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‘Not everyone has health goals top of mind’

Doctors can fix a lot, but preventing or delaying disease is better. This often requires lifestyle changes, which turn out to be difficult. Sandra van Dijk (Leiden University) and Valentijn Visch (TU Delft) are researching how to help people change their behaviour and what role e-health can play in this.

People often find it difficult to start living a healthier life, even if they know they have an increased risk of serious diseases. Why is that?

Stress and mental health play a big role in this,’ says Sandra van Dijk, a health psychologist from Leiden University. ‘We know that about 30 per cent of people with chronic conditions suffer from anxiety and depression, and these make it difficult to live healthier lives. So it is important to look wider than at health alone. If someone has mould on the walls or financial problems, it probably doesn’t make much sense to only talk about lifestyle adjustments. We know after all that stress makes people more focused on short-term rewards.’

Valentijn Visch, who researches Design for health motivation at TU Delft: 'I regularly see people for whom everyday life is already a huge struggle. They have very little energy left to worry about possible future health problems. It just doesn't tell them that they have a better chance of a healthy old age if they stop smoking now. Especially in vulnerable neighbourhoods, motivation for behavioural change is therefore often low.'

And healthy behaviour is never rewarding in the short term?

That it can give you more years of good health is something you usually only experience in the longer term. Moreover, physical health is only one element of well-being. We perhaps assume a little too easily that everyone has health goals top of mind. In a lifestyle intervention with migrants, for instance, we discovered that it was important for them to practise relaxation in at all their group meetings.’

This is a publication from the white paper 'Healthy Society: towards a healthy society', published by Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities and Medical Delta. Click here to download the paper.

Read the full article in the LDE magazine. Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities is a collaboration of three Zuid-Holland universities.

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