Employee Tip - Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles
Though each of the members we serve at Mainstream Living have wide-ranging goals and needs, a common theme with many of our members is the need for support with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking, and losing weight often come up as either formal or informal goals for the members we serve. Below are some tips on how to motivate people to pursue a healthier lifestyle, and how to hold them accountable as a staff member.
Initiate the Conversation:
Don’t expect members to always have their health on their minds, or to necessarily know whether or not they are making positive choices. Part of our job is to help remind people to pursue their goals. Depending on the situation, this could be asking someone if they want to take a walk or go to the gym, prompting somebody to make a shopping list consisting of healthy foods, or giving gentle encouragement to make a healthy choice when someone is tempted to make an unhealthy one. Whatever prompts someone might need, it is important to be persistent, and to hold people accountable for sticking with their goals, even if they have struggled to make healthy choices in the past.
Look for Small Commitments:
Getting healthier does not happen overnight, and it does not require huge steps right off the bat. Taking the example of weight loss, you can ask a member to go for a ten minute walk with you. Ten minutes of light exercise will not lead to significant weight loss, but it may be a first step. Oftentimes, a member will want to continue with the good feelings he or she has gotten from ten minutes of exercise, and will ask to exercise for longer. A member may even begin to take initiative themselves, upon experiencing the psychological benefits of exercise.
There are a variety of ways to live a healthy lifestyle, and it is important that we as staff consider an individual’s preferences. For instance, a certain diet may have worked wonders for you, but it may consist of foods someone else does not like. Offer alternatives, and let members try a number of different approaches until they find something they like. The same thing goes for exercise too. Some people love team sports outside, while others prefer running alone on a treadmill in the gym. Ask the member to choose what they want, and always keep it open to trying different approaches.
As with anyone who is trying to make a lifestyle change, there will always be days when members make unhealthy choices, or deviate from their plans. For instance, someone who is trying to quit smoking may cave in and have a cigarette. Rather than focusing on one failure, reframe the situation to celebrate all of the success that person has had, and encourage them to continue towards a goal. Talk about the good feelings that came with time without smoking, rather than focusing on the negative. Find creative ways to visually track results. Charts or posters can go a long way in keeping somebody motivated and on track.
A great deal of members who have come to Mainstream have discovered and maintained healthier lifestyles. People have lost weight, quit smoking, and overcome medical issues. As a direct support professional, you have a lot of clout when it comes to helping a member with their health. It is one of the biggest ways that we can make a positive impact in the lives of those we serve.