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Healthy fruits and veggies with fitness equipmentGetting and staying motivated to change health habits


If asked, most people would agree that they’d like to have better health. The challenge comes in determining how to go about eating better and being more active. Too often, people take the all or nothing approach. They start the year off trying to improve every aspect of their eating habits and trying to exercise every day. They soon find they can’t keep up with all this change at one time.

You can lose enthusiasm fast if you expect too much of yourself. According to Lynda Johnson, nutrition & health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, it’s important to realize that no one can expect to follow all the health guidelines 100% of the time.


“Give yourself some slack,” says Johnson, “one slip up doesn’t constitute failure.” Johnson recommends adding small changes over time rather than a complete makeover all at once.

Whether you are trying to control your blood sugar, lose a few pounds or lower your cholesterol, here are some tips that Johnson says can help you stay motivated toward your goal.

  1. Cherish yourself & your health. Taking care of yourself is not being selfish. As nurturers, women especially may feel guilty taking time to walk or go to a yoga class. However, by caring enough to treat your body well, you will be in better shape to take care of those around you. No one can take care of your health except you! Don’t neglect your body, and then wonder what happened to your health.
  2. Commit to change. Be willing to move in a new direction. Anne Fletcher, M.S., R.D., author of Eating Thin for Life, recommends that you begin by seeking a successful role model who made changes to improve health. This person probably learned how to deal with change and setbacks while staying motivated. Accept that change is all about making choices, like choosing to take a walk rather than watching TV. Does this mean no more TV time? Certainly not! Rather, balance TV viewing with being more active. Does this mean no more desserts? No, just not lots of dessert every day.
  3. Have confidence. Believe in yourself and your ability to change. Have a “can do” attitude. Make a list of successful changes or transitions that you have made in the past. It is easier to achieve a goal when you are optimistic. Use humor and laugh off occasional lapses. Don’t think that a couple of days with no exercise and eating junk food will ruin your efforts. Have confidence that you can get back on track with your healthy routine.
  4. Chart your course. Begin by keeping track of your activity and what you eat for a week. Look over the choices you made and then focus on a couple areas to improve. Don’t try to change everything at once. Perhaps it is drinking one less soda per day or taking a piece of fruit to work instead of buying chips. Ease into physical activity by taking a 10 minute walk first thing in the morning or over your lunch break. Create a list of small changes you want to make. Be specific. For example, don’t say, “eat healthier,” say “limit fast food to only one lunch a week.” Then purchase the food you need to take healthier lunches to work.
  5. Be creative. Exercise regimens and diet plans to lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar or lose weight abound. It is important to create a plan that works for you for the long haul. Getting healthier and staying that way cannot be achieved in 6 weeks. This must be a lifetime commitment to change. Adopt eating and physical activity habits that can become part of your lifestyle. Have a back-up plan for those days when your plans to eat well and be active are challenged. If you can’t walk due to the weather, have an exercise video to use. If you don’t have time to pack a healthy lunch and you have to pick up something fast, choose a small fast food sandwich and side salad rather than the super size version.
  6. Find a cheerleader. Making change is easier when you have someone to cheer you on. Seek out a friend, co-worker or family member who will encourage you to keep on track and maintain your motivation. Regular phone calls, emails or visits over coffee could provide a motivational boost to keep you on target. Perhaps your cheerleader could become your exercise buddy. This can make physical activity more enjoyable.
  7. Celebrate your progress. Reward yourself as you make simple changes that in the end will result in achieving your overall goal. Celebration is part of successful change. Create a list of incentives that will help keep you motivated — a book, massage, new walking shoes. Reward yourself along the way to reaching your final goal. For example, record the time spent exercising or your steps on a calendar. After two weeks of regular activity, celebrate your progress with a reward. Or perhaps dietary modifications and exercise have improved your A1C test, indicating better blood sugar control. Take time to celebrate!

Small, incremental changes over time can result in big rewards in improved health. Too often people think they simply lack the willpower to change, but this really isn’t the issue. People try to tackle too many things at once. Start by making one or two small changes, achieve these, and move on to tackle another small change. Consider these seven tips to help you move from where you are now to where you want to be.


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Last Updated 03/24/2015