Matt Metzgar

How Long Does It Take to Establish A Healthy Habit?

Good habits can improve long-term health. However, it can be challenging to stick to new habits in the short-term. Plenty of New Year’s resolutions fizzle out by February.

Fortunately, a good amount of research has been done on habit formation. It appears to take around 10 weeks (on average) for a new, healthy habit to become automatic. There is some variation due to how complex the habit is and when it is performed.

A simple template has been developed to help establish new habits:

Make a new healthy habit

  1. Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
  2. Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
  3. Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
  4. Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
  5. It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.
  6. Congratulations, you’ve made a healthy habit!
How Often Should You Check Your Email?

An interesting study looked at the the frequency of checking email and stress levels.

The control group checked their email at their normal rate, which was about 12 times per day. The experimental group was instructed to check their email only 3 times per day.

The group with limited email checks displayed significantly lower daily stress levels and improved well-being.

There are two other items of interest with this study. First, the experimental group actually checked their email 4.7 times per day on average, exceeding the target of 3 times per day.

Second, even though limiting email reduced stress, participants still found this difficult to do:

“Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day,” says Kushlev. “This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress.”

Digital discipline is an important skill than can improve overall health.

Don’t Restrict Screen Time, Replace It

Clarence Bass had a great post this month on why New Year’s resolutions usually fail.

He discusses how people often rely on willpower to stop bad habits. The results are typically poor.

Instead, Bass recommends to forget about bad habits and focus on positive actions instead:

“Better yet, focus on positive action. Forget what not to do. Focus on what you can do.

Don’t waste precious willpower worrying about your bad habits. Focus on realistic positive steps on the way to achieving your goals.”

The same idea holds true for those wanting to reduce screen time. Instead of focusing on restricting screen time, focus on replacing it with healthier offline activities.

Hobbies such as music and art have a long track record of improving well-being.

Time Use Before the Internet

What did people do with their free time before the internet? That’s the question from an interesting new study I came across. It tracked time use for young adults across three different decades.

Some of the results were predictable, such as less reading of books and newspapers. The results also showed there were less in-person visits. Most likely, this is due to the ability to connect with people online.

What interested me the most was the change in non-electronic hobbies. There was a sharp decline.

I’ve wondered about this for some time. With the constant availability of the internet, are young people still engaging in offline hobbies, such as musical instruments and art?

On average, it appears the answer is no.

Non-electronic hobbies such as art and music have a long history of enhancing well-being. Engaging in these offline activities would most likely improve health more than additional screen time.

The Best Social Media May Be None

With the mass exodus from Twitter, many people are looking for new social media platforms. While new platforms will certainly emerge to serve the market, there is little questioning of the overall value of social media.

Social media has benefits and costs. Overall, the research is unclear on whether it enhances well-being or not. There is no guarantee that any new platforms will be better (healthier) than the existing ones.

The prime beneficiaries of social media appear to be the owners, not the users. A handful of people have made unprecedented wealth from a questionable business service.

Excessive social media use is correlated to numerous problems, especially in adolescents. It may be years before all the effects are sorted out. In the meantime, the best type of social media may be none at all.

In Silicon Valley We Trust?

The market for information is currently broken. A handful of people in San Francisco determine whether millions of people view certain content or not.

One alternative to this is to use IndieWeb principles. The main idea is to post at your own site (like I’m doing here), and then broadcast out to other services if you wish.

This way you own and control your content instead of corporations.

Screen Time Limits

Screen time has exploded during COVID-19. Children are moving less and staring at screens more (for both school and leisure). From this study, here is data on Chinese adolescents:

Simply put, most children are not getting sufficient physical activity every day.

Limiting screen time leads to increased physical activity.

Screen time limits can improve overall health for both children and adults.


Healthy breathing is in short supply, according to author James Nestor. His new book, “Breath“, chronicles how societal forces have led to crowded teeth and mouth-breathing.

Modern children often grow up on soft, processed foods that need little chewing. With the resulting smaller mouths, nasal breathing and crowded teeth follow.

There is hope, however. Chewing (or orthodonic devices that simulate chewing) can widen the mouth for both children and adults. And even lifelong patterns of mouth breathing can be switched to healthy nasal breathing with some work.

Vitamin D & COVID-19

What if a cheap supplement could help protect you from COVID-19? Vitamin D may very well improve outcomes associated with COVID-19.

There have been a number of studies showing a link between Vitamin D and COVID-19. For example, this study shows how low Vitamin D levels are associated with increased COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality.

In terms of cause-and-effect, this study showed positive results from Vitamin D supplementation. This study showed no effect. Other, larger randomized studies are underway.

Unfortunately, some government bodies are taking a wait-and-see approach, citing there is “insufficient evidence” for Vitamin D supplementation at the present time.

Why, in the midst of a pandemic, would anyone want to wait for that evidence given that Vitamin D is an extremely safe supplement? There is a high potential upside with virtually no risk.

This idea was recently summarized by a group of researchers:

“There seems nothing to lose and potentially much to gain by recommending vitamin D supplementation for all, e.g. at 800–1000 IU/day, making it clear that this is to help ensure immune health and not solely for bone and muscle health.”

Personally, I take 4,000 IU of Vitamin D per day (this brand). More information about Vitamin D is available here.