Harvard Women's Health Watch

Why it's hard to change unhealthy behavior - and why you should keep trying

Why it's hard to change unhealthy behavior — and why you should keep trying

Researchers say successful change comes only in stages. How long it takes is an individual matter.

January is a time for New Year's resolutions, and many of us are thinking about changes we'd like to make in our lives. When it comes to health recommendations, we mostly know the drill: Exercise most days of the week; eat a varied and nutritious diet; keep your body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9; get enough sleep; keep up with medical screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar; get mammograms and Pap smears at recommended intervals; don't smoke; and limit alcohol to seven drinks a week. Reducing stress, improving relationships, and developing new interests or hobbies also contribute to healthy living.

Making healthy lifestyle changes affects not only our risk for disease and the way we feel today but also our health and ability to function independently in later life (see "Lifestyle factors reduce the need for nursing home care"). What we do for ourselves is often more important than what medicine can offer us. Yet making healthy changes is easier said than done. Even when we're strongly motivated, adopting a new, healthy habit — or breaking an old, bad one — can be terribly difficult.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »