You gave up smoking ages ago so you’re healthy now, right? Unfortunately, there are other less-obvious habits that could be as bad for as you as puffing away on a cigarette every day. Discover the habits that should come with a government health warning.
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You eat ham sandwiches for lunch
Wholemeal bread, tomatoes and lettuce won’t save your sandwich from being labelled as unhealthy if it’s also filled with luncheon meats.
Processed meats such as ham, salami, sausage, bacon, and yes, even lean turkey or chicken (if processed into slices or smoked, for example), have been linked with increased rates of cancer.
It’s thought that the reason processed meat is particularly bad is because of how it’s prepared for eating. The smoking process and preservation of these meats may lead to the formation of cancer-causing compounds, salt is usually added, and nitrites are often used as preservatives too (compounds of which have been found to cause cancer in animals).
Break the habit: There are tonnes of other sandwich filler options, so try to opt for non-processed-meat versions at least three or four times a week. Hard cheese, cream cheese, salad, prawns, tuna, egg are all alternatives you can go for.
Better yet, vary your lunch as much as possible rather than having a sandwich every day. Go for soup, a salad, or a baked potato with beans. The more variation, the wider a variety of vitamins and nutrients you’ll be getting. Your body will be thankful.
Is it time to say goodbye to processed meat?
You poke cotton buds into your ears
It’s fine if you use them for craft projects or tidying up a nail-varnish job, but if you’re sticking them inside your ear, you’re putting yourself at risk of a ruptured ear drum according to research from the Henry Ford Hospital, USA.
What’s more, sticking something so small inside your ear canal can also impact wax inside there, making it even more difficult to remove. Although unsightly if there’s a lot of it, earwax is essential as it keeps your ear from getting dirty and infected, by means of providing a waterproof barrier.
Break the habit: Clean the outer part of your ear with a washcloth or flannel but don’t insert anything in the ear canal. If you suspect you’ve got wax build-up there, see your GP who can remove it safely for you. You can also help soften up the wax inside by dropping a few drops of wax-softening lotion inside - Otex Express Combi Pack Drops and Ear Syringe (approx £9, Amazon) for example.
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You sit down too much
Or your office chair, park bench or big reclining armchair – whatever you’re sitting on is doing your health a bad service because being seated for long periods of time has been found to be linked to cancer, obesity, decreased bone density and muscle wastage.
The less you use your muscles, the more they'll start to deteriorate, and the less muscle mass you have not only leaves you more prone to injuries (with greater recovery times) but also slows down your metabolism as muscle burns more calories than fat.
Break the habit: It could be as tough a habit to break as smoking so take it a step at a time, literally. “If you’re watching TV, stand up during every advert break and walk around, or make a cup of tea. As you're waiting for the kettle to boil try some simple body weight moves like squats or even push ups against the worktop" says Lisa-Jane, of Wildcat Fitness (wildcatfitness.co.uk).
“If you’re at the computer, set a timer for 30 minutes and then get your heart racing for five minutes, by doing star jumps for example or jogging on the spot. Even some simple spinal twists or yoga moves like a downward dog or sun salutations will help increase your heart rate and work your joints and muscles. Or better yet, get yourself a standing work station – these can be used with a stationary bike or even a treadmill.”
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You don’t sleep enough
When you sleep isn’t so important as whether you get enough sleep and unfortunately waking during sleep time becomes more common as you age.
What does this do to you? Well, consider that during sleep your body is anything but, repairing cell damage and fighting bacteria and viruses that you may harbouring. So if you miss out on those vital hours, your body simply becomes less able to fight off disease.
Break the habit: Try winding down by avoiding caffeine, alcohol or sugary foods for a few hours before bedtime, and having a bath. But you can also try some relaxing essential oils to get you into a relaxed headspace before you hit the bunk.
According to research published in Phytomedicine, lavender oil has been shown to help relieve anxiety, so put a few drops on a tissue to put under your pillow before you sleep or add some to a bath for a truly relaxing soak.
10 healthy reasons to get more sleep
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You spend too much time glued to your tablet
Tablets make it so easy to carry books, newspapers and emails with you wherever you go but there are two reasons to try and break the habit.
First, looking at a screen for long periods of time, whether it’s a tablet, smart phone or computer hurts your eyes. You’re more likely to suffer with eye-strain related headaches (a dull ache around or behind the eyes), bloodshot eyes as a result of blinking less as you read whatever you see on screen, which means less lubrication is distributed across the eye ball, and blurred vision as your eyes’ muscles become tired.
Secondly, it’s even worse if you use your electronics at night. Research shows that the blue light emitted by screens at night makes our bodies produce different levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps regular our sleep cycle. So when you’re looking at that tablet or smart phone, you’re signalling ‘daytime!” to your body.
Break the habit: Research from the Mayo Clinic US, found that by reducing the brightness setting, and holding it at least 35cm from your eyes while reading, you can reduce the disrupting effects of the lit screen on your melatonin levels. But that won’t help fix the other problems affecting your eyes. So schedule in break times, by setting the timer on your phone/tablet alarm and whenever you’re thinking, in between reading or writing, look up and around the room. Finally, use eye drops to avoid dryness.
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