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How to Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes Stick

Life hacks for doing the right thing with consistency

The Surprising Way to Make Healthy Changes Stick

Ray Hsu/Getty Images

Financial incentives can help you reach your health goals.

Lifestyle changes aren’t easy. Whether simple (daily flossing) or complex (losing 100 pounds), knowing the right thing to do is only a small part of the equation. Actually doing it consistently? That’s what’s tricky.

Many of us have heard all the tricks before on how to make healthy habits stick, whether it’s hiring a personal trainer, parking at the far end of the lot, or downloading apps to send us health reminders. But here’s one you might not have thought of: Break out a calculator, and figure out how much money you’ll earn by making the change.

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At a crude level, most of us have tried this, maybe tallying how much money we’d save in a year by giving up smoking or that extra-frothy calorie bomb from Starbucks. That’s nice, says Eric Brotman, a certified financial planner based in Timonium, Maryland, but short-sighted.

Take the smoking example. “It’s not just the cost of the cigarettes that you save. You can rework the cost of all your insurances, including long-term care. All things being equal, smokers typically pay double what non-smokers do. And smokers typically miss more time at work, so there’s earnings to factor in, as well.”

Because both healthy changes and being better with money usually require “forgoing an instant and immediate gratification,” he says, “it makes sense to consider them together, at least occasionally to increase your motivation.”

A few ways to find financial incentives for your healthy goals:

Promise yourself a cash reward.
A study from Northwestern University paid participants $175 to participate in a three-week program. (Groups were instructed to make such healthy changes as eating more produce, increasing formal exercise, or reducing time spent watching TV.) Not only did this method increase the likelihood of making the changes, 86% of people stuck with them after the study. Another study found financial incentives to exercise more affected behavior for up to six months.

Fine yourself if you break your word. Groups like Promise or Pay offer motivation by penalizing you if you don’t follow through on a change, and since the money goes to a charity you select—“I promise to go to the gym three times a week this month, or pay $400 to UNICEF,” for example—it’s a win-win. The group’s founders say the idea is based on research that shows the chance of achieving a healthy goal rises by 33% when shared with other people, and by 72% when you put money on the line.

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Cost out a healthier food budget. Research from Harvard University has found that typically, eating healthy costs about $1.50 more per day, or $550 per year. It doesn’t have to be that way. “Replacing high-fat ingredients with healthier low-cost eating options can trim the waistline and the grocery bill,” says Brotman. Start with produce (which the U.S. Department of Agriculture says accounts for about 40% of a household food budget), choosing the most affordable fresh fruits and vegetables (potatoes, lettuce, eggplant, cooking greens, summer squash, carrots, tomatillos, watermelon, bananas, apples, pears, pineapple and peaches).

For those who need more help, Life Reimagined has put together Break Through What Blocks You program for you to learn how to achieve your goals and overcome obstacles.