man walking past bicycleWhen it comes to health, it seems a lot of us talk a good game but don’t always have the best follow-through.

According to one comprehensive Nielsen survey, almost everyone – 89% – says that the best way to stay healthy is to take personal responsibility for your health. Sixty-four percent say they’ll do whatever it takes to control their own health.

Yet according to research published earlier this year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, almost none of us follow the four most basic components of a healthy lifestyle.

Only 2.7% of US adults manage to maintain a good diet, moderate exercise, recommended body fat percentage, and non-smoking status.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? Even partial accomplishment helps.

Indeed, the researchers found that having three or four healthy lifestyles, compared to none, generally was associated with better cardiovascular risk biomarkers, such as lower serum cholesterol and homocysteine levels. Having at least one or two healthy lifestyle characteristics, compared to none, was also associated with better levels of some cardiovascular risk biomarkers.

Still, it’s important to recognize that for many people, with life the way it is today, it can seem a tall order to make multiple lifestyle changes for improving health. In fact, busy-ness is perhaps the number one reason why people don’t do what they know they should do to maintain good health. With work, family, and other obligations, it can just feel like too much. Besides, everyone knows that you should only make one change at a time, right?

Wrong. Or so suggests a small but fascinating study published this past spring in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Michael Mrazek, director of research at UCSB’s Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential and lead author of the paper, said the six-week study from which the paper is drawn demonstrates that simultaneous, significant improvement across a broad range of mental and physical functions is possible. Participants in the intervention all showed dramatic improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes, including strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardized test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction.

His working theory? Accomplishment in one area reinforces accomplishment in others. If that’s the case, making lots of changes at once may prove to be the more effective strategy.

The challenge, of course, is to take that first step in creating the changes you want to see. So perhaps first we need to block out the inner voices that tell us that now’s not the time; that there will be a better, easier time down the road. Whether or when that time will come is anyone’s guess. We get stuck in perpetual procrastination.

A second step: Choose your priorities. We all know how to make time for the things we want to do, the things we care about. We juggle competing responsibilities in a way that lets us attend our daughter’s soccer games or our son’s piano recitals; that gives us alone time with our spouse or partner; that frees up time for games or books or crafts or other hobbies we pursue. If health truly is a priority, you need to do the same juggling act to do the things you know will sustain it.

And the beautiful thing is that as we become healthier, we find we actually have more energy to do the other things that fulfill us just as much.

And this points the way to something more than just the kind of baseline health we first looked at. You find yourself on the road to that optimal state we know as Radiant Health. You can do it. You can get there.


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