Are you sure you need that second piece of pie? Guilt as a lifestyle motivator

Staying motivated to lead a more healthful life can be difficult, what with fattening foods, television and laziness always tripping people up. But there may be another way to keep us on the right track: guilt.

Used for centuries by parents to keep their children in line, researchers wondered how guilt would factor in to inspiring people to stick to a more wholesome lifestyle. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine surveyed 100 male and female cardiology outpatients on their feelings about guilt, which was defined as "a negative feeling linked to a particular action and is viewed as separate from the individual; in other words, someone can see themselves as a good person who has done a bad action." Got that?

Here's what they found: Most study participants -- 65% -- said guilt supplied motivation to make lifestyle changes. This was linked with having children. Can't imagine why.

Among those surveyed, 66% had had a major cardiovascular event, and 21% of those people said they had feelings of guilt associated with their health. Half wished they had taken better care of themselves, but had no guilty feelings.

Those who had a religious affiliation were more apt to say that health practitioners should routinely tackle guilt. But only 22% of those in the study said that a health professional had pulled the guilt card to try to encourage them to make changes in their lifestyle.

Other motivators mentioned by the study participants included responsibility to their families, responsibility to themselves, and the desire to prove oneself.

"When counseling cardiovascular patients about lifestyle, practitioners should consider addressing guilt as both a motivation for, and a barrier to, lifestyle change, particularly in patients with religious backgrounds," the authors wrote. They added that health professionals might want to look into other ways to motivate people.

The study was presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting this week in New Orleans.

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