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Weekly Tips & Insights

What motivates people to get healthier?

Updated: May 21, 2021

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.

So what does this look like if you want to make long lasting changes to your lifestyle? According to the Mayo Clinic you should start by setting up goals that are appealing to you and that you would enjoy doing. Find the fruits and vegetables that you like and make them a more regular part of your diet. Don’t enjoy running? Try cycling or a boxing class to get in your daily workout. And find your inner motivation. Really dig deep to figure out what’s pushing you to live a healthier lifestyle—find your personal Eudaimonia reward. Tap into that motivation and remind yourself on a regular basis why you want to make wellness a more important part of your life.

Additionally, encourages people to start by making simple daily changes and be patient with the outcome. Change takes time and effort. You won’t lose 10 pounds in a day or get more active instantly. Start slow and keeping pushing yourself to achieve more challenging goals. You can set your own pace for a healthier lifestyle.

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