US: Unhealthy habits often hard to break

Posted: October 30th, 2009 - 8:05pm
Source: Chicago Tribune

When it comes to improving our health, we all know what to do. Exercise. Eat right. Quit smoking. Drink alcohol only in moderation. And wash our hands.
It sounds simple. So why don't more of us do it?
Probably because it isn't so simple. Getting healthy and staying that way often means waging a battle against our genes, our physical and social environments, and a lifetime of bad habits.
For example: Humans are genetically predisposed to being sedentary during adulthood. We favor fatty, calorie-laden foods because that's where our energy comes from. Our caveman bodies strive to store energy for hunting and scavenging food and to fend off now-extinct predators.
But we live in homes, workplaces and neighborhoods that limit physical activity. We have to go out of our way to break a sweat.
In other words, we inhabit Fred Flintstone bodies in a George Jetson world, so overcoming our natural tendencies takes persistent effort. To ensure good health, some experts say, we need to learn the science of behavior change -- that the body part people most need to contend with is not their beer bellies or love handles, but their brains.
Dr. James Prochaska, director of the cancer prevention research center at University of Rhode Island and co-author of the book "Changing for Good," said most behavioral changes, such as losing weight and stopping smoking, involve six stages.
A person who denies or fails to recognize the problem is in a stage he calls pre-contemplation. After that comes contemplation (acknowledging the problem without being ready to change it), preparation (getting ready to change), action (changing behavior) and maintenance (not falling off the wagon). The final stage is termination, meaning the behavior has been tamed and no longer poses a threat.
When people skip straight to action, they are likely to return to their bad habits before long, Prochaska said. Instead, they should think in terms of advancing from one stage to the next.
"Behavior change equals progress, not immediate action," he said.

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Date Published: 
Chicago Tribune
Deborah L. Shelton
Source URL:,0,7213479.story
Source Title: 
Chicago Tribune
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