up beginning in the 1980s, reaching 35% in the mid-2000s. Lane Kenworthy (May 2012), Why the surge in obesity?[↩]