How Mondays Can Save Your Life

The most dreaded day of the week is actually an opportunity to rewrite your bad habits.

September 20, 2010

Don't like Mondays? Make them work for you.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The next time you come down with a case of the Mondays, consider that it could be the start of something meaningful—one of 52 chances you get every year to set a goal you can accomplish by the end of the week. That was the thinking behind the Healthy Monday public health initiative, founded in 2005 as a collaborative effort between the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The goal of the initiative is to end preventable chronic diseases by designating Monday as the day to start and sustain healthy habits. The initiative's most successful campaign to date has been "Meatless Mondays," a day on which people eat no meat, both for individual health reasons and for environmental reasons (meat production is a leading contributor to global climate change). Meatless Mondays have made their way into corporate cafeterias across the country, including here at Rodale's headquarters, as well as school districts and restaurants run by the likes of Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck.

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Since then, the collaborators have launched other Monday campaigns, including Move It Monday, the Monday Mile, Monday 2000 (a day to stick to your recommended daily calorie intake), Quit and Stay Quit Monday (a day to stop smoking or manage your quitting efforts) and Man-Up Monday (a day meant to educate young men about getting checked for HIV and STDs). Monday Campaign founder and chairman Sid Lerner and president Peggy Neu sat down with Rodale.com to talk about their campaigns, why Mondays are so successful, and how easy it is to make every Monday healthy.

Rodale.com: How did the whole idea of "Healthy Mondays" come about?

Sid Lerner: In 2003, I was invited to speak at an environmental health conference, and at the time, it wasn't obesity and diabetes that were making headlines. The main headlines were cholesterol and saturated fat, and these were things that people could change. They weren't related to genetics and chromosomes. And around that time, the FDA and USDA had determined that Americans were eating 15 percent more meat in our diets than we need. After some quick basic math, I determined that 15 percent is three out of 21 meals a week. If we just knocked off one day a week without eating meat, we'd be within the healthy range. So I reached back to my Boy Scout days and remembered that during World War II, the president had Meatless Mondays to save more meat for the troops. If you just cut meat out of Mondays, you'd cut out the fat.

As a campaign, the idea just took off. Then we came up with Move It Monday (which is designed to get people to be active on Mondays) and the Monday Mile (devoting 30 minutes or so on Mondays to walk a mile). So what started off as a singular day for cutting out meat and cholesterol turned out to be a good nudge day for other behavioral changes. Just like religions take the Sabbath to refurbish people's faiths every week, there's an opportunity to get back on track with healthy behaviors.

Rodale.com: Why do you think these campaigns have been so popular?

Peggy Neu: It's just a simple, memorable idea. When people say "go meatless on Monday," it's a very small, specific step. Some of the problems we're facing today, like climate change and obesity, can be so overwhelming that people just don't know where to start. But saying something simple as "Cut out meat once a week" or "Have a healthy Monday to reset your health intentions" is a very easy, incremental way to stay on track.

Rodale.com: Why Monday?

Neu: When you tell people about our Monday campaigns, people's reaction is, "That makes sense." It's intuitively obvious. When you look at the calendar, the week is the only part that's manmade; it doesn't depend on lunar cycles or seasons. And the week is an actual unit of time that's critical in shaping the attitudes of human life. We did some research with Johns Hopkins University and looked at the significance of each day of the week and found that the vast majority of us really also see Monday as a day for a fresh start and new beginning. We also did one survey asking what day people are most likely to do things like start a diet or an exercise program, schedule a doctor's appointment, or quit smoking. Overwhelmingly, people said that Monday is the day to do that. It's a naturally occurring mindset and behavior, and we want to try to reinforce that with people so they can really use Monday to reboot and press the "Restart" button.

Lerner: Friday's payday, Saturday's play day, and Sunday's pray day. We wanted to play on that, so we're trying to make Monday the "all health breaks loose" day.

Neu: Monday is also a good day to just get back on track. The "Monday 2000" idea came about because of that. We found that people are really just eating too much, particularly on the weekend. And most are not aware of the recommended calorie intake, which is 2,000. By setting aside a day to eat just 2,000 calories, you can get people to be more aware of that and get a sense of what a real day's worth of calories should be.

Rodale.com: You all have received a lot of press and success with your Meatless Monday campaign, with the Baltimore City Schools adopting the program and celebrity chefs featuring Meatless Monday dishes in their restaurants. Have you had as much success with your other Monday campaigns?

Neu: One of our biggest successes has been in northern Kentucky. Northern Kentucky University has had a Healthy Monday program on campus for a number of years, and just this last year took it into the community. It's been so successful that they're looking at bringing it across the river to Cincinnati.

What they did, and we think this is a good model, is they got different organizations in the community that are involved with health—the department of health, the mayor, schools in the area—to basically designate Monday as health day. They instituted Meatless Mondays in all the schools, and Monday Miles are marked out throughout the community. They've published motivational tips on a website and in the local newspapers, so there's this sense in the whole community to do something healthy on Monday. We're hoping to really spread that idea in different communities in the U.S., just as a way that people can feel connected to friends, family, and coworkers by collectively doing something healthy.

Our big focus has been on schools, workplaces—where people are gathering as a group. That provides an opportunity to deliver motivating messages, in terms of a specific time and place. People can join together to do things, like go for a Monday Mile. It’s a social connector.

Lerner: Birds of a feather flock together. If you can work with a community, it's reinforcing and encouraging to engage in healthy behaviors and make changes, as opposed to being all by yourself with your good intentions. We also think that Monday could be a behavioral antibiotic to protect against diseases and to build a coalition of millions of people out there with the same problems as you.

Rodale.com: What are some of the other Monday campaigns you have in the works?

Neu: People have come up with so many great ideas for how Monday can be applied. For a while we were working with a wellness company that was focusing on weight management, and they came up with the idea of Measure Up Monday. In weight management, weigh-ins are so important, so they wanted people either getting weighed or checking their biometric screenings.

Lerner: We started out in 2003 with Meatless Monday. And now we've now got the credibility based on that to push our Monday Mile and Restock Monday (a day devoted to checking and refilling prescriptions) campaigns. A really promising one is Kids Cook Monday, having families focus on one night of the week to cook together. Studies show that kids who eat with their families are 40 percent less likely to develop addictive behaviors or become abusers of drugs. And being involved with prep of food teaches kids where food comes from, that it's not just something that comes in a box with a toy in it.

We also found out that 65 million Americans are caregivers. There are a lot of folks involved with taking care of disabled family members or aging parents, and they don't regularly take care of themselves. Caregivers Monday is way for them to take care of themselves, or else they'll wind up unable to give care properly.

Neu: There are certain increased healthy risks in caregivers, and costs in terms of insurance go up because of that. There's really this unknown, silent majority struggling with these issues, and we think the Monday campaign is a great way to unite them.

Rodale.com: Have you tried getting Michelle Obama interested in your Kids Cook Monday campaign?

Lerner: We have, in various ways. We just completed an initiative in the Washington, DC, schools and took advantage of her Let's Move idea and called it Let's Move It Monday. We definitely want the White House behind Kids Cook Monday, even possibly with her daughters. She's done so much with the garden at the White House that we think Kids Cook Monday could really take off.

To learn more about the Healthy Monday campaigns, visit www.healthymonday.org.