4 Keys to Cultivating Healthier Lifestyles

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Changing Behaviors

David Hunnicutt, the President of WELCOA, did an Expert Interview with Dr. Michael O’Donnell, who has directly managed three workplace health promotion programs over a 10-year span and helped 60 other employers design and manage programs. He is founder and Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Health Promotion, and founder and Chairman of the Art and Science of Health Promotion Conference. He also created AMSO, a new way to think about behavior change.

AMSO stands for Awareness, Motivation, Skills and Opportunities. He developed the model based on his “30-year quest to figure out what works best in health promotion”. This included a benchmark study and information from 15 years worth of applications for the Koop Award, for companies that have produced the best health costs savings programs. Most of the data was gathered from workplace settings, so the model applies best to organizations.

1. Awareness

Understanding the link between lifestyle choices and health conditions and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle is the basis of health promotion. Awareness mobilizes group support. HRA, screenings, health fairs and Lunch & Learns are great examples of awareness tools. The most impactful wellness programs use these tools to help create a culture of health within an organization.

2. Motivation

A well designed wellness program will meet a person’s readiness to change. Motivation should include developing goals to achieve their passions, not just focusing on their health risks. An important part of this component is tailoring programs to meet people exactly where they are in their health journey. Extrinsic motivators, like financial incentives, are great motivators for getting people started with a wellness program, but don’t produce lasting behavior change. Intrinsic motivators, like feeling good about yourself and having more energy, are what creates change. Dr. O’Donnell suggests using financial and other extrinsic incentives to engage people, but shift to intrinsic incentives to produce lasting behavior change.

3. Skills

Skill building is more than just knowing why you should change, “it includes the how, where, when, with whom, and the “what-ifs”. The key here is to integrate these new changes into one’s life. One of the most important components of skill building is goal setting, which actually doubles success rates. There are 3 types of goals: aspiration goals, learning goals and performance goals. The performance goals are what produce improved health. Readiness to change is also important, as skill building programs are best for people who are ready for a change.

4. Opportunities

This is the most important component of change. Opportunity is having access to an environment that cultivates healthy lifestyle choices. For example, at the policy level this might include a smoke-free workplace or having healthy foods in the break room. Work culture plays a big role here: if the workplace emphasizes being physically active, not smoking and eating healthy, then employees are likely to engage in healthier behaviors. It is much harder to cultivate a healthy lifestyle without the support of a healthy work environment!

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