Besides older age, one of the biggest risk factors for severe disease and death from COVID-19 is obesity. The good news is that modest weight loss—even 10 pounds—can improve insulin resistance and inflammation and strengthen the body’s defenses against COVID-19. But during this stressful time, many have struggled to maintain healthy routines.
“We’ve been mourning the goals we once had, but we can look at what is achievable while dealing with limitations in our lives,” says Brigham psychologist Abby Altman, PhD.
To help patients get back on track with goals or set new ones, Altman urges them to feed their minds frequently with positive reinforcement. Rather than focusing on the larger objective, Altman says, patients should pat themselves on the back more often and celebrate small successes, whether it’s showing up for an appointment or checking off steps they have taken.
Altman uses a technique called motivational interviewing to encourage patients to share ideas. The premise is that instead of care providers telling patients what to do, they ask patients for their thoughts and goals. For example, rather than telling a patient to walk 150 minutes each week to improve their health, providers might ask the patient about their health priorities, what form of exercise they like best, and how many minutes a week seems doable to them.
While the pandemic has created uncertainty, Altman says focusing on small, attainable goals and thinking of big picture reasons for achieving those goals can be inspiring.
“If patients talk about the future, being present with their children, or having more mobility in their older years, this can be motivating,” she says. “What I love about my job is giving power to what people are saying.”