Everyone's a Health Nut on Monday

New research shows that people are more health-conscious at the start of each new week, so health advocates are encouraging everyone to harness the psychological power of Mondays.

Tradition suggests that January 1 is the perfect time to decide to improve your health. But our collective success rate there is grim: One survey found that only about 17 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions stick them out for more than one month. So when do we make behavior changes that really stick?

Research has shown that more people start diet and exercise regimes, quit smoking, and make doctors’ appointments on Mondays than any other day of the week. Now, a new analysis of online search queries show that health-related contemplations are also most likely to take place on a Monday.

The study, to be published early next week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that health-related Google queries peak on Monday and Tuesday. They then decline throughout the week before plunging on Saturday and rebounding again Monday.

"These findings show that healthy thinking and behavior is synced to the week, with Monday being the day we're most likely to start healthy," said Morgan Johnson, a co-author of the study. "This suggests that people see the new week much like a new beginning—a January 1st that happens every seven days."

Similar to the 24-hour circadian rhythm that serves as a natural "body clock," a 7-day cycle known as our circaseptan rhythm governs numerous biological functions. Monday spikes, in particular, have been associated with several cardiovascular events, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke, as well as infectious disease. Now, says, Johnson, it appears that Healthy considerations, follow the same kind of rhythm.

As part of the study, Johnson worked with researchers from San Diego State University, the Santa Fe Institute, and Johns Hopkins University to monitor queries from 2004 to 2012 for searches that included the word "healthy" or that were Google classified as "health-related" (e.g. healthy diet). Data showed that health-related queries on Monday and Tuesday were 3 percent greater than Wednesday, 15 percent greater than Thursday, 49 percent greater than Friday, 80 percent greater than Saturday and 29 percent greater than Sunday.

Johnson notes that the  "rhythms were unfailingly consistent" across the weeks and were not influenced by factors such as media reporting on health. Knowing that healthy considerations follow a week-long cycle "opens the door for more targeted and, ultimately more effective, health promotion," Johnson said.

An estimated $76.2 billion is spent annually on health promotion programs—money Johnson suggests could be better spent "if everyone were timing their health messages to days of the week when people were most open to hearing them."

That's precisely the idea behind the Monday Campaigns, a joint project of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications, where Johnson serves as research director. The Monday Campaigns' mission is simple: to make Monday the day we associate with healthy behaviors.

"Friday is payday. Saturday is play day. Sunday is pray day. We're trying to make Monday the 'all health breaks loose' day," said Sid Lerner, a former advertising executive who founded the Monday Campaigns.

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Aimee Swartz is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and The Scientist.

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