5 ways to make those healthy habits stick

making healthy habits stick

Every year, there’s no shortage of stories exploring all the ways you can get healthier. Exercise and weight loss generally top the list of resolutions people set for themselves as the calendar year turns over, but research shows that around 80% of them are dropped by February.

Here are five things you can do to increase your chances of setting an attainable health goal this year — and sticking with it.

1. Determine your “why”

You may never have heard of a “why” statement, but you’ve probably heard of company mission statements. (Consider JetBlue’s widely cited credo: “To inspire humanity — both in the air and on the ground.”) A personal “why” statement is essentially the same thing. It simply answers the question of why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.

To make something a habit, you first have to understand why you’re doing it. Why does a certain goal mean something to you? It can’t be something you’re doing just because someone else is doing it or because you think you should.

For instance, if a doctor tells you to eat better and lose weight because it’s good for your health, will that compel you to work toward that goal? How about if you know that by eating better and losing weight you’ll be able to run around and play with your grandchildren? Now that’s a great “why.”

For every goal you want to accomplish in 2022, make sure you first establish your reason. It’s what inspires you to take action.

2. Be specific

When you’re planning healthy changes, it can be hard not to reach for the moon. But generic goals, like “I’m going to exercise more this year” or “I’m going to eat better,” rarely work because they lack focus. Instead, set small, measurable milestones to chart your progress to a larger goal.

For instance, you could plan to cook one more meal at home a week than you currently do. That small change could help you eat healthier overall. Not to mention save you money on takeout.

If you want to exercise more and think getting into running could be a good way to do it, you could sign up for a 5K race that’s six months away. Suddenly, you have a large goal to reach, but plenty of time to reach it. To get started, you could set small goals to reach the larger goal. First, focus on running a mile, then increase your distance to two miles and, finally, to three.

By breaking down a lofty goal into smaller, more manageable chunks, you’re able to see improvement and celebrate accomplishments along the way.

3. Focus on the journey

Health is about the journey, not the destination. Just as you shouldn’t focus on vague or overly ambitious goals, you should celebrate small wins. Maybe you went to bed 15 minutes earlier every night this week as a small step toward a long-term goal of getting more sleep. That’s an accomplishment.

Health is a lifestyle. It’s not something you achieve and then leave behind. If you’re working toward regularly cutting a certain number of calories from your diet, for example, you wouldn’t abruptly wipe your hands of it the first time you reached your goal. Health is something you continually have to work at to make it a lifestyle.

4. Make movement count

Sure, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, but remember, some activity is always better than no activity. Just start with a five-minute walk if you don’t have much time. But look for ways to add movement to your days. Maybe you take the steps instead of the elevator. Maybe you park on the far side of the parking lot when you go to the grocery store. Maybe you skip that after-dinner glass of wine and take the dog for a 20-minute walk instead.

If you’re mindful of getting in movement, it will become intentional. Plus, the health benefits of movement are numerous. Physical activity can help:

  • Boost your mood and improve your sleep
  • Lower your risk of heart disease and certain cancers
  • Help manage diabetes and high blood pressure
5. Practice gratitude

Be grateful for what you have instead of jealous of what you don’t. Gratitude helps reduce stress, which can lead to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of certain conditions like heart disease and diabetes when long-lasting.

Being able to cope with stress to reduce these ill effects is why self-care is so important. Prioritize time for yourself. Take a walk to clear your head or add a lavender-scented candle to your desk.

Filling your bucket so you’re mentally and physically strong enough to tackle all those goals you’ve set for yourself is crucial. But be kind to yourself if you fall short of achieving a goal. There aren’t any hard-and-fast deadlines for healthy habits. Be grateful for the opportunity to try, try again.


Stefanie Osterloh, CRNP Stefanie Osterloh, CRNP, is a family nurse practitioner with Luminis Health Primary Care in Crofton, Md.