Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Helping Patients Practice Healthy Habits


Imagining a healthier lifestyle is the first step toward wellness. You can then help patients to make small changes to their daily routine.

Discussing what a healthier lifestyle might look like with your patient is the first step toward reaching wellness goals. Making this a reality requires hard work by both clinicians and patients. Sometimes patients have forgotten how to imagine a healthy future. Healthcare professionals can help patients by brainstorming ideas together. 


I’ve found that patients often want to live healthier lives but don’t always have the tools to achieve this. One thing I’ve found invaluable is slowly changing routines and habits. Small microchanges can create significant results when done repetitively. 


An excellent book on this subject is “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg. He highlights how focusing on a keystone habit can spark a chain reaction to help other good habits take hold. For example, a regular exercise routine can lead to a better diet and improved sleep. 


Clinicians can suggest patients start with a small habit like listening to a favorite workout playlist to support a new exercise routine. Healthcare professionals can also recommend that patients set exercise clothes out the night before. Make the new habit easy and manageable by starting with a 10-minute commitment to exercise. In a follow-up appointment, ask patients how they feel after exercise.  


Habit stacking is another approach to build on a routine that’s already in place, like brushing teeth. One can follow this with a new habit, like taking medication right after brushing teeth. I often use habit stacking when patients tell me they forget to take their medication.  


You can also work with patients to create an action plan called an implementation intention. You can focus on an activity describing where and when the activity will occur.

Finally, drawing on milestone birthdays can also help patients to envision a healthier future. Ask patients, “How do you want your health will look like at age (BLANK)?” Then discuss with patients how to reach this goal. By working together with your patients, you can help them make their health dreams a reality.  






This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.