Self-Affirmation Shown to Encourage Healthy Decisions

A study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shows that daily positive feelings and self-affirmation helps patients with chronic illnesses make better decisions about their health. This was the first large, randomized controlled trial of its kind to show that people can use these techniques to make and sustain behavioral changes.

Three year-long studies of 756 people in total were conducted simultaneously to test the effect of daily positive affects and self-affirmation on participants with coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and asthma, according to a press release. The participants were told to think about small things in their lives that made them happy, like sunsets, when they woke up in the morning and throughout the day. They were also told to use self-affirmation to help overcome obstacles during the day by recalling moments in their lives that made them proud, such as a graduation.

The participants were separated into a control group and an experimental group for each study. Both groups made personal contracts to adhere to their behavior plans, were given an educational guide on the importance of their intervention and received phone calls every 2 months to monitor progress. In addition, the experimental group received surprise gifts prior to the phone sessions to reinforce the intervention.

The researchers found that 55% of patients with coronary artery disease in the experimental group increased their physical activity, compared with 37% of those in the control group. In the blood pressure study, 42% of the experimental group adhered to their medication plan, compared with only 36% in the control group. There was no difference in energy expenditure between the groups in the asthma study, but there was some benefit for patients who required medical care during the study.

“This simple approach gives patients the tools that help them fulfill their promise to themselves that they will do what’s needed for their health,” Dr. Mary Charlson, lead author and the executive director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, stated in the release. “For example, if it’s raining and they don’t feel like exercising, these strategies can help them get past this mental block and into their sneakers.”

This study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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