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How can I set and achieve goals to improve my heart health?
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How can I set and achieve goals to improve my heart health?

Question of the month blog

Your behaviours, the actions that you take every day, can help to have a positive impact on your heart health. 

Read over these questions, and think about your answers and steps you can take towards taking better care of your heart: 

  • Are you being active enough? 
  • Is your diet good for your heart? 
  • Do you take the right dose of your medications at the right time? 
  • Are you smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol? 
  • Do you know your blood pressure and cholesterol and how to manage them?
  • Have you seen your GP for a heart health check? 

Whether it’s in the lead up to a new year or a milestone birthday, after a holiday or in response to a change in your health, many people decide: It’s time to do something about my heart health! 

Sometimes, we announce this to our family and friends. Otherwise, we might just start pounding the pavement, eliminating junk foods from our pantries, or we could join the gym. 

These are all great things to do for your heart but, when you take this “just do it” approach, there are many things that can get in the way: 

  • Your motivation could run out of puff 
  • You may find it hard to give up on temptations like junk foods 
  • Your social life, family life or work life becomes too hectic 
  • You don’t see “instant progress”, so you give up 

This happens all too often.  Think about the beginning of this year: maybe you started off in January with a goal to “get healthier”. But, by March, you found yourself facing a monthly direct debit even after you had stopped going to the gym. 

How can I set goals and develop long term habits to improve my heart health? 

If goals are the first step towards behaviour change, habits are the key. 

Let’s begin by taking a deeper look at how setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely goals can help you achieve better heart health. We’re talking about SMART goals: 

  • Specific to give yourself the best shot at success, set a heart health goal that is specific. Instead of saying, “I want to eat healthier foods”, set a goal that goes like this: “I will eat oily fish for dinner three times each week”. As an alternative to saying, “I need to get fitter so that my heart is healthier”, set a goal that is crystal clear: “I will walk for 30 minutes every day”.  
  • Measurable each of the goals mentioned above are so specific that progress towards achieving them can be measured. By keeping track of how you are advancing, you will see your results in real-time. This helps you to build momentum and encourages you to keep going. 
  • Achievable maybe you have heard of the concept of “Couch to 5K”? The idea came from a young runner who wanted to motivate his mum to get active. The core of the idea is that you begin by running for one minute, and you build up from there. Most of us can go for a one-minute run. Plus, it’s a lot easier, more achievable and more realistic than going from the couch to instantly running a marathon. 
  • Relevant your goal should be relevant to you and your point in life. This relates back to the idea of keeping things achievable. Don’t commit to cooking healthy dinners each night if you typically come home from work late. Remember that your heart health goals are yours; don’t try to achieve them by following someone else’s cooking plan or exercise regime. 
  • Timely Set a timeline by which you want to achieve your goals. If you want to quit smoking, for example, set a specific date. Having a timeline gives you greater motivation to achieve your goals and develop new, heart-healthy habits. 

What are some tips for sticking to my heart health goals?   

We all know that setting goals and sticking with them can be challenging. When you don’t see quick improvements or if you find it challenging to keep motivated, that’s OK; don’t look at this as a failure. Instead, see it as a chance to review your heart health goals to make sure they are realistic and achievable. 

Reach out to a friend or someone in your family for support; it helps to have a “goal buddy”, someone who knows what you are working towards. Your goal buddy can help you stay motivated and keep on track. 

If you find it hard to stick with your heart health goals, you are not alone. Even world-famous comedians can face an uphill battle when it comes to setting and achieving goals. That’s why Jerry Seinfeld developed his unique method to stay focused on writing jokes. While your heart health is no laughing matter, you can also bring this approach to developing and sticking to heart-healthy habits. His method is called “Don’t Break The Chain”. 

Here’s how Don’t Break The Chain works: 

  • Choose your goal. Let’s say that yours is to walk 5 kilometres every day. 
  •  Put a calendar on your wall. Stick a large format calendar on a wall in your bedroom, lounge, study or kitchen. You could also use a calendar app on your phone if that works better for you. 
  • X marks the spot. On each day that you achieve your goal, mark the day with a red ‘X’, or write ‘Done’ in your calendar app. 
  • Commit to the ‘X’. Feel the reward, experience the sense of achievement, when you mark the X on your calendar. Every time you do this, you are one day closer to achieving your goals. 
  • Don’t Break The Chain. You will feel so empowered each time you mark the X, each time you create a new link in the chain, that you won’t want to break the chain: you will just keep going. 

After a few weeks of following this method, you will have set, and met, your goal of working towards better heart health. Plus, you will be more likely to stick to it. Please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter to let us know how you go! 

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