Instead of appeals with tricks for a healthy lifestyle

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Study: Using small tricks instead of appeals to help lead a healthy lifestyle

Well-meaning advice or impending health consequences do not seem to help to change the diet or to exercise regularly. Although the sometimes serious consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle are known, convenience often stands in the way. British researchers have found out how people can still be motivated to live a healthy lifestyle.

Outsmarting comfort and leading a healthy lifestyle According to Theresa Marteau from Cambridge University and her team, people change their behavior when it is made easy for them. If the salad bar is at the back of the room, the way is too far for many people and they prefer sweet desserts that are nearby. Comfort and habit regularly prevail in everyday life, while reason has to be at the back.

As the researchers report in the overview article in the scientific journal Science, advice and appeals for a healthy lifestyle are of little help. "These approaches are often ineffective, which is consistent with the observation that human behavior is automatically - influenced by environmental stimuli - reflected in actions that are largely not accompanied by conscious reflection," write Marteau and her team. It is more effective to place the salad bar nearby and the stairs within reach, in contrast to the elevator. This leads to a change in lifestyle as advice and admonitions. The reason lies in the type of decision-making, since people would make fewer decisions for rational reasons but much more frequently out of habit or convenience.

Switching off one of several elevators, for example, led to more people taking the stairs. The situation was similar when the elevator doors closed more slowly. Such interventions can change the automated behavior. The researchers also report that people who drank tall, narrow glasses compared to wide glasses with the same volume would have drunk less. The salad bar nearby was also more attractive than the desserts further back.

Habits often prevent healthy lifestyles. Human behavior is determined daily by two types of decision-making. On the one hand there are "rational reasons, on the other hand there are habits or unconscious preferences on the basis of which decisions are made". Although the rational decision leads to the goal more quickly, the habitual action often outweighs the fact that it works faster and more easily, without further considerations. "You don't always have to think to find your way home," the researchers write.

In this way, the behavior can be controlled and can also be used in relation to health, for example when smoking cessation or lack of exercise. There is a constant conflict between what is actually desired, the healthy lifestyle, and the immediate reward such as laziness or chocolate. "It doesn't help to appeal to the rational side," said the researchers. Behavioral research has already shown that. It is much more effective to "ease the external conditions so that new healthy habits can emerge".

According to researchers, there are countless possibilities for this. In this way, healthy products could be made more appealing and better placed in the supermarket or the canteen. The architecture of office buildings can also be chosen so that more movement is encouraged during breaks. In the area of ​​health care, there should be fewer warnings and more conditions should be created that create subtle incentives for healthy living. (ag)

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