10 unhealthy habits that are worse for you than you thought
It’s not too late to reverse your worst habits (stopping smoking, drinking, over-eating and more) and immediately start living a happier, healthier life.
Snacking when you’re not hungry
Losing touch with your body’s natural hunger and satisfaction signals can lead to chronic overeating and unhealthy extra kilograms – which increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions. And if it’s junk foods you snack on, you’re also flooding your body with unhealthy ingredients. By paying attention to your hunger signals and switching to healthy snacks, you can boost nutrition, control cravings and avoid energy slumps. Your weight will fall to a healthier level, and you’ll replace unhealthy trans and saturated fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates and extra sodium with more nutritious fare.
How to fix it: Eat because you’re hungry – not because you’re stressed, bored, angry or sad. And finish eating when you feel just a little bit full, not stuffed. Avoid keeping unhealthy food in your home, or at least make sure you have more healthy foods like fresh fruits, veggies and nuts. Think low-fat versus fatty treats; whole-grain versus unhealthy carbs. And when you eat those healthy snacks, eat them as if they were a meal: on a plate, accompanied by a glass of water, with you sitting down at the table.
Spending too much time on the couch watching TV
The more TV you watch, the less physical activity you’re getting, increasing your odds of being overweight and developing type 2 diabetes. If television is replacing time you’d otherwise be spending engaged in a favourite hobby, visiting with friends or exercising your mind, you may also be speeding up memory loss. By committing to a healthy TV/activity balance, you can burn more calories, become more fit and reduce your odds for related health problems quickly. You’ll have a fitter body and more time for sleep, plus more energy, a better mood, sharper mind and more social connections.
How to fix it: Try to keep your TV time to a minimum of two hours a day, and make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of exercise. Get the best of both worlds by doing some light workouts, like walking in place or doing sit-ups, while you’re watching. Even doing some household chores, like vacuuming or doing laundry, during the commercials can add up to 20 minutes’ worth of calorie-burning time. Avoid snacking in front of the TV, which makes it far too easy to eat hundreds of calories’ worth of chips and barely realise it.
Overspending your way into debt
Money worries can have serious health consequences. In a Rutgers University telephone survey, responders said financial stress contributed to high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, headaches, digestion troubles, aches and pains, ulcers, excessive eating and drinking, and gaining or losing weight. Regaining a hold on your finances takes time, can be hard on your ego and your lifestyle, and requires you to be constantly vigilant, plus it’s all too easy to revert back to your old habits. But for those who succeed, and many do, the results are nothing short of amazing. You’ll feel more in control of your life with less stress and fewer worries.
How to fix it: There are many things you can do to gain control over your finances. Educate yourself on the basic rules and methods of personal finance – including credit cards, mortgages, budgeting and investing. Create and keep a budget, keeping track of how much money is coming in every month and how much you’re spending on essentials. Pay at least the minimum each month on your bills, to stay ahead of your expenses and prioritise paying more to the credit card with the highest interest rate. Automatic bill pay can ensure you’re never hit with late fees. And to be sure some of your paycheck gets automatically transferred to your savings account, set up recurrent monthly transfers via your employer’s payroll department or your own online banking.
Eating too much fast food
A steady diet of double cheeseburgers and fries washed down with an oversized soda or milkshake can lead to a growing waistline and the health problems like heart disease and diabetes that come with it. Trans fat, often found in fast food, raises triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, which increases inflammation and contributes to the build-up of fatty plaque in artery walls. The health benefits of making the switch to healthy food will be almost immediate and will have substantial lasting benefits.
How to fix it: Making a permanent lifestyle change won’t be easy at first. Fast food is super-convenient, inexpensive and, thanks to all that fat, salt and sugar, undeniably tasty. Start by cutting back a little each week and by buying less each time you go. For instance, replace the soda with a water or the fries with a salad. Avoid popping into a fast food joint out of habit or on a whim, especially when you really aren’t hungry or when it isn’t mealtime. Cook more at home. Preparing your own healthy meals will save you money. If inconvenience is a factor, don’t overlook healthier prepared meals from your local grocery store or sandwich shop.
Getting sunburned a few times every summer
If you love sunbathing or make an effort to maintain a golden-bronze tan, you’ve unwittingly contributed to the ageing of your skin. Sunbathing destroys the elastic fibres that keep skin looking firm and smooth, leading to earlier wrinkles, blotches, freckles and discolourations. More important, sunburns contribute significantly to cancers of the skin. If you’ve included trips to the tanning salon, that’s even worse. Despite what ads suggest, using tanning beds doesn’t build up a “safe” base tan. It actually raises your risk for skin cancer and wrinkles.
How to fix it: First of all, always wear a high SPF sunscreen if you’re going to be outdoors in the sun. Sticking to the shade and wearing a hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants during peak sunburn hours can also help keep your skin safe. Schedule an annual “mole check” by a dermatologist; the doctor will inspect your skin for any unusual changes. And keep your eyes on your skin yourself. Anything new that doesn’t look right to you should be checked by a doctor. Finally, if you can’t live without the bronzed look, you can get it without the cancer risk by using a self-tanner.
Behaviour that leaves you angry, worried or stressed
An unhappy lifestyle releases a cascade of stress hormones that increase your blood pressure and blood sugar, lower immunity, slow digestion and make you feel depressed and downright mean. Nature intended stress to be a short-lived fight-or-flight response to a threat, but modern life with chronic stressors can have far-reaching impact on your health, such as cravings for high-fat, sugary foods that increase your risk of being overweight. Both the ingredients in the bad food and the added weight increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
How to fix it: A regained sense of joy and control is worth its weight in gold, and the physical health benefits will be substantial as well. Next time you feel a stressful situation emerging, work hard at managing it and keeping your cool. Among the most proven stress-relief methods are yoga, meditation and deep breathing. Make the most of your downtime to enjoy a relaxing hobby and fully immerse yourself in it. Don’t be afraid to embrace your sense of fun, optimism and silliness every now and then. And finally, just as being less stressed can make you healthier, living a healthier lifestyle can decrease your stress levels and help you better manage stressful situations better.
Eating breakfast (or any meal) when you’re not hungry
The “rule” that you should never skip breakfast is just not true; it’s based on misinterpreted research and biased studies, says the New York Times. Almost all studies about breakfast show an association, they say, not causation. And many studies, based on self-reporting, fall prey to inherent biases and misuse of causal language.
How to fix it: Eat when you’re hungry; fast when you’re not. Intermittent fasting – voluntary abstinence from food and drink for a stretch of time each day – has received a lot of attention as of late. Research suggests that going without food for a certain length of time keeps blood sugar even, which boosts metabolism and can help the overweight shed kilos. Benefits include better glucose control and regulation of circadian rhythms (better sleep); all of these can help prevent diabetes.
Drinking too much alcohol
If you drink too much on a regular basis, alcohol can be a poison. Women who regularly consume two or more drinks a day and men who regularly down three or more daily are at higher risk for liver damage, various cancers including those of the liver and mouth, high blood pressure and depression. Women, more sensitive than men to alcohol, can also develop heart disease, brittle bones and even memory loss. Soon after you cut back or quit, your digestion will improve and you’ll sleep more soundly. Your blood sugar will be lower and steadier, your blood pressure may fall toward a healthier range, and even your brain will bounce back. You’ll have a healthier liver and cardiovascular system.
How to fix it: You don’t have to quit cold turkey; stick to healthy limits. That’s two or less drinks per day for men, one for women. You’re also more likely to sip your drink slowly if you reserve alcohol for meals. Drink for flavour, not to get drunk. And if you can’t stop, acknowledge the addiction. Talk with your doctor and contact a support group like AA. Check with your doctor if you should be screened more often for bone density, cancers and liver damage.
As far as health goes, no habit is as harmful as smoking. It directly causes 30 percent of heart disease deaths, 30 percent of cancer deaths, and a massive 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancers, not to mention increasing your risk for mouth, throat and bladder cancer. This bad habit also astronomically raises your odds for heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure, on top of possibly triggering or aggravating breathing problems like bronchitis and asthma attacks. After you quit, the health benefits are almost immediate. Within a month, your lungs will work better and you should be coughing less, feel more energetic and have less shortness of breath. Your sense of taste and smell, as well as your endurance, will also improve.
How to fix it: Treat it like an addiction, not a habit. Before you stop, prepare for the tough road ahead. Plan to quit during a calm period – not over the holidays or when you’re under a lot of stress. Prepare a strategy, a support team and a Plan B if your first methods fail. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking drugs, or a nicotine patch or gum. Seek support, whether that’s from your friends and family or resources like counsellors, hotlines and support groups. And, finally, remember that a lapse isn’t a failure. Use slip-ups to discover your personal obstacle to quitting and create a plan for dealing with those the next time.
Overusing painkillers and sedatives
When they’re not taken properly, long-term habitual use of prescription pain killers can lead to addiction, causing more problems than it solves. Even over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin for arthritis or muscle pain can over time increase your risk for ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, high blood pressure and heart attacks. Clues you’re taking too much of a calming drug or sleeping pill include memory loss, excess sleepiness, feeling unresponsive or confused, and falling frequently. When meds make you feel good, you may want to keep on taking them, turning them into a habit or addiction before you know it. Kicking the sedative and prescription pain pill habit is possible with commitment and support, and once the pill-taking has ceased, your body will quickly rebound from their effects.
How to fix it: New pain-relief strategies can ease muscle, joint and head pain with fewer pills and side effects. For chronic pain, ask your doctor about switching to acetaminophen; it doesn’t cause stomach irritation and doesn’t raise blood pressure like aspirin and ibuprofen. Save ibuprofen for flare-ups of severe, short-term pain. For frequent headaches, see your doctor; migraines can be stopped often with the right medication. If you think you’ll be susceptible to addiction, challenge any doctor who wants to put you on pain, mood or sleeping medication long-term. If you’re already relying too much on them, get help if you can’t stop. There’s no shame in asking for help from family members, friends or your doctor.