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First steps on the road to getting and staying healthy: how to begin

There are many reasons that people find it difficult to act on health advice and why health coaching, as a way of helping people find their own way to improve their health is becoming more common. We are very sensibly and frequently told in so many places and ways, that to be healthy, we must not smoke and should maintain a heathy weight, do the right amount and type of exercise, eat and drink healthily and reduce stress. This is important, we know, to avoid getting chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Despite that, putting all of this into practice consistently, or even at all, can be difficult for many of us and the reasons for that are complicated. 

First of all, health advice can be hard to understand and inconsistent because it comes from so many places, both within health and from other sources. Broad messages can be tricky to relate and apply to our specific situation. Also, we might need to learn something to be able to put the advice into practice, like how to read food labels for example (and don’t forget your glasses if you need them, they are small!), or how to cook differently. For many people the monetary and/or the personal cost of making the changes without help can put them out of reach, as can their level of health-related knowledge, or health literacy (Beauchamp et. Al, 2015).

Secondly, in relation to our behaviours, none of us exist in a vacuum, instead we are all part of systems. This means that we each impact and are impacted by other people and contexts all the time. These systems can be relationships, family, social, work and community networks. They will have influenced how we think, what we believe, what is normal for us and what we do and don’t do. This has been happening since we were born and continues and evolves through our lives (Prevention Centre, 2014). 

Thirdly, for change to be successful, it has to be something we want to do and are ready for. It is made up of stages and processes that include thinking about it, deciding you want to do it, planning for it and giving it a go. Sometimes this process works the first time, sometimes not. Successful change tends not to be a straight line upwards, but is often more like a series of steps, some big, others tiny.  Some of them will be going backwards before they go forwards again (ACI, 2020; Prochange, 2020). 

I have learned that with any kind of health improvement change, support and help from family, friends, co-workers and/or professionals is important. Also, small and incremental changes over time can make a big difference. I have learned this from reading research and talking to other health care workers, from co-designing health promotion strategies with patients (lots of wisdom there) and from hours of individual health coaching with clients/patients around health improvement and wellbeing. And by small changes, I mean things like, changing what you know about your health, or food or exercise by learning something, by changing what you eat for breakfast on Tuesdays or what snack you swap on Fridays. Changing how much you move compared to last week and throw in maybe a 2 minutes breathing exercise in the shower.

Now I’m not suggesting that we all go and do any, or all of these things because the things you do need to mean something to you and where you are headed with your health. Which brings me to my final message. For change to be successful (in anything, not only health), there are three things to consider. Where you are now, your current reality. Where you want to be, by when and finally and most importantly why (by that I mean what will the change give you?). When you know all of that, assuming you are ready for change, all you have to do is work out which small change will start you on your way. When you have consistently mastered that, decide and begin the next one.

References

ACI (2020). Consumer enablement Guide. Available:  https://www.aci.health.nsw.gov.au/resources/chronic-care/consumer-enablement/guide/how-to-support-enablement/motivational-interviewing

Beauchamp, Alison, Buchbinder, Rachelle, Dodson, Sarity, Batterham, Roy W, Elsworth, Gerald R, McPhee, Crystal, Sparkes, Louise, Hawkins, Melanie, & Osborne, Richard H. (2015). Distribution of health literacy strengths and weaknesses across socio-demographic groups: a cross-sectional survey using the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ). BMC Public Health15(1), 678. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-015-2056-z

Prevention Centre (2014). What is systems thinking and how does it apply to prevention in tappc? Available: https://preventioncentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Systems-thinking-paper1.pdf

Prochange (2020) The Transtheoretical Model, Available: https://www.prochange.com/transtheoretical-model-of-behavior-changeReport this

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