Simply getting off the couch means your hand will spend less time digging into a bag of chocolate chip cookies.
That's the simple but profound finding of a new Northwestern Medicine study, which reports simply changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others. Cut your sedentary leisure time and you'll reduce junk food and saturated fat intake because you're no longer glued to the TV and eating. It's a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.
The study also found the most effective way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes: cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and eating more fruits and vegetables.
"Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," said the researcher.
With this simplified strategy, people are capable of making big lifestyle changes in a short period of time and maintaining them, according to the study.
The researchers wanted to figure out the most effective way to spur people to change common bad health habits: eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables, spending too much sedentary leisure time and not getting enough physical activity.
They randomly assigned 204 adults, ages 21 to 60 years old, with all those unhealthy habits into one of four treatments. The treatments were: increase fruit/vegetable intake and physical activity, decrease fat and sedentary leisure, decrease fat and increase physical activity, and increase fruit/vegetable intake and decrease sedentary leisure.
During the three weeks of treatment, patients entered their daily data into a personal digital assistant and uploaded it to a coach who communicated as needed by telephone or email.
Participants could earn $175 for meeting goals during the three-week treatment phase. But when that phase was completed, patients no longer had to maintain the lifestyle changes in order to be paid. They were simply asked to send data three days a month for six months and received $30 to $80 per month.
The results over the next six months amazed the researchers who thought the minute they stopped paying the participants they'd go back to their bad habits. But they continued to maintain a large improvement in their health behaviors.
From baseline to the end of treatment to the end of the six-month follow-up, the average servings of fruit/vegetables changed from 1.2 to 5.5 to 2.9; average minutes per day of sedentary leisure went from 219.2 to 89.3 to 125.7 and daily calories from saturated fat from 12 percent to 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.
About 86 percent of participants said once they made the change, they tried to maintain it. There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.