If you want a happy, healthy life, eliminating bad habits is just as important as maintaining good ones. “Are healthy habits worth cultivating? A recent study suggests healthy habits may help people tack on years of life and sidestep serious illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer,” says Monique Tello, MD, MPH. “After all, if you’re going to gain an extra decade of life on this earth, you want to enjoy it!” Here are 7 terrible habits experts want you to eliminate from your life. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
It’s the big one, and the most obvious—there are absolutely zero benefits to smoking and the downsides are seemingly endless. Even ‘light’ smokers are putting themselves in danger of serious health risks. “I think it’s a misconception that because you smoke very lightly, maybe just one or two cigarettes a day, that maybe that could be a safe practice because you are not smoking a full pack, or two packs a day,” says pulmonologist Humberto Choi, MD. “You may think it’s safe. And a body of evidence is showing that it is not.”
Recent studies have confirmed there is no amount of alcohol which is safe (boo!), but even just avoiding binge-drinking can have a positive impact on your health. “Generally speaking, Americans drink too much,” says addiction specialist David Streem, MD. “We would be well-served as a nation, both in terms of our health and safety, and our quality of life, if we drank less.”
Yes, it’s fun—but make a habit of sitting for hours on end and your body will not thank you. “There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” says Lilian Cheung, lecturer and director, health promotion and communication for the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). “And there’s emerging evidence that watching too much TV also increases the risk of weight-related chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”
Letting negative thoughts run riot can seriously affect your health. “Negative thinking makes you feel blue about the world, about yourself, about the future. It contributes to low self-worth. It makes you feel you’re not effective in the world,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “Rather than change the way you think, I recommend changing your relationship to your thoughts. We have about 50,000 spontaneous thoughts, images and ideas every day. Whether they’re positive or negative, they intrude into our awareness. Those that are negative are more likely to capture our awareness, or become “sticky.” I recommend learning to watch your thoughts, rather than engaging with them. Practicing mindfulness can take you away from the thinking experience.”
Burnout culture is a bust—there is nothing admirable about destroying your health and wellbeing for a job. “The glamorization of overworking needs to stop now,” says Wayne Jonas MD “This notion that strong, resilient people do not need a break feels true, but it is not. The truth is that resilient people take breaks, ask for help, and identify core issues. Sleep, nutrition, stress management, safe social connections, getting away from screens and into nature is more important than ever… People often frame burnout as a badge of honor: Health care workers who selflessly work long days, six days a week.Mothers who do it all and have no time for themselves.Financial and service workers who start work before the sun rises and are the last person to sign off. We all, as a society, need to work every day to fight this.”
Study after study shows that prolonged sitting is terrible for your health. “The assumption has been that if you’re fit and physically active, that will protect you, even if you spend a huge amount of time sitting each day,” says Rebecca Seguin, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. “In fact, in doing so you are far less protected from negative health effects of being sedentary than you realize… If you’re in an office, get up and move around frequently. If you’re retired and have more idle time, find ways to move around inside and outside the house. Get up between TV programs, take breaks in computer and reading time, and be conscious of interrupting prolonged sedentary time.”
“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,” says former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. At work, loneliness decreases performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making. For our health and our work , it is imperative that we address the loneliness epidemic quickly.”