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Small Changes, Big Results: Incorporating Behavior Change for Better Health

Photo: Courtesy of Clique Images

Making mall changes can have major results. Take my friend Dan, for example. As the senior editorial consultant for the American Council on Exercise, Dan knew exactly what a healthy lifestyle looked like. Yet, he found himself struggling with his weight and on the verge of developing health conditions including hypertension and diabetes. He knew he needed to make a change. 

Turning habits around

Changing one’s lifestyle is often complex and difficult. Health behaviors have been shaped by factors such as friends, family, geographical location, culture, and socioeconomic status. It’s helpful to take baby steps, like Dan did, to overcome unhealthy habits. Start by setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound), that are accompanied by short-term action steps and a supportive environment.

One way to help develop these goals and find support is through working with a health coach, which centers on helping people set and achieve goals through a collaborative approach, so they can take a prominent role in managing their own well-being. Emerging evidence on the benefits of health coaching suggests that this type of intervention leads to lasting improvements in health.

A disciplined approach

Dan worked with a health coach and set his goals based on the “Physical Activity and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” It wasn’t necessarily easy, but the steps he took were simple. Essentially, he changed daily behaviors that were contributing to unhealthfulness. For example, he started tracking his meals to see where he could make healthier choices, like swapping ice cream for a lower calorie frozen treat. He started working with a personal trainer to find an exercise program he liked instead of trying to stick to a gym routine he couldn’t stand. He talked to his friends and family and asked for support in his healthy choices and had his family join him on hikes. He also saw each day as a chance to reset, so the unhealthy choices from the day before didn’t discourage him.

Seeing results

These small steps paid off. Over the course of a year, Dan lost more than 30 pounds, normalized his blood pressure, reduced his hemoglobin A1C (an important biomarker for diabetes) and cholesterol levels, and moved his body fat percentage from the “obese” to “average” category.

Physical inactivity and obesity are linked to chronic diseases (including coronary heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and Type 2 diabetes). In Dan’s case, if he hadn’t adopted the lifestyle changes that led to his health improvements, he would have most likely ended up with type 2 diabetes and other complications. Dan took control of his health by making better choices. It really is that simple. Not always easy, but simple, and worth it.

Sabrena Jo, M.S., American Council on Exercise, Director of Science and Research Content, [email protected]

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