Adopting a healthy lifestyle: How to stay motivated long term

May 2023

Up to 40% of premature deaths in the developed world can be attributed to our behaviours— from smoking to poor diet to a lack of exercise—our choices in our everyday lives impact our health. When we change our behaviours and lifestyle, we take an essential step towards improving our life quality and length. 

Making lifestyle changes for the betterment of your health is an admirable goal. Whether you are changing your eating and exercise habits or taking a more active role in your mental well-being, these changes take time and motivation

The easy part is saying, “I’m going to completely cut out processed foods and exercise four times a week.” The tricky part is the follow-through. Research has shown that it is difficult for adults to stick to the behavioural changes needed to maintain things like weight loss long-term. 

So, what can you do to increase your motivation and make changes that will last a lifetime? Let’s look at six tips to help you stay inspired and motivated to live your healthiest life.

Set SMART goals

Setting goals is a great way to track your progress and keep you motivated to continue working towards the changes you want to make. Whether you are trying to exercise more, add more plant-based foods to your diet, or make more time for self-care, SMART goals are designed to be achieved. When you reach a goal, you are motivated to continue working toward improving your overall health.

So, what are SMART goals, and why should you use them? SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely and are considered to be easier to reach than vague, unrealistic, and unattainable goals.

SMART goals give you an extra boost of motivation to help you achieve your goals. Best of all, SMART goals can be used by anyone, anywhere, without any specialized training or tools. And science has backed the use of SMART goals—one study found that implementing SMART goals can help people improve their health through “lifestyle medicine prescriptions” for things like diet and exercise. 

Let’s take a look at a SMART goal in action: 

I’ll spend more time exercising and less time watching Netflix by going for evening walks twice a week and will complete a total of 25 kilometres a month for the next six months.


  • Specific: I want to walk 25 kilometres a month instead of watching Netflix.
  • Measurable: I have set a weekly step goal of 8,800, and 25 kilometres a month for the next six months.
  • Achievable: I enjoy walking and have everything I need to do this at my disposal.
  • Relevant: By walking, I will start to improve my overall health.
  • Time-bound: I’ll start this week and so this for six months and evaluate as I go

You can learn more about SMART goals and how to set them in How SMART goal setting can help you achieve your goals.

Have a “why”

When you start to make these changes and set your goals, ask yourself why you are invested in making these changes. Understanding your underlying motivation can help you maintain long-term motivation. 

Much like a SMART goal, get as specific as possible with your why. For example, if you are looking to make these changes to improve your health, dig deeper. Ask yourself why you want to improve your health—what benefits are you hoping to gain that will impact your life?

Your why should be personal to you. You will bring this to mind whenever you are struggling—it needs to be meaningful to you.

Make the changes a part of your daily life

Humans are creatures of habit, so it is essential to incorporate the changes into your daily life. What does this mean? It means fitting lifestyle changes and goals into your life in a reasonable way that takes into account how you live.

A great way to do this is by making small, incremental changes in your life. Instead of completely cutting out processed foods, commit to removing one item or processed meal from your weekly diet. Instead of vowing to hit the gym four times a week, start walking once a week after dinner. 

It’s all about making changes you can maintain—and when you start to make these smaller changes, you’ll begin to see a snowball effect. Suddenly your weekly walk turns into a nightly routine, and you can’t remember the last time you picked up a bag of chips at the grocery store. 

Get an accountability buddy

You don’t have to go on this road alone. One of the most powerful ways to stay motivated is to find a person or group to keep you accountable to your lifestyle changes. This can be someone at a similar place in their journey or someone who is farther along—you can either go on the journey together or have someone who models how these changes will positively impact your life.

Having a partner or a group of people who can text you to go for a walk, check in to see if you made it to your latest doctor appointment, or cheer you on can help keep you motivated throughout your journey.

Reward yourself

Making positive changes to your health is a great reason to reward yourself! And when you know you are working towards a reward, you can keep yourself motivated to reach your next goal.

You’ll want to ensure that your rewards align with your goals—so instead of going out for a celebratory dinner when you run 5 km for the first time, think about picking up a new pair of running shoes!

At Manulife, we envisioned a program that rewards people simply for making healthy choices. And that is how Manulife Vitality came to be.

Manulife Vitality is a program that helps you understand your health and motivates you to keep reaching your goals. It’s simple, when you make healthy choices, you get rewarded! 

Learn more about Manulife Vitality and how it can help motivate you to live healthier every day.

Go easy on yourself

When you experience setbacks when implementing your chosen lifestyle shifts, it’s important not to be hard on yourself. Life is going to happen—you may get busy, get sick, and feel burnt out. And that is okay. Give yourself time, grace, and permission to hit pause. 

The critical thing to remember is that you can always get back on track. A couple of days or weeks where your goals are at the back of your mind doesn’t negate the hard work you’ve put in up to that point.

When you’re ready, get back into it. Adjust your goals if you need and revisit this list to give yourself a motivational boost!

Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.

Related articles