How To Start New Heart Healthy Habits That Actually Stick

Blood pressure monitoring needs to become a habit that can survive the ups and downs of daily life. How do you make a habit that sticks?

You’ve decided to take an active role in managing your heart health. You are determined to take steps in the right direction. You know that tracking your blood pressure is where you should start. Now what?

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going

Make the Commitment to Track Daily Until it Becomes a Routine Habit

Tracking your blood pressure can have a clinically proven impact on your heart health. But tracking only works when you do it regularly. It needs to become a habit that can weather the ups and downs of daily life.Once you set a goal to make a new habit, it is important to understand what makes habits stick. It’s also helpful to know what doesn’t work. Fortunately, extensive behavioral research has revealed the following effective methods to develop and maintain new habits.Applying these to managing your blood pressure will improve your heart health and help make healthy living a painless part of your daily routine.

What’s The Process For Forming New Habits?

The creation of new habits begins with an overview of what the entire process will look like.

Consider, Prepare, Act, Maintain & Reward

This four-step process will help you establish the habits you want to form and remove barriers that might inhibit you from staying on track.

  • Consider – Decide what new habit you want to form. Jot down the reasons you want to develop this new habit. For example, it might be that you want to reduce your blood pressure enough so you can stop taking medications. Or you might want to increase your overall level of energy. Or maybe you want to make sure you are healthy and able to see your kids get married. Your motivations are personal and and only you can decide what things could really make a difference in your life if you managed your BP.
  • Prepare – Now jot down a list of 3-5 things that might get in the way of reaching your goal. Then come up with ideas to work around or push past these barriers. If “I don’t have time to check my blood pressure” is on your list, adjust your schedule or find a way to carve out the same time everyday. Set your alarm for just three minutes earlier. Reduce your time spent on Facebook by a few minutes each day. Do this planning for each reason you come up with that could get in your way checking your BP daily.
  • Act – Put your plan into action. Track your progress using an app with daily and weekly reports so you have some accountability to hold you to your new habit. Set up twice a day reminders to help make sure you remember to check.
  • Maintain & Reward – Once you’ve started on a healthy track, take steps to help you stay there. Set up rewards for staying on track. Hello Heart delivers motivational rewards and personal insights the more data you enter and the more regularly you track. But you can also reward yourself right after you record your BP. For example, hold off checking Facebook in the morning and only do it as a reward once you've checked your BP. You can also reward yourself by or simply saying out loud “Good work!”).

Making Healthy Habits Stick: Top 10 Tips and Tricks

Now that you have a good overview of the process, keep the following tips and tricks in mind.

DO:

  1. Start Small – It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in your life. But lasting change is the results of establishing small, simple, daily habits, not once–in–a–lifetime transformations. Rather than starting with a goal of reducing your blood pressure by 20 points, start with checking and recording your blood pressure every morning. Don’t try to make any changes to diet or exercise. Just record daily. Hello Heart can help you painlessly reach this goal.
  1. Use Triggers – A trigger is something that causes you to act. You do it right before whatever habit your are trying to establish. Soon you begin to associate the two so that activity one acts as a trigger for your desired habit behavior. For example, you could measure your blood pressure after you brush you teeth every morning and every night. Brushing your teeth becomes a trigger to remind you to take your blood pressure. You’ll often find that many good triggers are daily health habits like washing your face, drinking morning tea, brushing your teeth, etc. For example, “After brush my teeth, I take my blood pressure and record it.” Eventually you will begin to think of taking your blood pressure each time you brush your teeth.
Use triggers to form habits
  1. Do It Daily – Habits are much more likely to stick if you remain consistent. Performing your new habit every day will help establish the pattern in your brain. Doing something every few days makes the habit harder to lock in. Daily recordings of your blood pressure on your smartphone (iOS, Android) will keep you in the habit of managing your blood pressure and provide helpful records for your physician.
build habits daily
  1. Make it convenient - How can you make this new habit so easy to do that you can’t say no? The easier and more enjoyable a new habit is, the more likely you are to continue doing it. For example, plan to exercise at home if you know it’s hard for you to get to the gym. Or, to establish the habit of measuring your blood pressure daily, use an app that makes it incredibly easy. That’s how we’ve designed Hello Heart .
  1. Replace old with new – It’s true that “old habits die hard.” Starting a new habit is usually easier than stopping an old one. So, try doing both at once. Replace a bad old habit with a good new one. If you are a late-night snacker, try munching on an apple. Or, use your munchies as your trigger for blood pressure monitoring. Instead of reaching for junk food, make this your cue that it’s time to measure your blood pressure. Then eat your snacks.

DON’T:

  1. Don’t be hard on yourself – If you aren’t perfect with your new habit, it’s ok. Yes, it’s important to be consistent, but the occasional miss does not ruin your chances of success. You aren’t sent back to the drawing board. You can keep going from your current point. If you can learn from the situation, do so, and then move on. If you forget to take your blood pressure one day, simply do it the next day.
  1. Don’t give up - Take a scientific view of “setbacks.” If an experiment doesn’t have the desired outcome, then try again, making adjustments as needed. When speaking of his thousands of attempts to create the light bulb, Thomas Edison stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” For example, if you find that teeth brushing is not a good trigger, try something else. Keep trying until you find something that works for you.
  1. Don’t be unrealistic – Forming new habits takes time. The widespread myth is that new habits are formed in 21 days. In fact, on average, it takes 66 days. And, this can vary depending on the person and the circumstances. One study’s participants needed anywhere from 18 to 254 days to establish a new habit. So, if you haven’t reliably established a routine to measure and track your blood pressure daily, in just three weeks, that’s to be expected. Give yourself two to eight months to establish this routine.
  1. Don’t do it alone – Buddy up. Get some accountability and support. Maybe you know someone else who wants to (or needs to!) manage their blood pressure. Establish weekly “check-ins” with each other to see how your new habits are going. You could both download the Hello Heart app (iOS, Android) and even make it a competition, comparing “scores” for how frequently each of you are able to track BP weekly. Celebrate both small and large successes with friends, family or caregivers. If over the course of a week you track you blood pressure 7 times, 0r you exercise 15-30 min every day or eat a vegetable with every meal and snack, share it with someone (even email us!)
Don't build habits without social or app support
  1. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons – Do it for yourself. Guilt and hollow resolutions are not good habit-forming motivators. Structure your habits around your goals and things that will motivate you. Don’t focus on what you “should” do. Instead, focus on what you want to do. Do you want to stop taking blood pressure medication? Do you want to see your kids get married? Do you want to get out more? Then build a the blood pressure tracking habit around these motivators.

Forming The Best Heart-Healthy Habits

Once you know the best tips and tricks for forming new habits, what habits should you form? To reduce the risk of heart disease and increase healthy living, focus on these top.As you see success with one habit, you can gradually start adding in lifestyle changes in other areas.

  1. Monitor blood pressure – Daily monitoring is one of the most effective things you can do to manage your blood pressure. It keeps you aware of how you are doing and when there is a change (improvement or worsening). Tracking alone can reduce blood pressure by 9 or more points and significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. You can also download the free Hello Heart app (iOS, Android) to assist you in tracking your blood pressure. Follow the habit-forming tips above to make tracking with Hello Heart part of your daily routine.
When and how often should you take BP at home
  1. Take any prescribed BP medicationsStudies have shown that 25% of patients who have high blood pressure don’t take their medications properly. They either don’t take them at all or only part of the time. If you have been prescribed blood pressure medication, proper management of this is an important part of your overall heart health management. Follow the 10 tips discussed above to help yourself get in the habit of taking your meds regularly. Use Hello Heart medications reminders (iOS, Android) to help prompt you.
Chronotherapy BP medication scheduling
  1. Enhance your diet - Make small but steady changes to your diet. Cook for yourself and try to limit eating out. Plan meals ahead of time. For example, instead of focusing on cutting foods out, try to add more broccoli or beans to your diet. The vegetables add fiber, slow glucose metabolism and start replacing calories. Look for delicious heart-healthy recipes to add to your repertoire.
Broccoli with cheese recipe for high blood pressure
  1. Increase activity – To lower blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week. But for many of us, that's just not realistic. So start with baby steps. If you can’t sustain exercise for 30 minutes at a time, break the activity up into more manageable thirds. By exercising just 10 minutes at a time, you will still get the amount you need to see a change. Do it with a friend if possible to help keep the commitment going even when you feel tired or defeated.
follow up on social ties to reduce loneliness

THE GIST

  • Managing your blood pressure means forming healthy habits.
  • Lasting habits are performed daily and can take a few months to become routine.
  • Start small, use triggers, make it convenient, buddy up.
  • Form a unshakable habit of tracking your blood pressure daily before tackling any other lifestyle changes.