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For Your Health: Overcoming hurdles to healthy habits

Washington University School of Medicine

For Your Health Graphic 2020

Looking after our health isn’t always easy. And, if we’re honest, it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. But one thing we’ve been reminded of lately is the importance of good health.

Dr. Graham Colditz Headshot
Dr. Graham Colditz

Despite how it may feel when scrolling through news or social media, taking steps to improve our health can be easier than you might think. Let’s look at four concerns about making healthy changes, and why they may not be as hard as they can seem.

There are so many health recommendations, it’s hard to keep up.

Without a doubt, many different groups offer health recommendations. While there are many reasons for this, it can make it hard to know which advice to follow. The good news is, many steps for improving health and lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease and other conditions are really pretty simple. They include:

  • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and keeping red meat, sugary drinks and alcohol to a minimum
  • Moving your body some amount every day
  • Trying to keep weight gain in check
  • Not smoking
  • Seeing a health-care provider about screening tests or other important care

I have trouble reaching my health goals.

Whether it’s eating three servings of whole grains a day, getting seven hours of sleep a night or working on something else altogether, it’s great to have health goals. But it can feel frustrating if we don’t reach them. A good way to help avoid that is to set smaller, more achievable goals along the way to your bigger goal. The success of reaching smaller goals builds and keeps you going. Plus, even small changes can have health benefits all on their own.

Healthy behaviors are expensive.

There are a lot of ways to spend a lot of money on healthy activities – and they’re often on full display on social media. But just as the basics of healthy living are pretty simple, they can also be affordable. Walking is a great exercise, which only really takes a good pair of athletic shoes. Indoor exercise classes can be streamed for free on different platforms. And while healthy foods can cost more than less healthy choices, you can often find affordable, healthy options with a little extra effort.

I don’t always feel motivated to be healthy.

Motivation can sometimes be hard to find any time of year. But in the middle of winter, entering the third year of a global pandemic, it may feel particularly difficult. To help, take a moment and remind yourself why you want to be healthier. Maybe family and friends or an activity you’re passionate about will spark motivation. Many times, just getting started on a behavior can create its own motivation. Instead of waiting for motivation to strike, make a plan to get started on a behavior instead. Commit to walking for just a few minutes, or to starting the first steps of a veggie chili recipe, and you may find the boost you need to keep going. It might not always feel easy to do, but it can help.

The world around us can feel increasingly complicated, but a handful of relatively simple behaviors can go a long way to improving well-being and lowering the risk of disease. And small changes can have important benefits – today and in the future.

It’s your health. Take control.

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention and the creator of the free prevention tool,