8 Unhealthy Vices to Extinguish Now

US News

How are those resolutions going, two weeks in? Only 300-something days left to drop 30 pounds or quit smoking or become happier. While these positive, long-term goals are well intended--and we trust you can pull them off--why not tackle a couple short-term resolutions this month? Consider these seemingly-innocent health habits you can (and should) start crossing off your list:

Habit: Chewing on ice

Why it matters: "Pica" is a condition that causes people to crave and chew non-foods, like paper and ice. It's sometimes triggered by nutritional issues, such as iron-deficiency anemia, according to the National Institutes of Health. Chewing ice could also signal emotional troubles like stress or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Not to mention: That crunching is likely annoying your nearby co-workers.

How to stop: Make and order your beverages ice-free to avoid temptation. Bring it up with your doctor, too. She can determine if you have a nutritional deficiency, and if so, help you overcome it. If she suspects it's an anxiety issue, she may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy.

[See Top Recommended Iron Supplements.]

Habit: Slouching

Why it matters: When you're stooped over as you stand, or slouched so far down in your seat that you're nearly falling off, your back muscles and ligaments have to work harder to keep you balanced. This struggle in your muscles can lead to back pain, fatigue, and headaches, among other issues.

How to stop: Practice makes perfect, and posture is no exception. When standing, check that your shoulders are back and relaxed, your chest is high, and your knees are relaxed--not locked. As you sit, aim for both feet to be on the floor, with your hips level with your knees. Make sure your back presses firmly against the chair, and keep your upper back and neck "comfortably straight," the Mayo Clinic recommends. While sitting and standing straight may seem unnatural and stiff at first, keep at it. It may help to stretch throughout the day or even try core strengthening classes.

[See How to Break Your Sitting Habit.]

Habit: Nail biting

Why it matters: Well, it's not the most sanitary habit. Unless you compulsively wash your hands, the germs that sneak onto your nails every time you type on a keyboard, open a door, or pet a dog will likely land in your mouth. If you tend to gnaw at your cuticles, too, you may develop a nail infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. And as is the case with many habits, nail biting could be a sign of emotional problems like stress or anxiety.

How to stop: You've got a couple options. Most drug stores sell products that look and work like clear nail polishes, except they have lasting, distinctly bitter tastes to discourage folks from biting. The Mayo Clinic suggests you identify what triggers your nail biting, like boredom, and, well, stop being bored. Chewing on some gum to keep your mouth preoccupied could also help. If you realize you bite your nails whenever you're anxious, stressed, or sad--and you bite your nails often--that might be a cue to see a psychiatrist.

[See Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don't Let It Get You Down.]

Habit: Sleeping in your contacts

Why it matters: Your risk of an eye infection spikes significantly when you sleep in contact lenses. Continually sleeping overnight in your lenses could also deprive your eye tissue of the oxygen it needs, and in some cases, the eye could compensate by creating small blood vessels. Left unchecked, these vessels could cause permanent damage. Even if your eyes don't develop an infection or form blood vessels, chances are, they'll be red and irritated the next day.

How to stop: Make taking out your lenses part of your daily schedule. Each day, switch into glasses when, for example, you change out of your work clothes, or during a nightly news commercial break. You could also try extended-wear contacts, which are relatively new to the market and safe to sleep in. Ask your optometrist if these are a good fit for you.

Habit: Knuckle cracking

Why it matters: Actually, this habit may not be so bad. While your mother may have insisted that knuckle cracking will lead to arthritis, research largely disproves that myth. Still, as Peter Bonafede, medical director of the Providence Arthritis Center in Oregon, wrote in a 2004 Q&A: "Nature did not intend for us to repeatedly stretch the ligaments of the finger joints." He points to two cases in which patients injured their hands by knuckle cracking--one dislocated his fingers, and the other partially tore the ligament in her thumb. Plus, the popping sound of gases escaping your joints may be satisfying to you, but it's likely driving others crazy. "While cracking knuckles may not get you arthritis faster, it won't win you many fans and might injure those fingers in other ways," Bonafede wrote. "It's best not done."

How to stop: Like someone who's trying to quit smoking might do, tell your friends and family that you're trying to stop cracking your knuckles, which will make you feel more accountable for changing your ways. And just as some dieters record what they eat each day, it may be helpful to keep a tally of how many times you crack your knuckles. Then try to slowly cut back.

[See Top Recommended Bone/Joint Strengtheners.]

Habit: Late-night snacking

Why it matters: Research suggests that it can lower your metabolism. And if you plow through a bag of popcorn during a 10 p.m. movie, your body will need to digest it while you sleep, rather than burning fat. Plus, late-night snacking can wake you up with heartburn--an unpleasant way to throw off your sleep cycle.

How to stop: Think about why you're eating so late. Are you consuming enough during the day? How filling are your meals, and what's your breakfast look like? It may take some shifting in your daytime eating habits to curb those midnight fridge raids. If you're trying to slim down, make a point to not eat after dinner--an easier task to accomplish if the day has left you full and satisfied.

[See Want to Lose Weight? Get Some Sleep.]

Habit: Sleeping through alarms

Why it matters: If you tend to hit snooze one or two or ten times each morning, you likely end up running late and frazzled before your day has even begun. Plus, trouble waking up is often a sign that you're not getting enough quality sleep, which can lead to a slew of health problems, from weight gain to high blood pressure.

How to stop: It's all about getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Pick the time you'd like to actually wake up (not the time you'd like to first hit the snooze button), and count back eight hours. That's your bedtime. If falling asleep at, say, 10 p.m. seems ridiculous, try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach it. Also, avoid toying with electronics and consuming caffeine before bed.

[See How and Why to Become a Morning Person.]

Habit: Guzzling energy drinks

Why it matters: These shorter, colder days may leave you itching for a sugary caffeine fix. But in a report last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about drinks like 5-Hour Energy, Monster, and Rockstar. In just an eight-year timespan, about 20 deaths were linked to these products, in addition to many more hospitalizations. Is it worth the risk?

[See Easy Ways to Reduce Caffeine Intake.]

How to stop: If your energy wanes, try a snack packed with energy-yielding carbs, like half a tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread. That way, your blood sugar is less likely to spike, and you won't crash later. Other ways to boost your energy include a B vitamin supplement, a cold shower, or a walk outside.

View Comments (1)