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A Little Cash, a Lot of Changes continued...

About 86% of participants who were interviewed at the end of the entire study said they tried to maintain healthy changes once they had made them.

"The implication is that we paid these people enough money to make large changes," says researcher Bonnie Spring, PhD. She is a professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "I think, in part, the money caused them to surprise themselves, and when we took away the financial incentive, they still tried to keep it up."

The healthy habits with the greatest staying power were eating more fruits and vegetables and decreasing inactive time, the study shows. "The cutting down of TV watching predicted the drop in fat calories," says Spring. "There is a hand-to-mouth pattern like eating popcorn at the movies."

There's an App for That

You don't need to take part in an organized study to reap these benefits, Spring says. "Just because someone else isn't offering you an incentive doesn't mean you can't arrange one," she says.

Reward yourself for making healthy changes or losing weight.

Also, Spring says, it wasn't the coach or coaching as much as it was the keeping track and perception of support. "This can be accomplished by writing down what you eat and/or your physical activity."

William Riley, PhD, wrote an accompanying editorial. He is a clinical psychologist and program director for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in Bethesda, Md.

There are certain habits that are more easily changed than others, he says. "Increasing fruit and vegetables and reducing sedentary activity are relatively easier than some of the other targets."

The money helped, too. "The role of an incentive was useful and changed behavior quickly," Riley says.

It is also relatively simple for individuals to monitor and track their own behaviors. "There are many apps on smart phones that can track diet and exercise," he tells WebMD. "Self-monitoring even without an established program can monitor how many fruits or vegetables a person eats or the amount of time they spend sitting in one place, and provide feedback."

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