9 steps to a healthier you



    Nov 27, 2014

    9 steps to a healthier you

    IT'S the holiday season, and many tables - both at home and at the workplace - will be groaning with goodies, many of which are not necessarily good for your health.

    This is particularly true if you suffer from a chronic health issue such as diabetes.

    Although you know that implementing one or more healthy behaviour changes could help boost your health, life's challenges continue to get in the way of your best intentions time and time again.

    "The leap from knowing to doing can loom as large as a step the size of Superman's," says Joan Bardsley, an assistant vice-president at the MedStar Health Research Institute and president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

    But here are nine steps that can help you make those all-important behaviour changes:


    1. BE READY


    You - not your spouse, parent or health-care provider - need to acknowledge that the habit you want to change is a problem.

    Experts call this readiness to change. People are ready to change different behaviours at different times. You may be ready to start walking 20 minutes at lunch, but don't intend to change your menu options at lunch.

    "Slowly and over time, untangle your unhealthy habits to positively impact your weight, glucose levels," says William Polonsky, an associate professor at University of California at San Diego and president of the Behavioural Diabetes Institute.




    Assess your food choices, eating habits and exercise habits. Keep records for a few days to see your reality in black and white. Be honest with yourself.




    Change behaviours you want to change and ones that will benefit you in a meaningful way. Tie the trigger for the new behaviour to an existing one. For example, if you want to eat more fruits and you regularly eat breakfast, include fruits with breakfast.

    Believing a change is important and having the confidence to make it is critical. "Importance is having more reasons to change the behaviour than to continue doing it. Confidence is your belief in yourself to change the behaviour," Prof Polonsky says.


    4. SET SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timeframe-specific) goals


    Choose one to three small, meaningful changes you can live with long term. Set your goals honestly, specifically and realistically. If they're too general or overly ambitious, you won't achieve them.




    Most formal weight-management programmes encourage the use of tracking tools to record your food intake, calories, time spent exercising and moods. These raise awareness and increase accountability.




    To string together a series of behaviour changes that eventually become a healthier lifestyle takes months, perhaps years. Gain insight from both positive and negative experiences. People repeatedly start these ventures with excitement. Then unexpected events occur, whether positive or negative.

    "Expect life to get in the way of your best intentions," says Felicia Hill-Briggs, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins medical institutions and senior director of population health research and development at Johns Hopkins HealthCare. She encourages people to make a list of potential roadblocks and then think through solutions before beginning. This tactic prevents being blindsided by bumps along the way.




    Take simple steps to set yourself up for success. For instance, bring healthy snacks in controlled portions to work to minimise hunger and unhealthy deviations, and choose your exercise clothes the night before. Success breeds success.


    8. REPEAT


    "Keep biting off small changes that have meaningful benefits to you," Prof Hill-Briggs says. Implement one tiny habit change, then another. Continue to practise the changes you've made. Over time, collective changes build a healthier way of living.




    Most people maximise their success by surrounding themselves with a cheerleader or two. "Education and support delivered by a diabetes educator or other trained health professional can help you prioritise your goals and develop strategies to jump over hurdles and not be derailed by pitfalls", Ms Bardsley says.

    Look for diabetes prevention and management programmes. Do, however, make sure a knowledgeable counsellor is available. Research shows it's important to increase success.


    Warshaw, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Alexandria, Virginia, is the author of numerous books published by the American Diabetes Association.