One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a condition that is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Unhealthy lifestyle habits increase your risk for the development of CVD. Most people understand that they need to eat fewer calories, eat more plant-based foods, and exercise more. But why can some people maintain this lifestyle and others cannot?
The American Heart Association recently released a scientific statement, “Interventions to Promote Physical Activity and Dietary Lifestyle Changes for Cardiovascular Risk Factor Reduction in Adults,” which addresses this issue. Investigators reviewed 74 studies on the topic to determine which lifestyle strategies promote long-term adherence to healthy habits. As a result of their investigation here are their recommendations:
Set Specific, Realistic Goals: Research findings indicate that those individuals who set clear, concise goals are more likely to succeed than those persons who set vague goals or none at all. Goals that focus on behavior change (e.g., increase daily consumption of legumes) lead to a better outcome than those that focus on physiologic parameters (e.g., lose 10 pounds) because physiologic endpoints are also influenced by factors out of the individual’s control (e.g., genetics).
Self-Monitor Progress: Self-monitoring involves self-awareness – an understanding of how your mind and body react to certain conditions and what environments or circumstances pose a threat to your success (e.g., office holiday party). It is also an awareness of your progression. Self-monitoring can be as simple as journaling your experiences in a notebook. Electronic and/or internet-based programs have been proven to be effective as well. Recording things such as minutes walked each day and what influenced the amount (e.g., weather, work schedule, etc.,) are beneficial to increasing your awareness about what works and what doesn’t and where changes need to be made.
Participate in Group Programs: Frequent contact with others who are invested in improving their own wellbeing and yours promotes adherence to healthy lifestyle habits. Watching someone else partake in health promoting activities and/or listening to their success stories provides motivation to do the same. Group programs that involve frequent feedback and positive reinforcement on your progress also encourages maintenance. Enrolling in community fitness classes and/or healthy cooking programs will increase your chances of success.
Think “I Can”: If you believe you have the ability to achieve something, then you are more likely to try it. This is why setting realistic goals is important. Start with small goals that are challenging, but attainable. This will boost your confidence.
Reward Yourself: Although this recommendation finds its strongest support in the work setting where employers provide employees with incentives, such as a financial bonus, for adherence to healthy habits (e.g., successful completion of a smoking cessation program), you can provide yourself with a reward when you accomplish personal health goals (e.g., allowing yourself to “sleep-in” on the weekend for increasing the number of minutes you walk per day).
Plan For, and Accept, Setbacks: Obstacles and barriers will, and do, arise. Don’t let them discourage your attempts. Learn from them and make changes to avoid recurrences and/or develop strategies to prevent or minimize their effects. For example, eat a light lunch if you know you will be attending a dinner party full of less-than-healthy food fare.
Remember, lifestyle change is a process, not an end-all. Maintenance of healthy habits will require setting and achieving new goals as old ones are accomplished or it is determined they need to be modified according to the current situation. Don’t perceive setbacks as failures – progress is the goal, not perfection!
How about you? Do you have a trick that helps you stay the course toward healthy living? Share with us, we want to know!
Circulation. 2010:122:406-441, “Interventions to Promote Physical Activity and Dietary Lifestyle Changes for Cardiovascular Risk Factor Reduction in Adults: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association,” Artinian, N.T., et al.,.
The best advice I can offer is to get support. Find someone who can commit to your well being and your goals and set up a call schedule, daily to start off. Set up achievements for the day, discuss challenges you face, don't sleeze out on yourself.
Newton's First Law states (and I am paraphrasing) a body at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force. And, so it is with with most of us, both children and adults. We tend to leave well enough alone including our eating and exercise habits. We must have a compelling reason to make a life style change.
That's what my wife and I teach in our healthy eating weight management class.