Healthy changes in midlife that stick

A state of flux: 4.5 steps for implementing healthy changes and making them stick

On your journey through midlife, you’re going to have to put in place healthy lifestyle changes to prevent chronic disease. (You shouldn’t really have waited until your forties or fifties to do it, but everyone has a different journey, and it’s better to do it late than never at all.) Implementing healthy changes to your lifestyle and making them stick is obviously good for you.

The bad news for midlifers looking to switch up their lifestyle: real, lasting change is hard. The great news is that while finding the willpower can be tough, it can be learned. 

According to a poll by the American Psychiatric Association, the top three roadblocks to making changes stick are:

  1. Not having enough willpower
  2. Trying to make substantial changes without support
  3. Too much stress from trying to implement change

For these reasons, less than 20% of adults in the poll reported being successful at putting healthy changes in place. Yikes. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let Team Vippi walk you through the most sustainable ways to implement healthy changes.

Step 1: Ask WHY you are making these changes? Find your reason.

This is what 145 days of change looks like – beard and all.

Everyone has a reason to get healthier. We don’t just mean the general “well, it just feels better and you can do more.” That still applies, but your reason for wanting to implement a specific change should be deeply personal.

For example, don’t just set your target as “bring my resting heart rate down.” You might feel your heart beating if you concentrate on it, but you can’t see it, and it beats without you asking it to. That won’t motivate you to stay healthy, even though it’s a great goal to have in your sights.

“I want to avoid a stroke like my mom/dad/best friend and stay mobile enough to play with my grandkids.” Now that’s a “why”. 

You have to relate to your mission emotionally and psychologically. That’s how you’ll stick to it – and every step you take between here and your goal will stem from that “why”.

Step 2: Ask WHERE you are on your journey of change

Before you even try to start hitting goals and targets, you have to know where you stand. Did Michael Jordan ever hit a 3-pointer without knowing where he was positioned on the court? Of course not.

Unlike shooting hoops, though, there is no “right” place to be when it comes to the changes you want to make. You are where you are in your change process. While you can guide it in the right direction, forcing it won’t make those changes last. When you’re ready, you’ll progress to the next stage – but no-one’s judging.

The stages of change are as follows:

  • Precontemplation: You know you need to make some healthy changes, but aren’t really thinking about starting yet. (And that’s fine – acknowledging the need for change is the birth of a healthier you.)
  • Contemplation: You’re having conversations about the change you want to make and asking questions, but you aren’t making solid plans for change yet. Again, this is a healthy place to be. Research will help you construct your plans for change on strong foundations.
  • Preparation: You’re actively laying down plans, targets, and timescales to implement your change. You’re very much approaching the base of the mountain at this point. Preparation is a vital change that makes it far more likely that you’ll set realistic goals for yourself and make your changes last.
  • Action: You get stuck in. You try for change, and you fail sometimes. You don’t quite make it to 2 miles on your first run, and you beat yourself up. You consider giving up. But then you give it one more try and hit that target. Then you move your target a little higher – and the cycle continues.
  • Maintenance: You keep going and get inspired to make even more healthy changes moving forward. Once you’ve shown yourself that you can smash one goal, you’ll feel confident about approaching more audacious ones that could yield even more of a health benefit.

Knowing your standing in the stages of change, can help you avoid pointless self-punishment and stay motivated.

Step 3: Set goals you can reach.

Your changes should be ones that reflect your “why” – weight loss to get yourself out of the prediabetes blood sugar level range, or quitting smoking because a friend died of cancer. 

The aim is well-intentioned – but the goals themselves need to have five traits that make them achievable. When you reach them, you can always set more! You can never be too healthy, and you should never stop making conscious decisions to grow, learn, and adapt to the changing landscape of your life.

Your goals shouldn’t be insanely ambitious. A slow levelling up is the way to make sure these changes become part of your lifestyle for good. Make sure your goals are:

  1. Specific. Being too vague won’t help you make changes stick. “I’m going to get healthier” means you could go for three runs and then pack it in. At the same time, it may also mean you frequently beat yourself down despite doing great work because you aren’t recognizing your victories when you achieve them. Example: I will smoke one less cigarette a day until I am no longer smoking every day.
  2. Measurable. You have to be able to track your progress and know when you’ve hit your target. Example: I will do 20 push-ups a day for the whole month of June. 
  3. Achievable. At best, setting unattainable goals risks wrecking your motivation. At worst, they could lead to nutrient deficiencies during a crash diet or injuries while over-exercising. Your body isn’t what it was 20 years ago – so work within your limits. Example: Okay, I will do 5 push-ups a day and work my way up to 10 after 2 weeks.
  4. Realistic. If you find change difficult, work with the changes you can make rather than those you feel you should make for now. You should be confident in achieving your goal. Then, when you start knocking down health goals left, right, and center, because you’re allowing yourself to hit realistic benchmarks, you can use that confidence to springboard to bolder challenges.
  5. Fixed. Set yourself a time frame within which to hit these goals and specific times to work towards those goals. Example: “I will cut down my red meat consumption to only dinnertime on Sunday, and within 4 weeks, I will switch that red meat to white meat.” Give yourself a dedicated half hour or hour every week to check in with yourself, either by going through a fitness journal, food log, or even just meditating awhile to feel how you feel.

Learn to forgive relapses and missed targets

Making healthy changes that stick

They happen. You won’t get it right all the time. If you keep punishing yourself for missing your target one week or slipping back into old habits, you might end up surrendering completely. A small hiccup is better than an abandoned mission.You’re implementing all of these changes with a view to self-love, so be kind to yourself in the process.

Step 4: Crush your goals: Practical steps for cementing change

You’ve laid the groundwork, but the real work is ahead of you. Change is slow and tough, especially in midlife when a thousand responsibilities every week can stand in the way.

There are self-checks and measures you can take along the path to give yourself the best chance of hanging on to the fruits of your labor.

  1. Always remember your “why”. To achieve this, some people build a motivation board with pictures of their ideal body type, or a picture of their family (because better health means more time with the people they love). Whatever your end game, find a way to keep your “why” at the forefront of every step you take toward healthy change.
  2. Plan and prepare. Don’t go into any kind of change without planning the steps you’re going to take, writing down your goals, and setting a timetable. Visualise everything, whether it’s on a pinboard, whiteboard, or a journal. If you know where you’re going and you’ve got a map, it becomes much easier to get there.
  3. Don’t overshoot – start small and manageable. You might’ve had a recent health-related wake-up call or may simply be full of beans about your health after watching a documentary, but don’t just jump in with the loftiest goals imaginable. Change is about sustainability, not immediate impact. One meta-analysis of 29 weight studies found that within 5 years, 80% of the total weight lost by participants across all of the studies was regained. Long-term change is very tricky to keep up.
  4. Keep track of your journey. The joy of trying to implement change in the 21st century is the prominence of wearable tech and apps that can track everything for you. Food journal apps can help you monitor what you eat and count calories for you. Fitness trackers can monitor your runs, times, and even your heartbeat without your input. A whole range of apps can tell you how much money you saved and which parts of your body have recovered since you quit smoking. Smart scales can upload your weight loss data to an app on your phone, showing you graphs of your progress. It’s never been easier to watch yourself win.
  5. Celebrate your wins: You’re doing it! They’re not just numbers on a page or app – your progress is winning you extra months with your family, extra years of active living, and a colossal confidence boost. Make sure you take the time to reward yourself and celebrate.
  6. Keep tabs on your anxiety and how you feel about the process. It won’t always be easy, but don’t just dismiss those feelings. It’s important to confront the uncomfortable moments along your journey. It’ll feel that much more satisfying when you beat them – and it’s only by acknowledging them now that you’ll know how your willpower confronts those moments in future when they try calling you away from your healthy choice.
  7. See a life coach. Having someone outside of your own bubble who holds you accountable for growth and supports you in your mission (while also providing actionable, personalized advice) can be invaluable if you’re trying to change. Seeing a life coach doesn’t mean you suck at life the same way football players with a professional coach don’t suck at football. It’s just an investment in yourself.
  8. Make your “why” something you mention to health pros. Make your overriding mission something you bring up at every health checkup and physician’s appointment you attend, as well as mentioning it to any personal trainers and mental health/wellness practitioners you see. This can help you unify your advice under one umbrella based on what you hope to achieve and make it more actionable and consistent.

Step 4.5: Forget the carrot and stick – use money to motivate yourself.

Money is neither the be-all and end-all nor the root of all happiness. What it does, however, is provide access to some of the fun treats that add color to your life.

You’ll be shocked at how money can help you when it comes to lasting change. You can hold and touch money. You can also see it rise and fall on a screen. This makes it a helpful representation of the impact of your health change. “Be active for my family” is a powerful “why”, but hard to measure. Money can help you paint that picture.

  1. Figure out how much money you’ll save by making the change. This might seem weird for health stuff. But think of the treat you can get yourself by saving cigarette money from the tobacco itself, your health/life insurance premiums (which are higher for smokers), and long-term care from smoking related health issues. Put that amount in savings every month and go on a long-sought-after trip or buy yourself that TV you’ve been eyeing up (or, y’know, maybe a Peloton). 
  2. Fine yourself if you fall short of your target: You can eat that extra meat dish before your cheat day if you want. But that’s $100 to your local animal shelter every time you do. Not only will this enforce the changes in your life, but it will also make the world a better place if you relapse.
  3. Work out fun ways to cut food costs and eat well. It’s a common misconception that a balanced diet has to be a super expensive one. Head down to your local market and load up on veggies and fruits while bartering down the price. See about weekly food subscriptions that might suit you – whether it’s full meals, smoothie delivery services, or veg boxes, there’s likely a subscription that can help you manage a healthy eating budget.

The roundup

It all seems a little too good to be true – try your best, go easy on yourself, and set goals that mean something to you. But the effects this philosophy can have are very real. Midlife is going to throw challenges at you, and healthy changes are going to help you prepare for them.

You’re in a new world now – one that values self-betterment and progress. You’ve got limitless user-friendly tools, apps, and gadgets at your disposal. And you’ve got a ton of reasons to motivate yourself and bring positive change to you and the people you care for.

Don’t think in terms of “new year, new me”. Think more along the lines of “next 40 years, healthier family” and you can’t really go wrong.

We’re rooting for you.

Article resources

American Psychiatric Association. (2012). The key to making lasting lifestyle and behavioral changes: Is it will or skill? 

Beabout, L. (2021). How to get your health back on track with a food journal. 

Burton, E. (2020). 5 smoothie delivery services that make mornings easier. 

Harvard Medical School. (2014). The trick to real and lasting lifestyle changes. 

Hall, K. D., et al. (2019). Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. 

How to make lifestyle changes stick. (2021). 

Jewell, T. (2020). The best quit smoking apps of 2020. 

Link, R. (2020). The 6 best vegetarian meal delivery services of 2021. 

Link, R. (2021). The 10 best fitness trackers for 2021. 

Mahoney, S. (2016). How to make healthy lifestyle changes stick. 

Schwecherl, L. (2020). 13 subscription boxes that bring health foods to you. 

Taylor, M. (2021). Don’t weigh me down: The 10 best smart scales.