Diet in particular seems to be very challenging to change. "People tend to struggle with healthy dietary habits and overeating," Braun said. "It seems as though people adapt a little bit better to exercise. They can do a various amount of exercise and still exercise. It seems to be tougher for people to change their dietary habits. There are too many temptations around them."
Many times, she said, she has to help manage expectations to keep people motivated. Losing 50 to 100 pounds can seem like an unachievable goal, but people given a goal of losing 5 or 10 pounds in a month often succeed, she said, and that success then spurs further healthy habits.
"As soon as they start, very often they just start feeling better," Braun said. "Their energy levels improve, and even if they have a lapse, they know that they've done it. The fact that they've done it will often help them resume again. And oftentimes when they have the benefit of experiencing those small changes, it will give them the confidence to pursue larger changes."
Braun also does research and currently is working on a study involving about 300 black women who are being encouraged to walk more. The women have been given pedometers and are supposed to add 3,000 extra steps to their normal amount of walking every day. Some are receiving regular encouragement through personal counseling or automated messages, and others get encouragement only through monthly group meetings.
"Walking is great exercise," Braun said. "In fact, it is the standard form of moderate intensity exercise we recommend. Everyone can do it. It doesn't cost anything. No special equipment is required."
A companion article offers more on how to live a heart-healthier life.
SOURCE: Lynne Braun, Ph.D., C.N.P., nurse practitioner, Rush University Medic
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