Smoking isn’t the only bad habit that can wreak havoc on your health. Small but important missteps – like not getting enough sleep, sitting for long periods of time for most of your life, and mindlessly cramming those mid-afternoon chips into your mouth – could have an even bigger impact over time, especially if you’re dabbling in more than one bad habit. While you won’t get lung cancer from skipping eight hours of beauty rest a night, you could suffer from a host of other negative side effects, some arguably as bad as the ill effects of smoking. Here are six habits you should break (and how to do it).
#1. Eating out of Boredom or Habit
Snacking because you’re bored, others around you are eating or it’s break time can lead to steady, incremental weight gain that will sneak up on you. It’s helpful to pay attention to your body’s signals and only eat when you’re hungry. Obesity can lead to health problems, and it’s easier than you think to cross that line if, like many Americans, you gain a few pounds each year. Do you usually gain a little weight over big family events or holidays? Try paying closer attention to what you’re eating in the weeks leading up to holiday feasts. You might lose five pounds instead of gaining them. An occasional splurge is usually okay, but mindless eating can spiral into chronic overeating before you even realize it.
#2. Consuming Processed & Convenience Foods
Maybe there’s not much energy left at the end of the day to create a nutritious dinner for the family from scratch, so you rely on fast food and takeout. It’s an easy habit to get into. But the goal of restaurants is to provide food that tastes good and has an appealing aroma and texture. For the most part, they’re not concerned with the amount of fat or sodium in each dish. Solutions include cooking ahead on the weekends and making savvy use of a crockpot. You could also check out local places that specialize in healthier fare.
If you’re not going to cook due to time or energy (or you’re just not a fan), consider having healthy, pre-cooked meals delivered. You might save money with a delivery service, and the portions would be correct. Some deli departments at major grocery chains may also offer prepackaged meals. Just remember to read labels for prepared foods you buy in the grocery store, too, since the fat and calories in some TV dinners add up to 80 percent of the average daily requirements.
#3. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Perhaps you, like many adults, enjoy a glass of wine or whiskey at the end of a long workday. But if you find that you can’t wait until the end of the day to have that first drink, it’s time to re-evaluate your consumption. Some people save their drinking for the weekends and binge drink, and that’s not any better. Regular use of alcohol above low-risk guidelines can lead to memory loss, heart problems and permanent damage to the liver, among other detrimental effects.
Finding healthier ways to relax instead of turning to alcohol can help you cut down. At a party or club, try alternating each alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic one (ideally water). And consider incorporating meditation and massage into your life. Treat alcohol as a treat, not a daily lifestyle habit, especially if you find yourself becoming even a little dependent on that happy hour cocktail.
#4. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Looking for an excuse to take that power nap in the afternoon or sleep in a little later on Sunday? Good news: Getting proper rest is essential to your health. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to irritability and drowsiness during the day, impacting relationships and work efficiency, not to mention its impact on your coordination – think falls and accidents – and decision-making skills, like the ones you make while driving.
Worse, though, is that lack of sleep correlates with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Although it sometimes seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to do, getting sufficient sleep is vital. Spending too much time at a computer can also keep you from sleeping well. It’s recommended that you avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime.
Get into a routine of turning off screens, lowering the lighting and relaxing for a half-hour before a set bedtime. Establishing a bedtime routine will help get your body in sync for a good night’s sleep, and you’ll reap plenty of benefits from getting the right amount of shut-eye.
#5. Scrimping on Self-Care
“Self-care” is a big umbrella of routines and habits that keep you healthy and happy. Taking good care of yourself, both mentally and physically, is a goal that you have to be intentional about. Make sure that you drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout the day. Water is essential for your body’s functions and can even improve the texture of your skin. Wash your face at night to remove the sweat and/or makeup of the day, and don’t forget to brush your teeth and floss. Good oral hygiene can prevent illness since flossing removes bacteria that could otherwise get into your bloodstream. Give yourself mental health breaks, too. Everyone needs time to de-stress and engage in activities that bring them pleasure and relaxation. Small but powerful steps toward taking care of yourself can drastically improve your wellbeing.
#6. Ignoring Your Mental Health
Everyone has bad days, but a pattern of bad days and stress can escalate into a full-blown problem, like chronic depression and other mental health issues. Just as you have to be conscious of taking care of your body, you need to pay attention to the signs that your mental health needs massaging. It’s great to be focused and productive, but remember to add downtime to your schedule. A lot of us are so busy ensuring the wellbeing of family members that we forget to be kind to ourselves. Exercise can be an opportunity to reflect or just zone out and forget about your cares. Consider watching your favorite TV show or reading a book while lying on the couch to be a necessity, not a luxury. Also, it’s amazing how much energy and mental clarity you can gain from a short nap. Find activities you enjoy, speak with a mental health professional and talk to your doctor if things don’t improve. Mental health is as important as physical health, so don’t ignore your mental state.