Being healthy is more than eating well. Here are some tips for handling “cluster behaviors” | Shareable stories

People who live a healthy lifestyle do more than manage their diet and make good food choices. They also tend to exercise regularly, control alcohol, don’t smoke and control their weight. In fact, research shows that these health behaviors tend to cluster together.

Clustering is a predominant pattern of health behaviors that affect disease risk. Positive clusters like those mentioned have a beneficial impact on both physical and mental health, and produce a synergistic effect. But, not all cluster behaviors are good.

Negative actions can also be clustered, which is why people who smoke tend to drink more, eat a poor diet and exercise less. Being aware of how certain behaviors cluster and interact can not only help improve your health, but can also have significant effects on your diet.

Understanding the behavior of your cluster

Grace Derocha, RD, a dietitian in private practice and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Detroit, Michigan, often sees these group behaviors in her practice. “On the downside, it could be that you went to bed too late the night before and then couldn’t wake up in the morning, so you missed your workout. Then you don’t have time for breakfast, and you don’t do the lunch,” says Derocha. “Or maybe you’ve had a stressful day and you have one drink, then one drink, it turns into two or three, then you go to bed, you’re dehydrated and you don’t sleep well. It becomes a cycle “.

On the other hand, creating positive habits and behaviors often starts with a simple change. “When you start exercising even a little, then it’s easier for you to drink more water. From there, maybe increase your exercise and start adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, then add ( (more) high-fiber foods, and you sleep better, too. You start treating your body right, so you feel better and want to do more,” notes Derocha. “It takes time, but that’s when the magic happens.”

Learn more about how healthy behaviors happen together.


Get moving

While sleep habits and stress management are certainly important, when it comes to improving your health and diet, studies show that the most influential and motivating factor is physical activity. Much data shows that regular exercise can help you control when and how much you eat, prevent weight gain, and reduce obesity, but several studies suggest that physical activity can also affect the type of food you eat.

Consider this American study published in the International Journal of Obesity that assessed dietary patterns using a diet questionnaire of more than 2,000 sedentary college students before and after a 15-week exercise intervention.

The 15-week program consisted of aerobic training three days per week. Despite being told not to change their dietary patterns, the researchers found that many participants began eating more nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and nuts, and less fried foods, soft drinks and snacks. In fact, the more they exercised, the healthier their diet.

Other research also shows that exercise motivates people to improve their diet. In fact, Derocha has seen this domino effect first hand. “People who start working out and want to see muscle definition or lose weight quickly find that diet makes a difference,” he says. “It’s about nurturing your body and being your best self.”

Being your best self, however, doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, consistency (repetition) and patience. It also means understanding what is important to you and what drives you, and also what is possible for you. Here are some other ways to keep up:

  • Be realistic. Food is part of our family traditions, cultures and social network. It often represents “love,” especially during the holidays. Enjoy eating and sharing meals with family and friends, but don’t overdo it. Track your portion sizes and stay hydrated, especially if you drink alcohol.
  • Make exchanges easy. Instead of reaching for a candy bar, try grabbing a handful of nuts or seeds. Choose fruit over a cookie, or consider making one vegetarian or vegan meal a week, instead of meat. At dinner, consider ordering from the non-alcoholic menu and skipping the alcoholic drink.
  • Match the messages. Are you thinking of changing both your diet and physical activity? Consider matching stocks. A meta-analysis study looking at health behavior research found that people are more likely to achieve their goal if the action is the same. For example, increasing exercise, fruit and vegetable intake is more effective than increasing exercise and decreasing fat intake.
  • Keep good company. Find a supportive friend or exercise partner to hold you accountable and help you through tough times. Health-conscious friends can be inspiring and motivating role models.
  • Give yourself a break. Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be an all or nothing deal. If you miss a workout or don’t eat right, do it next time. For example, if you eat a high-calorie, high-fat breakfast, don’t give up on the day, have a lighter lunch or dinner with grilled vegetables and salad.

bottom line

Living a healthy lifestyle is more than just changing your diet. Various health behaviors such as sleep patterns, physical activity and stress management play an important role. Understanding how these behaviors interact, influence and motivate you is key to your success. “Most people know what they should do,” says Derocha. “It’s just a matter of motivating them to want to do it and empowering them to apply the knowledge they already have.”


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