Catholics the world over began Lent yesterday, a 40-day observance leading up to the Easter holiday. One of the primary duties of Catholics during this time is to give up something in order to grow closer to their faith and to God without distraction. For some, the practice is almost passive, as Stephen Colbert gave up high-fiving conquistadors during his Ash Wednesday episode. But for most, the decision for what to deny themselves for 40 days comes with deliberate thought. We think Lent is a perfect opportunity to give up a few things that are harming your health, counterproductive to your weight loss, and hampering your general well being.
Catholic or not, consider letting go of one of these things for the next 40 days and then check-in to see how much better you are without it. There’s no reason you can’t continue once Lent ends.
Give Up Smoking. This is a common choice for Lent and one that has almost immediate results. Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette your blood pressure and pulse will start to stabilize. Eight hours after your last cigarette, carbon monoxide levels will reduce and oxygen will increase within the body. Just 24 hours after your last smoke your body has already reduced its chance of having a heart attack. By 72 hours after your last cigarette your bronchial tubes are becoming less restricted. If you stop smoking, by the time Lent is over, you’ll have increased your lung capacity by 30 percent. The gradual changes continue after that and by five years later you’ve practically eliminated your stroke risk.
Give Up Meat. Whether as a conscientious decision to do more good for the planet, or as a way to reduce the saturated fat and hormones you’re consuming through meat, going vegetarian for just shy of six weeks can offer tremendous health benefits. You’ll improve your heart health, you’ll lose weight in a healthy way, and you’ll likely have more energy. Catholics already must forego any meat on Fridays, and if you already participate in Meatless Monday, then the rest of the week should be a breeze!
Give Up TV. Watching TV every night, itself, is not necessarily unhealthy. It’s everything you give up in order to do that that makes TV an unhealthy habit. Sitting for extended periods of time is incredibly detrimental to your health. For every hour you’re sitting watching a primetime drama you’re giving up an hour of movement. From cleaning your house to playing with the kids and having the time to take walks, go for runs, or hit the gym, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done, and how much you’ll move when you simply walk away from the television.
Give Up Fast Food. Often times, a meal you order from a drive-thru, or any restaurant for that matter, has more calories than you should eat in an entire day. And they almost always have more than a day’s worth of fat and sodium. That burger and fries may be a quick and easy fix for lunch, but it’s a quick and easy way to land yourself in the heart hospital. For the next 40 days, pack your lunch. On Easter, take a look at your weight, how you feel, and look inside your wallet for all the extra money you suddenly have. If you think healthy food costs too much, consider what a $10 combo meal costs for a single meal and then what you could buy with that at the store.
Give Up Sleeping In. Right in line with fruits, vegetables, and regular exercise, sleep is one of the most critical things you need for a healthy body. Definitely get your eight hours each night, but try not to go over that. During Lent, set your alarm 30 minutes earlier and start your day without feeling rushed. A half-hour may not seem like a lot, but it’s more than enough time to make that breakfast you usually skip, meditate or pray, prepare the lunch you need to pack, go for a brief walk or jog, or even do a yoga DVD. Thirty minutes adds up to a lot of things your healthy lifestyle has been missing.