Senior Health

8/30/2022 | By Kathleen Trotter

Kathleen Trotter, fitness expert and personal trainer, advises that embracing healthy habits creates a life that results in easy, good-for-you choices. “Set it and FORGET it,” she says.

No one has a never-ending reserve of cognitive or emotional energy. Time and attention are valuable resources. Yes, being functionally fit and healthy are obviously two critical parts of a vibrant, engaged life, but if being healthy requires you to spend 24 hours a day thinking about your health, you will have no time left to do the things that make life worth living. What is the point of being fit if you don’t have space for quality time with family, vacations, your favorite hike, pondering your next investment, or playing your favorite sport?

To create a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, you must create a life where you think less about each choice.

The key is to intentionally create healthy habits. Habits are – as the name implies – habitual. They are the automatic ways you think (self-talk/perspective), act (morning smoothie), and move (your gait, the way your muscles fire). Once established, habits don’t require as much conscious deliberation. You don’t think, “Should I or shouldn’t I drink that morning glass of water?” Habits just happen. This leaves you more time to complete your crossword, listen to your favorite podcast, or solve today’s Wordle.

Intentionally and once established are key. Creating new, habitual ways of thinking, acting, and moving takes an initial infusion of attention and energy. Habits need to be established.

Healthy Habits 101

Roughly 95% of what we do in a day happens automatically. This is a good thing; our brains can only sift through so many stimuli. We need habits and rituals to survive. We only have so much cognitive energy and attention.

Habits allow health to exist mostly within the unconscious. Once you can “set and forget” healthy habits, your health and your habits mostly take care of themselves. The momentum of the habits carries you forward in life.

The thing is, to create healthy habits you must first be intentional. You must be intentional to become unintentional!

How do you create healthier habits?

woman walking her dog on a quiet country road. photo by Seventyfourimages, Dreamstime. Kathleen Trotter, fitness expert and personal trainer, advises that embracing healthy habits creates a life of easy, good-for-you choices. “Set it and FORGET it,” she says.

Improve your “systems” and work on your self-talk.


A system is something/someone/an environment that constrains the future you so that you take the actions you desire. Once you take that action enough times it becomes a habit!

Systems metaphorically tie the future you to your goal so that you don’t mindlessly eat food off your grandkids’ plates, swipe almonds, or snack while watching the news.

Set up systems so that your future, less-disciplined self has no choice but to follow through. Here are some examples:

  • Don’t have food in the house that you don’t want your future self to eat.
  • Piggyback workouts onto something you already do. Turn your dog walk into a cardio workout or a coffee date into a walking date.
  • Eat from smaller plates and drink from smaller glasses.
  • Portion your snacks, especially when watching TV.
  • Get a fitness buddy so moving becomes more fun. Plus, the buddy keeps you accountable.
  • Always carry a water bottle or keep one at your desk.

Related: 10 Unhealthy habits to avoid


Self-talk is your inner dialogue. You are your own roommate, 24 hours a day. How you communicate with yourself impacts your thoughts and actions.

Too many of us have a bad habit of talking to ourselves unproductively. We talk ourselves out of exercise and eating well with defeatist self-talk like “I can’t do what I used to do, so why even try?” Or “I’m injured, so I might as well just stay home.” Or “I’ve gained too much weight to even try to be healthy. Pass the shortbread.”

It is no wonder we don’t follow through on our goals. To embrace these healthy habits, you need to be your own cheerleader. You need productive self-talk like “Yes, I am injured. I will investigate physio for the injury. Until then I will move my body differently.” Or “I have gained weight, but the only way to make myself feel better in my body is to move, drink water, and eat well. I will get stronger through motion. Even if I do 10 minutes, that is 10 minutes more than I would have done. Something is better than nothing.”

If negative self-talk is your current habit, you’re probably not even aware that you are being your own worst enemy. Start to notice. Once you know that you are doing it, you have the power to change it. With awareness comes choice.

Concluding thoughts

To ingrain a habit, you need to “put in the reps.” Make it your goal to repeat the healthy habits as many times as needed for the action or thought to feel “natural.” Be patient. Creating new unconscious ways of being takes time, patience, and practice!

Kathleen Trotter, MSc, is a fitness expert, personal trainer, and author of Finding Your Fit: A Compassionate Trainer’s Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit and Your Fittest Future Self. Making Choices Today for a Happier, Healthier, Fitter Future You. She has spent more than eight years writing for The Globe and Mail and has written for various other publications including Impact Magazine, ParticipAction, Breathe, Alive, Canadian Running, Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, and Glow, and for six years she was the featured personal trainer in The Globe and Mail’s online Fitness Basics weekly web series and included in The Globe’s weekly newsletter for subscribers. She has been a personal trainer and fitness expert for almost 20 years.

Kathleen Trotter