6 Ways to Build Lasting Healthy Habits

Train your mind and body to implement healthy habits that will last.

Starting on a path toward healthy habits is often easier than maintaining them long term. This year, build healthy habits that stick by working small, positive steps into your daily life.

In fact, healthy habits are the first suggested treatment strategy for people whose blood pressure and cholesterol levels are creeping higher than normal, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement.

These six ideas can help.

Bust Common Habit-Building Myths. One myth is getting healthy means doing things you don’t like. Research shows positive emotions make habits stick, so set your intentions on something you enjoy. Another misconception is big results require big changes. However, the simpler the routine is, the more likely it is to become habit.

Work with Your “Brain Loops.” Your brain creates “loops” for habits made up of three things: a cue, a routine and a reward. Each time the loop is repeated, it becomes more routine and may become automatic. Knowing this, you can design cues for developing new, healthy habits, such as setting walking shoes by the bed to start a walking habit. The routine is putting on the shoes and walking around the block, and the reward is the pleasant sensations and brighter mood from a morning stroll.

Create Cues That Work for You. Most successful health habits begin with a cue. The cue can be external in your environment or internal in terms of your mindset. Hacking your brain’s reminder system can help you remember your cue. Some examples of visual cues are placing a sticky note where you’ll see it often, keeping a water bottle on your desk or refrigerating fresh veggies at eye level.

Build a Routine That Supports Your Goals. Positive and consistent habits are important to achieve your personal goals. Small habits done consistently can add up to big results. For example, if one of your goals is improving your heart health, a meaningful habit might be to move more. Even small initial increases of 5-10 minutes a day can yield health benefits.

Use Rewards to Make Habits Stick. Start by choosing a habit you enjoy that’s rewarding by itself. If you’re more of a dancer than runner, increase your physical activity with an upbeat dance class. Get more fruits and veggies by sipping on a delicious smoothie.

Understand Resets are Part of the Process. New habits are experiments. If they don’t stick, you haven’t failed. Instead, you’ve learned what doesn’t work. Ask yourself which part of the habit didn’t work. Maybe the cue was ineffective. Maybe the steps of the routine were too ambitious. If you realize you don’t enjoy the habit, stop it and try something else.

Find more ideas on healthy habits at heart.org/habits.

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