Every year around this time, Carolina Woman publishes an article on how you can make changes to improve your well-being. The key to this lifestyle makeover, we always advise, is to take it easy. After all, experts have long warned against trying to get rid of too many bad habits at once.


Turns out, we might have been wrong! Incremental shifts may not be all they're cracked up to be.


A recent study shows that focusing on multiple issues, such as diet as well as stress reduction, may be a better route to enhanced wellness. Here's the probable reason: One improvement, such as sleeping better, intensifies the outcome of another, such as exercise.


The study, bearing the weighty moniker "Pushing the Limits: Cognitive, Affective, and Neural Plasticity Revealed by an Intensive Multifaceted Intervention," appeared in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. In it, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, sought to find out if it makes more sense to deal with all our negative behaviors at once.


"The limits of the human capacity for change may be much greater than we, as scientists, have given people credit for," says Michael Mrazek, the study's lead author and the director of research at the Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential at the university.


Here's how the research proceeded: College students underwent emotional, cognitive and physical tests as well as brain scans. Fifty percent of the subjects stuck with their daily routines; the remainder revamped theirs.


The transformation group kept detailed logs on their mood, sleep, exercise and diet. They listened to talks on staying well.


Every morning, they engaged in an hour of stretching, resistance training and balance exercises as well as an hour of mindfulness focus and stress reduction, including walks and meditation. Each afternoon, they worked out for 90 minutes. Twice a week, they participated in two bouts of endurance exercise.


After six weeks, all the subjects again took the tests they had been given at the start of the study. The no-changers showed zero difference.


But the changemakers had more strength, fitness and flexibility. They displayed superior results in thinking, focus and working memory. Their self-esteem was improved and they were calmer and happier.


These gains topped those of previous experiments in which the research subjects modified only a single behavior. And the progress endured. When these students were given tests six weeks after the conclusion of the study, they still scored much higher in every aspect than they had initially.


Exactly how did the alterations affect one another? For now, that's a question without an answer. Mrazek plans to dive deeper into this topic in experiments to come.