Culture and Society

How can we convince people to change unhealthy habits?
Answered by Dr. Mehmet Oz
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz

    Dr. Mehmet Oz

  1. Dr. Mehmet Oz Cardiac surgeon and host, The Dr. Oz Show


    I've spent much of my adult life trying to talk to folks about health in a way that changes how they act, that motivates them to change their lives based on what they've just learned. It took me a while, but I finally figured out, with the help of a lot of smart people, like Oprah, who I spent 10 years with roughly at Oprah University -- that's more time than I spent in med school and college, by the way -- learning a little bit about how people change their minds.

    And the reality is people don't change what they do based on what they know. They change what they do based on how they feel. And so as a physician, when I'm talking to a patient and I'm emphasizing that your cholesterol LD level is over 100, which I know is a predictor of heart disease, and why don't you change that, that's one way of going at it. The other one is to say, "Look at the woman next to you. Do you think she loves you? Because she seems to; she brought you here. What would her life be like if you weren't there? Something as simple as managing your blood pressure or your cholesterol level, or your diet, you know, your blood sugar number, will dramatically change the number of years of viable life you'll have with her -- an existence that you will now give up because you're not willing to take some of these things seriously." Now they might want to talk about their cholesterol levels, but the conversation takes a very different timbre, it has a very deep resonating element to it if you can connect emotionally.

    And the reason that I always try to get people to support each other in this battle towards wellness is because ultimately that's how we've always survived as a species. And we can even look at the importance of social webs and networks to support us through our times of hardship.

    Take bankruptcy, which is in my mind a big health problem in America for a lot of people because it strips away about seven years of your predicted life expectancy. Think about that. And the number one causes of bankruptcy are health illnesses, so they feed each other. But that seven-year number, which is a pretty daunting figure, is reduced to less than a year if you've got a strong fabric of social support around you. So we have the ability to weather the storm and to do so much more if we're able to support each other.

    But in addition, it gets us emotionally connected into the end. So if you're trying to lose weight, taking your sneakers and training with a partner so you cannot walk without him coming or her coming is a nice way of getting both of you to walk every day.

    More answers from Dr. Mehmet Oz »

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