How to Make Changes for Health

We all know the basics about how to be healthier and how much that can influence our risk of cardiovascular (and other) disease in the future.  Knowing is easy.  Changing is hard.

There is no doctor who wants to be fat, smoke, or eat poorly.  If you smoke, don’t exercise, eat poorly or are significantly overweight you already know

a) you have a higher risk of premature death and, worse, disablility

b) you’ll have decreased energy and generally feel worse than people who are fit

c) it’s going to be a lot harder to counsel patients about what to do for their health

It would be fantastic if we were all issued a magic wand as part of our medical supplies.  It would be so much easier to make changes in our lives and our patients lives by a wave of a magic wand.  There is no magic wand, but we (and our patients) can make changes using what is known about behaviors and changing behaviors.

The American Heart Association has recently published a review of the literature and recommendations on how to sustain changes that improve health.  I’ve put the link below to the entire article but here’s my summary (and slight translation) of what they found worked to change behaviors:

  1. Set goals
  2. Use a system to monitor the change
  3. Create or discover a support system you can use on a frequent and regular basis
  4. Establish a way to get regular feedback on your progress
  5. Believe you can do it (and work on strengthening this belief)
  6. Reward yourself when goals are achieved
  7. Find role models for your new behavior and spend time with them (or what they have written)
  8. Brainstorm to use your innate ability to problem solve.  Don’t accept “I can’t”
    or “never” in your vocabulary of change – find creative ways to move past these obstacles.
  9. Learn from the times you fail (which is normal). ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’  Samuel Beckett

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 et al, Circulation. 2010;122:406-441

Do’s and Don’ts of Goal Setting from

Elements of Change from