WELLNESS
02/18/2014 08:44 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2014

Why You Make The Best Health Decisions When You're Feeling At Your Worst

Sam Edwards via Getty Images

Feeling tired and run down could actually present the perfect conditions for making healthy choices, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Northwestern University and Erasmus University found that people are more likely to make healthy choices or seek protective or preventive medical care when they are feeling depleted.

In their study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the researchers conducted several experiments to examine "self-protective motivation."

In one of the experiments, study participants read a message about the benefits of early detection for kidney disease, the dangers of the disease, and the family history risks with regard to the disease. The researchers took note of which study participants felt depleted, and also asked them afterward about how likely they were to get tested for kidney disease (for purposes of early detection).

For people who actually had a family history of kidney disease, researchers found that feelings of depletion were associated with being more likely to opt for getting tested, compared with people who felt healthy.

In another experiment, researchers wanted to see how feeling physically depleted affected healthy behaviors by having study participants exercise in a gym. The participants were randomly assigned to take a questionnaire about their health habits either before or after working out -- as a thank you for answering the survey, they would receive a gift of either moisturizer or sunblock (where sunblock represents the choice emphasizing safety). Researchers found that people who answered the survey and picked their gift after working out were more likely to choose the sunblock over the moisturizer.

We may also be more likely to choose the healthy option when we're stressed. A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that when we're stressed and act mindlessly, we are more likely to resort to our preprogrammed habits -- including healthy habits that we've already made part of our routines.

"Habits persist even when we're tired and don't have the energy to exert self-control," study researcher Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, said in a statement.

CONVERSATIONS