News Karnataka
Saturday, June 25 2022
Lifestyle & Fitness

Health goals? Research-based tips for adopting new healthy behaviours - 6 min read

Ryan Rhodes, University of Victoria

New Year’s resolutions are an annual ritual of setting intentions for self-betterment, and health behaviour goals — such as improving healthy eating and physical activity — are among the most popular. Unfortunately, failing to stick to those new goals is so common that it has become a cliché.

This is backed by research evidence. Studies have repeatedly shown that over half of people who form health behaviour intentions fail to enact them.

There are caveats to this statistic, of course. Short-term health behaviour goals are more likely to be enacted than long-term, and those who are returning to a pattern of behaviour they used to practice are more likely to follow through with their intentions compared to those who are adopting a new health behaviour.

It’s important to note that having an intention to change behaviour is an essential first step. Few people regularly engage in healthy behaviours without those initial good intentions. Sticking to health behaviour goals, however, is the critical factor.

A pair of sneakers hanging against a yellow background
Difficulty in following through on healthy intentions often comes from strategic challenges, and from more basic underlying human tendencies.
(Shutterstock)

Why do we struggle with health behaviour goals?

Self-regulation is an extensive research topic in psychology. As a professor of health psychology, my research focuses on understanding the “intention-behaviour gap” in physical activity, and testing interventions that may help close this gap.

My own research, and studies from my colleagues, has shown evidence that difficulty in following through on intentions often comes from two sources. The first is strategic challenges, which are flawed approaches to thinking about goals and behaviour. The second is basic human tendencies when faced with what psychologists call approach/avoidance conflict: when something is appealing and unappealing at the same time.

In terms of strategic challenges, the details of the goal itself can be one of the first indicators of whether someone will struggle. For example, the intention to engage in physical activity is often based on desired long-term outcomes (such as weight control, fitness and reducing the risks of chronic disease) without due consideration of the time and effort required to perform regular physical activity itself.

See also  ‘Sallets’ – how to eat healthy - in the 1600s way

Another key strategic challenge is the failure to consider multiple goals, which is likely to under-estimate the resources needed to perform other behaviours. Juggling multiple goals is one of the prime reasons why new intentions are often abandoned: new behaviours like exercise must compete with or coincide with all the other things someone needs or wants to do.

Contemporary research also shows that people may have automatic tendencies that, on balance, tend to derail health behaviours. For example, people have a basic underlying tendency to approach experiences that are pleasant and avoid experiences that are unpleasant.

A woman in fitness clothes sitting on a sofa snacking and ignoring her fitness equipment while turning on the tv
The tendency to ditch healthy eating and exercise plans arose from an evolutionary survival strategy to minimize energy costs. This makes people tend to avoid unnecessary movement (like exercise) while increasing their energy stores (snacking on energy-dense foods).
(Shutterstock)

Physical activity can be an adverse experience for many because it requires the body to stop resting and experience some exhaustion and discomfort. This negative experience during the activity is more predictive of future behaviour than the positive feelings after one completes a bout of physical activity.

Relatedly, research stemming from evolutionary biology has supported a basic human tendency to minimize energy costs, which stems from an evolutionary survival necessity. This makes people tend to avoid unnecessary movement (like exercise) while increasing their energy stores (snacking on energy-dense foods), creating an underlying temptation to ditch our healthy eating and physical activity plans.

Effective strategies for sticking with intentions

When we understand why we are not enacting our new health behaviour goals, it can help in developing counter-measures. Research in this area is ongoing, with diverse approaches. Strategies can be prospective (i.e. developed before enactment of the goal) or reactive (i.e. used at the point of enactment decision) in their implementation.

See also  TRIPM at GMU inaugurates Zebrafish Cancer Research Facility

To overcome strategic challenges, research has shown the effectiveness of developing detailed plans, such as formulation of what you are going to do, how, where and when you will do it, followed by contingencies if there is a conflict with your plan.

Two hands, one holding a green apple and the other holding a donut with pink icing and sprinkles
When faced with a strong urge to abandon a health goal for a more immediately gratifying diversion, take a moment to acknowledge your primal feelings, but enact your valued intentions.
(Shutterstock)

Monitoring your goals regularly is also one of the most successful approaches to keeping a behaviour on your radar.

In terms of our more automatic tendencies to disrupt health behaviour intentions, a focus on the behavioural experience itself is critical. Making the health behaviour as pleasant, convenient and meaningful to you as possible, and performing it at times when you have the most energy (to fight temptations), will help increase the probability of following through on good intentions.

However, in times when you are faced with a strong urge to abandon your health goal for a more immediately gratifying diversion, this is when you want to take a moment to acknowledge your primal feelings, but enact your valued intentions.

It’s important to keep in mind that most of the health changes people are trying make with these good intentions are lifestyle behaviours. As such, a few slipped days are inconsequential to the overall goal.

There is also theory and evidence that self-regulation strategies like the ones above may become less necessary over time. This because people begin to form habits from repeating these actions, as well as a sense of satisfaction or identity from continual practice that enables them to take ownership of the behaviour and categorize themselves in the role. So sticking to those intentions in the short term will likely make it easier to continue over a lifetime.The Conversation

Ryan Rhodes, Professor, Health Psychology, University of Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

The Conversation

Read More Articles
MANY DROPS MAKE AN OCEAN
Support NewsKarnataka's quality independent journalism with a small contribution.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to our Podcast across platforms
AnchorAmazon MusicSpotifyGoogle PodcastsRadio PublicRSS

Visit 7Jackpots and find the best online casinos in India! Play the most popular casino games for real money!

Find the best odds at 10Cric and ipl betting 2021! Signup today and get up to a 100% deposit bonus.

Subscribe Newsletter

Get latest news karnataka updates on your email.

To get the latest news on WhatsApp