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Small changes are key to a successful action plan for improved health

Writer:

Lydia Kaume
Nutrition and Health Education Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 816-482-5850
Email: kaumel@missouri.edu

Published: Thursday, March 23, 2017

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – Although there are reminders all around us of the national obesity crisis, lifestyle changes are difficult for most people.

“For individuals not yet experiencing health problems, the incentive of better health and reduced morbidity in the future is not motivating enough,” said Lydia Kaume, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “For those in the thick of health problems, behavior change is seen as an unachievable, daunting requirement.”

Scientific observations show health providers and counselors have not been very successful at achieving behavior changes in clients, she said. “To modify lifestyle, one needs personal resolve; small, intentional, gradual changes; and the necessary emotional and moral support.”

There is also evidence that well-written, personalized “action plans” that are easy to adhere to are effective instruments of behavior change.

“Writing an action plan and making small improvements, one at a time, can be a big step toward nutrition and lifestyle change,” Kaume said.

Kaume offers these guidelines for writing a personal action plan:

1. State the “what” (the behavior that needs to change).

2. State “how much” (how much will be done).

3. State “when” (which days of the week). To increase chances of success, avoid stating all seven days; even two days may good for a start.

4. State “how many times” (in the day or week).

5. Finally, state your confidence level. On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that you can succeed? A confidence level of 7 or higher is recommended.

There are several simple but important health behaviors that a person may resolve to change that can significantly improve their health, according to Kaume.

For example, try a few of these changes: Increase your hours of sleep, plan a weekly meal schedule to reduce the number of times you eat out, eat less red meat, add oily fish to your diet, increase the number of days in a week that you eat fruits and vegetables, buy whole-grain products, exercise (10-15 minutes for beginners), eliminate a certain known stress factor in your life, try a new healthy recipe, attend a health class, start a dairy, or meditate.

“The goal is to stick to new behavior until you are ready to make another action plan and resolve to modify another behavior,” said Kaume.

Our hectic lifestyles contribute to the current health crisis. Busy schedules, poor eating habits, poor quality of sleep and being physically inactive leave a majority of people fatigued and yearning for more energy. Health conditions and medications can further complicate fatigue, Kaume said.

“Ideally, good habits need to be formed early in children so no interventions would be necessary as adults,” she said. “We have lots of opportunities to influence the next generation, but we must begin by modeling healthy behaviors today.”

For more food and nutrition information from MU Extension, including feature articles, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, go to www.missourifamilies.org/nutrition.