When learning to break unhealthy habits, Dr. Brian Bettencourt, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said it’s important to understand the process it takes to initiate change.

“Change takes practice,” he said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

According to Dr. Bettencourt, who serves as a sports medicine family physician, the top health vows for American adults this year were to lose weight, quit smoking, and exercise more.

He said the best ways to lose weight involve caloric restriction, exercise, and behavior modifications that allow a person to maintain set goals.

“The first goal for any overweight individual is to prevent further weight gain,” Dr. Bettencourt said. “An initial weight loss goal of 5 to 7 percent of body weight is realistic for most individuals.”

Dr. Bettencourt recommends that a person participate in moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes for a minimum of five days a week. Exercise decreases all cause mortality, improves function and cognition, and reduces stress and depression.

Food choices are also an integral part of weight loss. Dr. Bettencourt said the key to making meaningful changes in food choices is to start with simple goals such as avoiding fatty foods and choosing more plant-based foods. “Make a few simple dietary changes and stick with them,” he said. “Over time, add some new choices.”

Another top vow for Americans is to quit smoking, which Dr. Bettencourt said is one of the best choices you can make for your health.

According to Dr. Bettencourt, cigarette smoking causes more than 400,000 deaths each year in the United States alone and is also associated with osteoporosis, skin wrinkling, peptic ulcer disease, impotence, and pregnancy complications.

“Quitting will improve your health no matter how old you are and no matter how much you have smoked,” he said.

He emphasized that quitting smoking can lower your chances of dying from heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. It will also allow you to breathe easier and feel healthier.

For those trying to quit smoking, Dr. Bettencourt suggests starting an exercise regimen and staying away from people and places where smoking is common. “Social interaction is essential,” he said. “Recruit friends to quit smoking with you.”

When you get a craving for a cigarette, Dr. Bettencourt said to “ride the wave.”

“Cravings come in five-minute periods, or waves,” he said. “Learning to ride the wave of cravings and getting beyond it will make your cravings farther and farther apart.”

Want to quit smoking? Here’s how to start:

S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends, and the people around you that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate or plan ahead for difficulties you may face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes from your home, car, and work.
T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.

“Any kind of change is a commitment,” Dr. Bettencourt said. “Assume a long-term approach to meeting your goals and accept them as a lifestyle change. If you slip up, don’t give up.”

“Ultimately, you should do what’s best for you and your family,” he added. “A little bit of change can be fantastic.”

Dr. Bettencourt recently gave an overview of healthy habits at the January Med School Café lecture. To view the lecture in its entirety, click here.

For a good start on making healthy food choices, visit www.choosemyplate.gov. For more resources on how to quit smoking, click here.


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