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  • Using the Web to Whip Bad Habits
    For health and peace of mind
    by Tim Connolly
    The Web offers a storehouse of useful information on changing your life for the better. Whether you want to quit smoking, eat healthier, or exercise more, an online search turns up a wealth of wisdom for making positive changes:

    1. Define your goals, then commit to them. "People who acknowledge that they need to make a change in their life are more likely to achieve that change than those individuals who think that they may, or may not, have a problem," says Dr. Jeffrey Wilkins, Director of Addiction Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "By defining your specific behavior goals, you can begin tailoring your activities and attitudes accordingly."

    2. Don't go it alone. Share your goals with people who will encourage you. Find a friend or colleague who wants to kick the same habit; then support each other to make it happen. Professional support groups offer a ready-made system to help you get there.

    3. Establish a realistic timeline. Track your progress with a diary or calendar that lays out a realistic amount of time to eliminate your bad habit. If you're guzzling five cups of coffee every morning but want to get off the caffeine rollercoaster, try one less cup per week for a month. Your first milestone will be 90 days of the target behavior.

    4. Add desirable behaviors. By replacing bad habits with positive ones, such as exercise, meditation, time with family and friends, healthier foods and activities, you are less likely to relapse into old ways (or create new bad habits).

    5. Cut yourself some slack, but not too much. Just because you sneak a piece of cheesecake, that's no reason to abandon your goals and pig out in a fit of the aforementioned shame spiral. Allow for a moment's weakness (or two), but set limits; forgive yourself and keep moving toward your goals.

    6. Reward yourself! Acknowledge every "baby-step" you take in kicking a bad habit. Let friends, family, and co-workers cheer you on. Treat yourself to a movie or a new CD for every week of success; then give yourself a big reward after maintaining your target behavior for 90 days.

    Help with Quitting Smoking:

    Nicotine Anonymous: This non-profit, worldwide organization "offers group support and recovery using the 12 Steps as adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous to achieve abstinence from nicotine." With contributions from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society, this site is a comprehensive resource for butting out, including an online cessation guide, local and state telephone "quitlines," and publications available for download or mail order. Provides smoking cessation and other health-related information from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a national medical organization representing more than 93,700 family physicians, family practice residents, and medical students.

    Help with Eating Healthier:

    Food Reflections: This free monthly email newsletter from the University of Nebraska delivers a lively mix of healthy recipes, up-to-the-minute nutrition information, food safety tips, and a lot more straight to your inbox. The world-renowned clinic offers expert insights on how to separate real hunger pangs from those generated by anxiety, boredom, or habit—and how to counteract them.

    Eat Smart. Play Hard. Healthy LifestyleTM: Created by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, this site combines information on quick-and-easy steps to healthy eating with tips on how to increase physical activity for an overall healthier lifestyle.

    Help with Exercising:

    Tips to Help You Get Active: Here's another helpful health site from Uncle Sam (your taxes don't all go to the Pentagon), offering tips on overcoming barriers and finding ways to integrate exercise into your daily life. A printable (PDF format) booklet lets you take these valuable tips with you.

    American Heart Association, Exercise and Fitness: Get tips on how to make exercise part of your workday (hint: take the stairs), how to create an exercise program that fits your life, as well as learn about a unique program for women to "incorporate healthy habits...without creating new routines that take a lot of time or money."

    The John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition: Provided by Tufts University, this page has links to subjects ranging from "Selecting a fitness video" to "Strength Gain, No Pain." Now that's my kind of workout! To get more health news and information, click Health in the Search Categories section of your EarthLink start page.