Tips to successfully maintain a healthy lifestyle

Overcoming barriers one step at a time.

An adult and child playing outside.
Photo: Pexels/Barbara Olsen.

Making healthy choices over time is important for preventing chronic diseases and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a list of helpful strategies that include eating healthily, moving more and sitting less, avoiding tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption, improving sleep, getting regular medical check-ups and more.

Despite increased knowledge of such strategies, many people struggle to adopt and maintain them. This is confirmed by the CDC Foundation, which reports that chronic diseases are responsible for 70% of deaths each year in the United States. Some of these deaths could have been prevented by healthier lifestyle choices, but making the necessary behavior changes is often difficult.

Research funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has acknowledged this challenge and identified approaches that may help promote successful behavior change, including:

  • Valuing long-term rewards over short-term rewards. Individuals who value and appreciate long-term rewards, such as longevity or a good quality of life in the future, tend to make healthier choices in the present. This is because everyday decisions are being made in light of, and to achieve, that future reward. A technique that helps people value long-term rewards over short-term rewards is "episodic future thinking." Here, a person spends time vividly imagining their future experiences and lifestyle. Doing this regularly could help a person shift from engaging in immediate or short-term gratification to investing in healthy behaviors that yield long-term benefits. 
  • Prioritizing stress management. Stress increases one’s risk for chronic conditions while reducing one’s ability to adopt healthy behaviors. When stressed, individuals sometimes engage in unhealthy activities to cope, such as smoking, overeating or binge drinking. Practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques regularly may be a healthier alternative. Here, one learns how to respond to stressors calmly and mindfully rather than reacting negatively or defaulting to unhealthy behaviors. Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of Mindfulness for Better Living programs and articles, which provide tips and support for effective stress management.
  • Leveraging social connections. People are often influenced by their family, friends and community. If a person’s social network typically engages in healthy behaviors, they are more likely to follow suit. Additionally, the stronger one’s social ties are, the more likely they will participate in health-promoting activities. A person could leverage and further build their social connections by inviting them to engage in healthy behaviors like being physically active or taking a nutrition, mindfulness or tai chi class, together.

There are numerous benefits to adopting a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that valuing long-term (over short-term) rewards, managing stress effectively and leveraging social connections could be key to overcoming barriers and maintaining healthy choices over time. For more information on building a healthy lifestyle, visit MSU Extension's Food & Health website.

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