Tuesday, January 04, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Taking small steps to improve health may be more effective than tackling major lifestyle changes all at once, according to the January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.
Many people who smoke, avoid exercise or need to lose weight know they may be headed for health problems. Yet change is difficult. Health professionals have spent years studying what actually works to help people make long-lasting behavior changes. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource covers 10 strategies to make healthy habits stick:
- Assess readiness — Motivation must come from within, with a perceived need to change. It's best to avoid starting during times of major distractions such as marital or financial difficulties.
- Start small — Major changes in diet and exercise can seem overwhelming. Instead, small steps may be achievable. A small step can be as simple as adding vegetables to pasta sauce.
- Set realistic goals — The most useful goals are SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time limited. A SMART goal example is to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Believe — It may seem obvious, but confidence in the ability to change is essential.
- Track behavior — Self-monitoring food intake, weight or daily exercise can promote change. People who self-monitor food intake have been found to lose twice as much weight, compared to those who don't keep track.
- Solve problems — Long-term change requires strategies to solve problems as they arise — because they will. Successful strategies are to identify problems, evaluate solutions and follow through. This process will help overcome potential roadblocks, such as the cost of exercise equipment or a health club membership.
- Sleep — Adequate sleep is a foundation for behavior change. Lack of sleep can lead to poor decisions and irritability, which can sabotage efforts to change.
- Manage stress — Stressful situations (for example, the car breaks down or a friend is ill) can detour the best of healthy intentions. To be successful, one needs to find ways to cope, by prioritizing and planning activities, setting aside time to relax, and delegating or letting go of some responsibilities.
- A supportive environment — Organized support can include a doctor, dietitian, personal trainer or a commercial weight-loss program. Informal support can come from family and friends who encourage and reinforce positive changes.
- Bounce back — Old habits die hard and occasional lapses will occur. It's important to get back on track with another small step forward.
Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9751, (toll-free) or visit Mayo Clinic's Online Bookstore.
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