Ready, Set - Change Your Health Habits!
We all know how crucial it is to make lifestyle changes to improve our health, but knowing that and actually changing a habit are two very different things. Here, the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, offers an easy-to-follow plan that will help you understand how best to make the move to healthier habits.
Stage 1: CONTEMPLATION
This just might be the hardest step of all. Thinking about making a change to actually trying to do it is a very big leap. If you want to take that first step, but somehow can’t make yourself do it, the NIDDK experts suggest listing the pros and cons of changing the habit.
For example, the experts say, you can list all the benefits that you’ll get from eating a healthier diet: get more energy, lose weight and begin to lower your risk of myriad health problems including heart disease and diabetes. You can also list some of the cons: you’ll have to buy more expensive food (junk food is always cheaper) and learn to cook. We think those tradeoffs are worth it!
Stage 2: PREPARATION
If you are in the preparation stage, the NIDDK says, you’re ready to act. Now’s the time to think about the roadblocks you might be setting yourself up for once you actually start trying to change your habits. Some of the most common ones:
“I don’t have the time.” You can start with moderate measures, such as getting off the bus one stop early and walking, or planning healthy meals so you aren’t relying on convenience food. Start your day with a brief session from an exercise DVD. Don’t begin by making radical or time-consuming changes that will only discourage you and lead you to stop.
“I don’t like physical activity.” As the NIDDK experts point out, physical activity isn’t limited to lifting weights in a gym. You can dance, walk or take fun fitness classes such as dance aerobics.
“I can’t make this change alone.” You can get more help than you think from family, friends and coworkers. Ask a colleague to go for a lunchtime walk. Tell your family you want their support; maybe they can even join you!
Stage 3: ACTION
As you’re getting into the rhythm of your new habits, the NIDDK says, track your activity through an exercise or eating journal. When you look over several days’ worth of entries, you’ll see how you’re doing. When were your best days? When did you have setbacks? Note when your feelings – stress, anger, anxiety – negatively affected your progress. You might want to get some support from a friend, family member or someone who’s also trying to change their habits.
Stage 4: MAINTENANCE
Now that you’ve made healthy habits part of your routine, the NIDDK experts say, you need to keep it up – by changing up your exercise routines, planning to avoid slip-ups, and learning to cope in healthy ways with whatever stressors you might encounter. Look for new exercise buddies, healthy recipes, and rewards.
To avoid unexpected setbacks, plan ahead. For example, the NIDDK experts say, think of how you can be active in bad weather, or how you can make good food choices while traveling or dining out. (You can pack healthy snacks for on ther road, or share a restaurant meal with a friend.)
If you do suffer a setback, get right back into your new healthy habits. Focus on continuing them.
You can even think about expanding your goals. If you are happy walking five days a week, the experts say, consider adding strength training twice a week. If you’ve brought your saturated-fat intake down, try cutting back on sugar as well.
Even step-by-step changes can lead to healthy habits for life!
For more on getting healthier, visit Changing Your Habits: Steps to Better Health, a publication of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.