By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications
While the science behind healthy living is both outrageously complex and seems to change every time we turn around, there are good folks working hard to simplify it for us. To make our decisions easier and help us all live better.
Case in point: what the American Heart Association calls Life’s Simple 7. They defined ideal heart health based on seven risk factors that any of us can use to improve. And their goal is help us change our habits to improve the health of our families, our communities, and our nation. Simply put, these are Life’s Simple 7:
- Stop Smoking
- Eat Better
- Get Active
- Lose Weight
- Manage Blood Pressure
- Control Cholesterol
- Reduce Blood Sugar
These actions represent the seven most powerful things we can change to lower our risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. They are also behaviors we can control to make our lives longer and make them better.
Studies tell us that people doing even just five of these seven actions had a whopping 78 percent reduced risk for heart-related death compared to people not doing them. That’s figure is huge because heart disease all by itself is America’s number one cause of early death.
One study in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported adopting even SOME of these seven simple changes means a 64 percent to 87 percent lower risk of a heart attack.
What could be simpler? Without expensive equipment or memberships and more, we can each make real improvements in our health and reduce our trips to the pharmacy and doctor’s offices. And the emergency room!
Those fewer visits have another big impact – on healthcare costs. Right now, 75 percent of America’s $3 Trillion health care burden is related to a small handful of chronic diseases, all of which are greatly reduced by Life’s Simple 7. If we could reduce the impact of these chronic conditions, we not only make lives longer and better but also save huge dollars on our nation’s healthcare bill. Considering how widespread these conditions are, more Americans making better choices around Life’s Simple 7 would save staggering amounts of money across the system.
I’ve been around long enough to know simple list of healthy habits is one thing. Making changes in real life is entirely another. Personal behaviors long embedded in our lives are difficult to change. It doesn’t matter who we are. Habit change is hard. Hard but NOT impossible.
I’ve been working at living healthy all my life, and I’ve had successes and failures. And after years of reading and trying and doing, I’ve actually learned a thing or two. For example, once upon a time (feels like a lifetime ago), I quit smoking. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. I knew then it was the best thing I could do for myself and my family, and I haven’t for one moment regretted quitting since. I feel it every day, and I am enormously thankful I had the resolve to make it happen. If I can do that, I know others can do the things on this list, too.
We already have the first thing we need to help us change; that’s the list of Life’s Simple 7. Then, we need to pick one thing to work on. Easy, right? Next, we need a little self-reflection (a look in the mirror so to speak) to really understand what’s at stake and why this change is important.
Then, we need to get ready by finding the confidence in ourselves and recognizing what we really value in life. Family? Independence? Financial freedom? Personal integrity? Achievement or personal growth? Self-control or discipline? These aren’t answers, just possibilities. Your values are yours. What do you hold dear? You could skip this part, but I believe clarifying your values helps us set more fundamental and more powerful intentions.
Another key to successful habit change is making your changes small. There is far greater likelihood you’ll stick with changes if you take small steps frequently instead of trying to do everything at once. I’ve heard many experts talk about this, and they all agree small steps is the way to be successful. Big achievements are lasting when they come incrementally. Think big, but start small.
Then, take a look at your support system. Often, it’s especially valuable to enlist help and understanding from people around us. We can talk with family members or co-workers or friends to ask for support or advice. We might need the occasional reminder or a gentle nudge. We might benefit from a walking partner. Or it might be really important for people in your household to know you’re trying to eat healthier. People can’t help if they don’t know what you want to do. The people around you can be powerful allies. But, they need to know what you need from them.
And then there are the rewards! If you make your goals concrete enough by getting specific about what you intend to change, then you can also think up something nice to do for yourself when you accomplish your goal. It could be a weekly habit (I’m going to eat vegetables with every meal at least six days a week) or a weight loss goal over several months’ time. When you get there, reward yourself. Keep a little list of things, simple things, you can do to celebrate your successes, big and small.
Finally, I also highly recommend finding yourself a good book or article or website you can trust, so you can learn more about whatever goal you have and what it takes to achieve it. Take eating healthy, for example. There are tons of good resources out there. Find the ones backed by strong sources and good science. Then dig in and learn. Years ago, when I turned 30 and decided to start running again, I bought a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. I devoured those monthly issues, and it not only helped me learn (there was so much I didn’t know!) but also inspired me and kept me on track. 26 years later, I’m still running. There’s nothing like learning to create change in your life.
In any long and healthy life, the challenge to stay the course is ongoing. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. We’re all human and far from perfect. And being harsh on ourselves is the last thing any of us needs. Keep your eye on the target, and keep your ambition high. This thing called life is a process, and none of us has it down flat. Think of Life’s Simple 7 like guide posts on a trail. They do nothing by themselves to get you where you’re going. They simply point the way. Sometimes, it’s nice to stop and rest. Look at the scenery. But then get back on track and move forward. One step at a time. Always one step at a time.