Two health behaviour changes easier than one

Once motivated, it’s easier to make multiple lifestyle changes

Apples and DumbbellsAt our deepest core, we know what’s healthy for us. Of course, it great to have a counsellor lend a hand in switching to/sticking to a healthier lifer. The nature of the advice and the manner in which it is offered also matter. A new study by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, California explored timing as a factor that affects the success of such advice. Their study is published in Springer’s Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

<p?Since we lead such hectic lives and face a barrage of health improvement messages from various media, we go one step at a time when we want to make any changes in our health. The new study counters this belief. It suggests that the scarcest resource is not motivation, but time. Once motivated, when we go about adopting only a single health advice, it’s a waste of that motivation. It may be better to start off on two health aspects at the same time to encash on the motivation. To test this hypothesis, the researchers grouped their 200 participants in four ways.

Group 1

      : gets exercise advice first, nutrition advice four months later

Group 2

      : gets nutrition advice first, exercise advice four months later

Group 3

      : gets nutrition and exercise advice right from the first month

Group 4

    : gets neither… just stress management advice.

It would be prudent to note that all the participants were 45+ in age, led a sedentary life, ate a lot of fatty foods, ate very few fruits and vegetables, and had a stressful life. That’s probably a profile that would fit many of us, but that’s besides the point.

All three groups [1 – 3] started adopting healthier eating habits. But how the exercise advice was adopted showed variance. Group 1 quickly adopted good exercise habits by month 4, but Group 3 lagged behind. However after a year of starting on this venture, both the groups were doing the prescribed number of exercises. Group 2 was not able to do the prescribed amount of physical activity even after 1 year. Group 3 was eating healthy [as prescribed] and exercising [as prescribed] by the end of the year.

There is already some order inherent in eating food, since we have approximately fixed timings for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So it is easier to adapt to healthier eating habits than to physical exercise.

But when it comes to exercising, we may need to make time for it in our schedule. And that may get a bit difficult. Given the limited motivation, it is better to start off on both eating healthier as well as exercising.

This study gives a heads up to fitness trainers, nutritionists and physicians too that advice for nutrition and exercise should be given together and at the earliest.


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