Weekly Tips & Insights

What motivates people to get healthier?

Updated: May 21

Most people have a general idea of what makes for a healthy lifestyle—eating healthy and staying active. It’s rarely a lack of knowledge that keeps us from choosing a salad over French fries, but a lack of motivation. So what ultimately motivates people to try to live healthier?

A study published in 2015, “When Do Gain-Framed Health Messages Work Better Than Fear Appeals?” from the journal Nutrition Reviews found that while the health community often uses negative messages to push people into a healthy lifestyle out of fear, most people respond better to positive messages about the benefits of living healthy. Giving someone positive motivation or the benefits of a healthy lifestyle makes them more likely to act on that behavior. For example, telling people that eating more vegetables will prevent a heart attack is a better tactic than saying you will die of a cardiovascular disease if you don’t eat vegetables. Positive messages motivate most people when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle.

Dr. Srini Pillay of Harvard Medical School explains further that it’s also important to look at what kinds of rewards you’re working toward. He refers to two kinds of rewards: hedonia and eudaimonia. Hedonia rewards are “superficial pleasures such as weight loss, looking good and acceptance by others,” while eudaimonia rewards are focused on long-term wellness and lifestyle. It’s the eudaimonia rewards, or rewards that give your healthy behaviors a sense of meaning, that will keep you motivated over a longer period of time. For most people, working out for better heart health will keep you at the gym longer than exercising simply to look fit.