The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Learn Your Best Behaviors

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Mar 12, 2015

March is National Nutrition Month. This campaign raises awareness of the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits, which brings to mind an earlier post that encourages healthy behaviors.

Year after year national guidelines urge Americans to do physical activity and eat a healthy plant-based diet. And year after year Americans become more sedentary and choose more highly-processed foods high in fat and calories. So what's the disconnect? Are our healthy messages too complex? Do Americans not see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle? Or, perhaps, are Americans trying to change, but just not using the right strategies?

The American Heart Association reviewed dozens of physical activity and dietary behavior change interventions conducted from 1997 to 2007¹. The panel of authors determined the most useful and effective strategies for lasting lifestyle change. The key strategies (for individuals) are briefly described below. As you read through them, note whether you do or don't use each skill.

  • Set specific, attainable but challenging short-term physical activity and healthy eating goals
  • Self-monitor, or keep track, of physical activity and foods (e.g., minutes of physical activity or calories consumed per day) to determine what changes are needed and monitor progress
  • Frequent and long-term follow-up with healthcare providers or peers (in-person, oral, written, electronic) to assess goal attainment or progress toward goal(s) and provide support
  • Problem solve barriers to physical activity and healthy eating (e.g., lack of access to affordable healthier foods, lack of resources for physical activity, or no time)
  • Use incentives or rewards to induce or support behavior change
  • Observe others performing healthy behaviors (e.g., engaging in physical activity or preparing healthy food)
  • Recognize and plan for risky situations that may lead to lapses in healthy behaviors (e.g., vacations, injuries, or holidays)
Which of these do you do most often? Which might you start doing?

In addition to these individual behavior change skills, the report outlines policy changes like providing healthcare providers with the skills to assess and provide counseling around lifestyle change and calorie labeling on menus that should be implemented to assist Americans in adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As a healthcare provider it's frustrating to tell people over and over that there's no magic bullet. Americans need to clearly understand that it's not about the latest diet or fitness fad. Changing one's lifestyle is about making healthy foods and physical activity part of the daily routine - that will be continued forever. And to do this, one must use strategies for change (as described above) to be successful. It's not necessarily easy and it's not quick. But, if someone wants to reduce their risk for disease, that's what they need to do.

Learn more about behavior modification during our Coaching Healthy Behaviors course May 27-29. Health and fitness professionals and the general public will benefit from the information provided.

¹Artinian, N.T. (2010). Interventions to promote physical activity and dietary lifestyle change for cardiovascular risk reduction in adults. a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Retrieved from doi: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e3181e8edfl.