Building Habits

Tiny Change, Big Reward

Keeping both your brain and body healthy is the best strategy to reduce your risk or delay the onset of dementia. But if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, exercise more, or learn a new language, you know that making huge changes to your lifestyle is so much easier said than done.

Here’s the thing: Habit science says that the bigger change a person tries to make, the less likely they are to follow through with it.

For example, one small study of diet changes for people with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes) tried different dietary approaches across groups. One group was encouraged to change their diets to reduce saturated fat and increase fiber. A second group was simply asked to increase their daily fiber intake. At the end of the study, weight loss and reduction of saturated fat were about the same in each group. Yet, people in the fiber group reported that the dietary change was easier to incorporate into their lives and they were better able to stick to the plan.

The moral of the story? Changing everything all at once is hard. Choose a small, achievable goal and you’re likely to see big results.


  • Merriam, P. A., Persuitte, G., Olendzki, B. C., Schneider, K., Pagoto, S. L., Palken, J. L., Ma, Y. (2012). Dietary Intervention Targeting Increased Fiber Consumption for Metabolic Syndrome. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(5), 621–623. doi:
  • Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?(2018). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved February 18, 2020
  • Olendzki, B. C., Ma, Y., Schneider, K. L., Merriam, P., Culver, A. L., Ockene, I. S., & Pagoto, S. (2009). A simple dietary message to improve dietary quality: Results from a pilot investigation. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 25(7–8), 736–744.

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