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Is it a Bad Idea to Change Your Diet and Exercise Routine at the Same Time?

You may think "baby steps" is a smarter strategy, but a new study shows you can overhaul your life all at once.

During New Year’s and springtime, you're struck with the overwhelming urge to make changes in your life—big changes like overhauling your workout regimen, cleaning up your eating habits, and making lifestyle tweaks to kick-start a healthier, happier life. But are you destined to fail by tackling such a huge undertaking all at once? 

According to new research from the University of California, Santa Barbara, you're actually not. You’re fully capable of making multiple, simultaneous life changes—and succeeding in them all.

In the study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 31 college students were recruited to take part in an intensive lifestyle change program. Fifteen participated in the intervention and 16 were in the control group. For the intervention group, participants completed 2.5 hours of physical exercise like yoga and Pilates, 1 hour of mindfulness practice, and 1.5 hours of lecture, discussing topics on sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and more. In total, these participants put in 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for 6 weeks. They were also encouraged to limit their alcohol consumption to one drink a day, eat a diet consisting mostly of whole foods, and sleep 8-10 hours a day.

Over the course of the study, participants were tested on their physical fitness, working memory capacity, reading comprehension, and more. Plus, their cholesterol and triglyceride (fat found in the blood) levels were measured, as well as their range of cognitive functions.

Turns out we’ve been underestimating our ability to change our lives for the better. Participants showed significant improvements in over a dozen different mental and physical functions such as: strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardized test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness, and life satisfaction.

And the benefits extended beyond training. Without any support or contact, participants maintained significant improvements at the six-week follow up.

Why were these physical and mental changes so successful? 

"Recent research suggests it's often more effective to make two or more changes simultaneously, especially when those changes reinforce one another,” study author Michael Mrazek said in a press release. “It's easier to drink less coffee if at the same time you get more sleep. Our intervention extended this logic by helping people make progress in many ways, which can create an upward spiral where one success supports the next," he adds.

So the next time you feel too overwhelmed to make some positive life changes, think of this study. It’s very possible to improve multiple dimensions of your life, simultaneously, once you think beyond your self-perceived "limits." 

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