How To Develop Healthy Habits When You’re Chronically Ill

When a New Year rolls around people seem to be full of motivation to make healthy changes to their lifestyle. Then, one month into the year and the parking lot at the local gym isn’t quite as crowded as it was the first week of January.

So if “healthy” people aren’t able to keep their new year’s resolution how are we, the chronically ill, suppose to make the changes to our lives that we want to see?

The key is focusing on making new habits all year round and not just the beginning of each year.

how to develop healthy habits when you're chronically ill


How do you do this? You start again and again. You can’t toss the idea of a new habit because you miss a day. You can’t throw it out the window and say you’ll start again Monday, next month or the first of next year. You get up and start again – today.

Habits aren’t started once from a sudden burst of motivation. They’re developed by starting 1,000 times until it becomes, well, a habit.


People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily. ~ Zig Ziglar


People that run marathons don’t just get up on January 1st and take off out their front door and return with 26 miles under their feet. They get up one day and run as far as they can. The next day they get up and do it again. Maybe the third day they just can’t get themselves to move so they binge Netflix. But day four comes and they lace up those shoes.

The person that’s lost 100 pounds didn’t eat one salad at dinner and wake up the next day to a closet full of clothes that didn’t fit anymore. They ate healthy for a few days. Messed up and ate pizza. Kept with their program for four days straight. Ate a great breakfast and lunch but then dinner was a dish of ice cream. However, instead of giving in, they got up the next morning and ate a healthy breakfast again.

People that succeed at developing good habits don’t quit when they have a setback and they don’t beat themselves up over it. They keep a commitment to themselves to improve a certain area of their life and they stick with it even when they don’t want to.

When you’re chronically ill your body doesn’t adjust to change quickly. It takes time. It takes starting over and over again – slowly but surely – until the “cheat days” or “days off” become fewer and further apart.

  • I’m trying to create a simple habit of drinking more water. I know it helps my energy levels and I know it’s good for my body but, to be perfectly transparent here, I’d rather drink Coke. All. Day. I made a simple habit tracker so I can chart my progress. Day one I drank 32 ounces of pure, plain water. Day two I repeated the same. Day three I dove in and slurped down 80 ounces. Day four totaled 64. I dropped back down to 32 ounces on day five but instead of calling it quits I’m waking up each day and filling my water bottle! I’ve been inconsistent with the totals but I’m consistent with the fact that I’m walking through my day with a water bottle in hand. Any amount of water I drink is a positive. And over time, it’s increasing in amount.
  • I’m also trying to do a bit of strength training. I can feel my body becoming weaker as I age and my illness-induced sedentary lifestyle isn’t helping. Each day I’m trying to do one or two exercises to help keep toned. (Not like I’m toned now, but you know what I mean. 😉 ) I’ve been able to do a few reps each day, and like the water, I’m slowly able to increase the number of reps I’m doing.

Going too fast and pushing our bodies too hard will throw us into a flare and we don’t need that. But we do need to gently nudge our bodies in healthy directions.

We need to celebrate our single steps in the right direction instead of looking at the end result as an elusive dream. If we only focus on the end result we’re trying so desperately to achieve we’re going to burn out rather quickly. Instead, focus on the process of adding healthy habits to your routine.


What healthy habits are you trying to develop? Let me know in the comments below so I can cheer you on!


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27 thoughts on “How To Develop Healthy Habits When You’re Chronically Ill

  1. They need to inquire about the amount of water. I was hospitalized for drinking too much water. No water very little liquid for three days. Good luck to all.

    • That’s true Rita! I was just using that as an example of one habit I’m working on. But everyone needs to decide what is best for them based on their illness and their doctors guidance.

  2. What a wonderful post. I love that Zig Ziglar quote! =) I also need to work on drinking more water. I have such a bad habit of waiting too long to get something to drink. Thank goodness for my trusty water bottle that I carry around with me everywhere. Have a lovely week. xoxo

  3. I would like to learn to play the keyboard, 2nd attempt. I have always wanted to play music and if I don’t start soon it will never happen.
    I would like to do Tai Chi and simple gentle exercises and struggle to start yet again and my body is really sore at present, with very low energy, so i need a plan.

    Lastly learn spanish one word a day as it will be good for my brain and would be nice to speak another language. Lastly I would like to start a support group here as their is none and I would like to help people with Cfs/M.E/fibromyalgia.

    • Those are great goals Rosemary! Learning to play and instrument and a second language are great for your brain! I’ve found adding exercise needs to be done in slow steady increments. What I’ve tried is to add a few more minutes each week works better for me than to attempt to jump into a 30 minute workout session. Check with your doctor to see what he recommends!

    • Yes exercise has been my hardest, i struggle just to do basics. I have a small window for a couple of hours to do basics for the day, realise ex should also be part. I have a pyramid top sleep, then food, shower, housework or morning appointments if necessary eg today Doctors.
      Re water have heard drink every hour on the hour or everytime one goes to the toilet.

  4. I’m trying to drink fewer dark beverages and exercise at least 3 times a week. I’ve switched out my soda for sparkling water and that’s really helped so far. I also dug out the backpack carrier for my baby so we can go on walks easier.

    • That’s great Brittany! Having that backpack carrier handy will eliminate the decision to walk out the door. I know if I have to move a bunch of stuff to get to my exercise equipment I’m going to be too tired to exercise! Have you tried putting just a bit of fruit juice in your sparkling water? I did that when I was breaking my cola addiction. It helped!

  5. Oh, I know what you mean. I have multiple chronic illnesses, and haven’t been able to exercise in over a year. I’m not giving up….I plan to go back to physical therapy soon. I like your idea of using a tracker to note your progress. Thanks for sharing your helpful post at Together on Tuesdays 🙂

    • Thanks Lisa! The tracker gives me a way to visualize the progress and makes it easier to determine what might be flaring symptoms.
      I was so happy to come across your Tuesday link-up! I look forward to getting to know other writers better and being able to encourage one another!

      • Rosemary, when I talk about a tracker what I use is a simple piece of paper with the various things I’m trying to develop into a habit. Take the water intake for example, on my paper, I have a line for each day of the month. When I drink my daily goal of water I put a check mark on that day. If you jump on Pinterest and type in “health tracker” you’ll find tons of examples. 🙂

  6. I so much appreciate the advice to take things slow when making lifestyle changes. My friends and family (with good intentions!) push me to make changes faster but I know what works for me. Thanks for supportive post.

  7. Good article and I totally relate to everything going you’ve said. I’m also trying to sort my water consumption and am not doing too badly. Thanks for the realistic goal ideas

  8. I have MS and with my legs getting weaker I would rather not get on the floor. When I have falls I have to have someone come rescue me!
    I was recently wondering if doing things in bed, something simple like leg lifts would be considered exercise? I’m still doing it, I’m just in bed lol

    Good for all giving up the soda. I gave it up many years ago and always have a large bottle of water next to me.

    • Julie, I have actually been doing exercises videos I found on youtube that are geared for doing while seated. Some days I just can’t do more than that but these exercises work your legs, abs, back and arms. So if you look online you’ll probably find some tips for exercising in bed. Do what you can – when you can!

  9. This is a very encouraging post and it’s got me thinking about my own habits and the things I’d like to change. I already drink plenty of water (even more so now I’ve got a stoma otherwise the nurses would tell me off!) but I would really like to do some strength training. Perhaps in a couple of weeks, when I’m giving the all clear after my last op, I could start a gentle routine of this. At the moment, my healthy habit is simply walking, just small walks and trying to be consistent to do a little something every day. Good luck with your healthy habits too! x

    • Thanks for stopping by Caz! I think most of us can make positive changes here and there that help us manage our chronic life. Hopefully, you’ll feel up to some exercise after you’re cleared by the doctor but those walks are nothing to sneeze at! You’re doing great!

  10. Any suggestions how /where to start with exercises, I seem to be in a permanent relapse since moving. I cannot seem to formulate a plan for exercise. Thanks.

    • Rosemary, I would definitely start slower than you think you should. I started looking for exercises from a seated position on youtube. I found a few that I was able to do and I would only do what I could. I repeated that for a few days and then I increased the repetitions and time. I hope that helps!

      • Thanks, exercise has been one of the biddest issues for me, mainly that all my energy goes into basics and appointments. Just starti g something new is hard. I downloaded tracker and will introduce one new thing starting April.