Want to cut down on junk food? Simply get off that couch
Simply ejecting your rear from the couch implies that your hand will spend less time digging into a bag of chocolate chip cookies.
That is a simple but profound finding of a new Northwestern Medicine study, which reports that changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others.
Knocking down the sedentary leisure time will mean that you’re no longer glued to the TV and noshing, which will automatically transform into a cut down on the amount of the junk food and saturated fats consumed.
Moreover, it’s a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.
The study also found that the most effectual way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes.
One is cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and other is eating more fruits and vegetables.
“Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don’t get overwhelmed,” said Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.
“Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits,” Spring said.
“This approach simplifies it,” she said.
According to the study, with this basic strategy, people are capable of making big lifestyle changes in a short period of time and maintaining them.
Spring wanted to figure out the most effective way to spur people to change common bad health habits like eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables, spending too much sedentary leisure time and not getting enough physical activity.
She and colleagues randomly assigned 204 adult patients, ages 21 to 60 years old, with all those detrimental habits into one of four treatments.
The treatments included an increase in fruit/vegetable intake and physical activity, decrease in fat and sedentary leisure, decrease in fat and increase in physical activity, and increase in fruit/vegetable intake and decrease in sedentary leisure.
During the three weeks of treatment, patients entered their daily data into a personal digital assistant and uploaded it to a coach who communicated as needed either by telephone or email.
Participants could earn 175 dollars for meeting targets during the three-week treatment phase.
However, when that phase was completed, patients no longer had to maintain the lifestyle changes in order to be paid.
They were simply asked to send data three days a month for six months and received 30 to 80 dollars each month.
“We said we hope you’ll continue to keep up these healthy changes, but you no longer have to keep them up to be compensated,” Spring said.
The results over the next six months were surprising for Spring.
“We thought they’d do it while we were paying them, but the minute we stopped they’d go back to their bad habits,” she said.
“But they continued to maintain a large improvement in their health behaviors,” she said.
Right from the starting to the end of treatment and then upto the end of the six-month follow-up, the average servings of fruit/vegetables changed from 1.2 to 5.5 to 2.9; average minutes per day of inactive leisure went from 219.2 to 89.3 to 125.7 and daily calories from saturated fat from 12 percent to 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.
About 86 percent of participants insisted that once they made the change, they tried to maintain it.
There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes. It really enhanced their confidence,” Spring said.
“We found people can make very large changes in a very short amount of time and maintain them pretty darn well. It’s a lot more feasible than we thought,” Spring added.
This study has been published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
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