How long should it take?

Jane Murphy / 07 August 2017 ( 11 March 2020 )

From quitting smoking to losing weight, find out how long those health habits and goals should realistically be taking.

How long should it take to wash your hands? 

Twenty seconds. That's roughly as long as it would take to sing two rounds of 'Happy birthday'. Washing your hands properly with warm water and soap is one of the simplest ways to protect yourself from infection, and you should wash them, for example after using the loo, after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, before and after handling raw food, before eating, or after coming into contact with animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages. But only five per cent of us do so for the right amount of time to kill germs, according to a Michigan State University study. The NHS website has a useful video

How to avoid catching a cold

How long should it take to quit smoking? 

Get through the first fortnight – and you're laughing. The key lies in finding an effective way to resist your nicotine cravings as you go through withdrawal. These tend to peak at some point in the first three days, and last for around a fortnight. 

Your guide to giving up smoking

Your options? Nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or gum; prescription stop-smoking medicine; or behaviour changes, such as avoiding places where you'd normally light up. The good news is that you'll start to feel the health benefits within minutes of quitting: after 20 minutes, your pulse remains to normal; after eight hours, blood levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide are halved; and within three days, you'll be breathing a lot easier.

Smoking: take the pain out of quitting

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest health news and info with Saga Magazine. Find out more

How long should it take to get to sleep? 

Around 10 to 20 minutes. Ideally, you should be sound asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. If it's regularly taking longer, it's usually a sign you're having trouble switching off and relaxing. 

The solution? A regular bedtime routine can help. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and build in some 'wind-time' down beforehand. Steer clear of the TV and other electronic gadgets; have a warm bath, meditate or read a book instead.

Sleep strategies: how to get a better night's sleep

How long should it take to sober up? 

Roughly one hour for each unit of alcohol consumed. A pint of lager is around two units, while a 250ml glass of wine is 3.3. So it will take the average liver around two hours to fully process that pint of lager. But liver metabolism rates vary considerably, according to factors such as age, gender, what you've eaten and any medication you're taking.

A guide to alcohol units

How long should it take for antibiotics to start working? 

Around 24 hours. You're usually no longer infectious 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics, although this time period can vary. It may still take a few days before you start to feel better. If you have any concerns or experience side effects, consult your GP.

How long should it take to get used to new glasses? 

Up to two weeks. But don't panic: most people adjust to new lenses within 24 to 48 hours. 

A couple of tips? Wear them as directed by your optometrist and don't be tempted to switch back to your old glasses for a break, as this will just 'confuse' your eyes. If you're wearing bifocals or varifocals for the first time, it's a good idea to get used to turning your head instead of just moving your eyes in order to focus.

10 tips for better eye health

How long should it take to go through the menopause? 

Four years – but that's an average. Menopause symptoms – such as hot flushes, night sweats and sleep problems – affect around 80 per cent of women at this time. They usually start a few months or years before periods stop completely, and tend to persist for several years afterwards. One woman in 10 will experience symptoms for up to 10 years.

Are you still getting hot flushes?

How long should it take to get over a cold? 

About a week. You may be able to speed up recovery by resting, drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables. Over-the-counter remedies, such as painkillers and decongestants, can also help. But if you're still under the weather after three weeks, it's time to see your GP.

What to eat to beat that cold

How long should it take for statins to work? 

About six weeks. That's how long it should be before your cholesterol levels stabilise – so your doctor will normally re-test your cholesterol after around eight weeks. You should then have a check-up at least once a year.

What you need to know about cholesterol

How long should it take to lose a stone? 

Eight to 12 weeks. That's if you're losing weight at a steady rate of 1-2lbs per week with a programme of exercise and healthy eating. Go on a restrictive diet and you may well lose weight quicker – but you're also more likely to put it back on, and your health may suffer.

Have you hit a weight loss plateau? Find out how to shift stubborn weight

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.