Small changes can have a big impact on health
Small Changes, Big Difference to Heart Health
Here’s the funny thing about goals: If you set the bar too high, it can sometimes cause you to miss altogether.
“Small changes are much easier to integrate into our lives than larger ones,” says Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH, a healthy living motivation expert and associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan. “It is lifelong ‘integration’ we want, not change per se.”
Whatever heart-healthy goals you want to work on can be achieved with a realistic plan with smaller goals, says family medicine practitioner Mack T. Ruffin IV, MD, MPH, the Max and Buena Lichter Research Professor of Family Medicine and associate chair for research programs at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Acknowledge what you want to change, set a long-range goal, let other people know about your goal, and then set measurable, clear mini-goals to get there, says Dr. Ruffin. Big goals can be tackled with a small-changes approach.
Create a timetable that’s realistic for you as well. Radical changes — or those that you attempt to accomplish overnight — are rarely successful.
Here are five healthy habits that you can choose to include in your plan. These small lifestyle changes can net big results if you incorporate them into your yearly plan:
- Get a checkup.To determine the most important lifestyle changes for you, you need to know your “numbers,” including blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. A yearly checkup is an easy first step toward better health.
- Get one more hour of sleep.Dr. Segar works with women of all ages to improve their health and believes that sleep is the foundation of all other positive changes. “Sleep not only influences our fuel for daily living, but when we don't get enough of it, we often don't have sufficient energy to make consistent decisions that favor health,” she says. And getting enough sleep also helps cut down on stress.
- Cut 100 calories a day and add 1,000 steps.These are two small changes that, over the course of a year, can add up to big health benefits. Keeping track of your calorie intake will help you to be more mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth. Up the number of steps you take by walking more during your lunch breaks or choosing the stairs over an elevator. “If we all did this, we’d be healthier,” says Ruffin.
- Sit less during the day (and evening).According to a longitudinal study published in theBritish Journal of Sports Medicine,if you don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity for your age at some point during the day, the more you sit, the greater your health risks. Among the women who participated, those who didn’t exercise and who sat eight or more hours a day had an increased risk of dying after nine years, and that risk rose for those who sat for more than 11 hours a day. Make it a goal to take more frequent breaks from sitting by setting a timer to remind you to get up for at least five minutes every hour.
- Reward yourself with healthy gifts.When you’re setting health goals, like eating better, losing weight, or being more active, the most common mistake is rewarding good behavior with something you’ve been withholding, like chocolate cake, says Joseph Colella, MD, director of robotic surgery at Magee-Women’s Hospital and St. Margaret’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania. This can cause you to slip back into old, unhealthy habits. Instead, be creative about your rewards. Plan a fun activity, like an afternoon of ice skating or a movie with friends, as a reward for weight loss. When you reach a fitness milestone, buy snazzy new workout gear instead of giving yourself some time off from the gym.
This year, make your healthy lifestyle goals more manageable: Focus on small, achievable changes that, over time, will add up to a big difference in your life.
Video: Small Changes That Make a Big Difference
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