Improve Your Health – One Self-Care Behavior at a Time

One of my yearly medical student classes I teach is helping our future physicians practice improving their own health, one self-care behavior at a time.

You may be surprised to know that health care professionals can also struggle to fit in time for exercise, plan healthier meals into a busy day, take time to de-stress or get enough hours of restful sleep.

By following a structured plan, students learn how to identify specific health behaviors for change, set goals, establish a practical and achievable course of action, and perform self-monitoring.

Examples of target behaviors may include not exercising regularly, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, eating too many sweets or fast food, not getting enough hours of sleep or feeling uncomfortably stressed.

If you are trying to achieve a healthier lifestyle, doing a focused behavior change plan for yourself can also be quite instructive.

Here are some tips to guide you:

1-Identify one targeted behavior you want to change, which may involve your sleep, stress, diet or exercise.

2-Monitor current patterns of behavior, such as hours of sleep, frequency of daily fruit or vegetable servings consumed, minutes of weekly exercise, or level of perceived stress using a 5-point scale.

Note behavior frequency, conditions or feelings if pertinent. Be sure that the measurement approach you choose is adequately capturing the data that is most important for the targeted         behavior.

3-Do some research online about the target behavior, including healthy lifestyle recommendations or guidelines using internet sites. See resources below for more information.

4-Based on your baseline data, set a specific personal goal, including what, when, where and how. For example, “I will walk briskly 2 days weekly (Tues and Fri), for 30 minutes” or “I will add a fruit or vegetable to 2 of my daily meals” or “I will stop looking at social media for 1 hour before bed and do a 5-minute meditation app instead to de-stress at the end of the day.”

5.Monitor your change plan for 2 weeks and track your progress using a journal or recording the occurrence of the new behavior, slips, high-risk situations for relapse, and feelings.

If your goal is too difficult, dial it back so that it is more practical and achievable. On the other hand, if you underestimated what you can achieve, set a higher goal that is more ambitious. Spend the next 2 weeks monitoring the changes you made.

Resources to help you track your diet or physical activity as a way to self-monitor include websites or apps like the USDA choosemyplate, myfitnesspal, loseit or fitbit.

If you want to improve your sleep, check out the National Sleep Foundation for information on sleep hygiene techniques.

For better stress management, view the American Psychological Association’s website resources on coping with stress.

One self-care behavior change at a time, we can all achieve better health.


Robert Kushner, MD

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