One Healthy Change Leads to Another

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whether you hope to lose weight, improve your diet, get active—or a combination of all three—sometimes it's just getting started that is the hardest part. Giving up bad habits and implementing new ones can be overwhelming. It's a big reason why so many people just keep doing the same things instead of changing their lifestyles.  They think they have to change everything overnight to be successful. And since changing everything is going to be so difficult, they might as well not even try.
Well what if I told you that you could do just one thing and see noticeable improvements? That taking one step—making ONE healthy change—could change your outlook and set you on the path to better health? I doubt you'd say "that's too hard." More likely, you'd say, "Let's do this!"
I heard a fascinating study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that looked at this very idea. When researchers had people change just one habit, the results were amazing. When they changed TWO habits—look out!—results were even better. And that is all they did: Change two things to improve their lifestyle. When they asked people to watch less TV (or spend less time on the computer), they automatically snacked less on junk food and consumed fewer calories.

No one told them, "Hey, you should eat less." They simply said "Be less sedentary," and the rest took care of itself. When they were less sedentary, their time spent in physical activity also increased, even if they weren't told to exercise more. Not only that, but their new habits (and results) lasted long-term! At SparkPeople, we call this the Criss-Cross Effect, and it can be an amazingly effective and motivating way to look at your goals.
Here are more details about the study, which you can easily apply to your own healthy lifestyle journey.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recruited 204 adults who all exhibited four unhealthy behaviors:
  1. Eating too much saturated fat
  2. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  3. Spending too much time being sedentary
  4. Not getting enough physical activity
Participants were randomly assigned into one of four interventions, all of which focused on improving just TWO of these habits for three weeks. They were paid $175 per week to meet their new goals (like eating more fruits and vegetables) and log their progress. Not surprisingly, they did better, going from 1.2 to 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, for example. But then, that big payday (certainly a motivator) was over! For six more months, they had to continue tracking their habits, for which they earned a much smaller check ($30-$80 per month) that was not dependent on adhering to their goals—just tracking what they did or did not do. To the researchers' surprise, people by and large continued their healthy habits. In fact, 86% said they tried to maintain their new, healthy habits during the second phase of the study. Their results weren't quite as good as the previous phase, but were still markedly better than where they began the program.
What I loved about this study was how well it fits into SparkPeople's philosophy. We're all about taking small steps, which build momentum and confidence, and lead to bigger steps and better results over time. Taking just one small step has a "domino effect" in other areas, improving health across the board and encouraging people to take additional steps.

No one can expect to completely alter their lifestyle overnight. But almost anyone can start with one, two or three small and easy goals to get started. In fact, the entire SparkPeople program begins with just three simple goals like the examples in this study. It's our Fast Break phase of our program and it does wonders to get you over that first hurdle of "getting started" and helping you find motivation to continue.
The truth is that small steps do matter. They do count. They do have a positive effect. And as we all know, they lead to one more step and then another. Before you know it, you're nearing the finish line. And it all started with one step in the right direction!
Do you believe in the "small steps" approach to healthy living? What small actions have helped you get started and stick with it?