We often hear inspirational health stories that begin with, "I got this wake-up call one day, and I decided to make a change." But just as often, and unheard, are the more common struggles to kick the unhealthy lifestyles, even after a frightening health event.
At least 40 percent of smokers who survive a heart attack are still puffing away a year later, according to one study, and that overweight individuals lose just a miniscule percentage of their body weight after a heart attack, according to another study, the Los Angeles Times reports.
And another large study of cancer survivors found that while most had given up smoking, fewer than 20 percent were consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and less than half were engaging in regular physical activity.
So why the standstill? The LA Times says part of it has to with the health care providers: a study of cancer survivors found that many of their doctors overlook discussing lifestyle issues with their patients after their diagnosis.
But even patients who are counseled properly and intend to make healthy changes in their lives have trouble. An executive and researcher at one behavior change firm told the LA Times, "A lot of people don't change because they don't know how to change."
The researcher, Janic Prochaska, CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems, said getting people to change their habits takes time, and that there's a period of preparation most people go through.
"Rather than jumping straight into action, they begin by making small changes in their lifestyle," according to the article. "Someone committed to increase his or her activity level, for example, may go for a few short walks; someone attempting to lose weight might start to scale back on desserts."
That's usually when people are ready to make a full-fledged attempt to change. And beyond that, there's the maintenance that needs to happen. "After all it, it doesn't make sense to quit smoking only to light up again months later or lose weight just to gain it all back."
Trying to rush through the steps of change too quickly can lead to failure, says Prochaska. "Some people who jump too quickly into action regress and then feel demoralized," she says.
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