When it comes to our heart, we often know what we need to do in order to stay healthy.
Take the tips shared by Harvard Health Publishing, for example: avoid tobacco, be active, aim for a healthy weight, improve your diet and drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.
Many of these suggestions may not come as a surprise—but accomplishing them is often more challenging.
“We have to use strategies to help us to implement what we know we should do,” said Mary Dolansky, associate professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
As American Heart Month comes to a close, we talked with Dolansky, who studies heart failure self-management, to find out to find out the five strategies she suggests individuals adopt when trying to accomplish lasting healthy behaviors.
In addition to trying specific strategies below, Dolansky said it’s important to not get discouraged: “I think that we have to love ourselves and give ourselves the OK to maybe fail and maybe not do it one day, but get up the next morning and try again.”
1. Be aware of what might disrupt your healthy habits, and seek solutions (such as tips 2-5).
Our weakness is that we’re all so busy and that we get tired, and when we’re tired, we can’t focus in on making good choices. Therefore, we don’t walk, we don’t exercise, we eat foods that probably aren’t so nutritious for us. Many times we think we’re rewarding ourselves for having a hard time, and those are the reasons why we don’t stick to making these changes for heart-healthy living.
There’s a lot of research that says that if you’re depressed, it’s very hard to change your behavior. In that case, it’s really good to seek counseling, and to get out and adhere to the treatment plan that you have been put on.
2. Set reachable goals.
There’s research in self-management that indicates that if we make very short-term goals—even a goal for the day—that we have a better chance to achieve long, sustained behavior change.
3. Pair with a partner for accountability.
We know that if we have a buddy or someone do the activity with us, we’re more likely to engage in it.
4. Adjust your surroundings to what will help you be successful.
If we change our environment, then we are more likely to sustain the change. That means, for example, if you want to cut down on ice cream, you don’t buy the ice cream so it’s not in your house.
5. Observe your behavior—in the moment and at the end of the day.
If we reflect on our day, and identify a way we can do things differently the next day—somewhat of problem-solving in making change in our life—I think that also works.
If you monitor your behavior, you tend to do better at it. That’s why a lot of people are using Fitbits.
If you have concerns about your heart health, Dolansky suggests reaching out to and sharing them with your primary-care physician, who can give you a physical exam and assess your risk.