By Joseph Raccuglia, MD
We all indulge in a few bad habits. Forming healthier habits takes time. In fact, experts say that it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit. If you’re looking to take steps to improve your health, here are a few bad habits to consider leaving behind.
1. Social Media: While social media can provide a way to connect with friends and family across the world, it also can make you feel like your life isn’t exciting enough. Most people only post their happiest moments on social media. Comparing your own life to your friends’ “greatest hits” can affect your mental wellbeing and lead to feelings of depression and jealousy. Consider limiting your time on social media and remember that no one’s life is perfect.
2. Nighttime Screen Time: TVs, smartphones and tablets emit blue light, which can interfere with your ability to get quality sleep. Try turning off your devices at least an hour before your head hits the pillow.
3. Sleeping Pills: When sleep is elusive it’s tempting to pop some sleeping pills to ensure a restful night. However, insomnia isn’t a medical diagnosis; it’s a symptom of another condition, like anxiety, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, which sleeping pills can’t cure. Taking a sleep aid occasionally—once or twice every few months—is OK. However, it becomes an unhealthy habit if you need sleeping pills to sleep. Instead, train yourself to wind down at the end of the night by keeping a consistent “sleep hygiene” routine that includes turning off technology, doing relaxing activities like reading, yoga, or meditation, and completing personal care tasks like brushing your teeth and washing your face each night. This will help train your body to know when it’s time to go to sleep.
4. Sitting Too Much: I’m usually on the go from early in the morning to around dinnertime. When I recently started conducting patient visits via video behind my desk, I felt much more tired than when I used to be fairly active during the day. Living a sedentary life is one of the worst habits you can have. It can lead to heart disease, blood clots or peripheral vascular disease, a circulation condition that can block blood flow to your limbs. If you find that you’re spending a good portion of your day chained to your desk or couch, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and move every 30 minutes. And, try using a fitness tracker to help make exercise a priority each day.
5. Skipping Screenings: You may think that you only need to go to the doctor when you don’t feel well. However, routine preventive screening exams can help detect medical issues before they become medical emergencies. Women of child-bearing age should see a gynecologist yearly, and everyone over age 45 should get routine colon cancer checks. Other important screening exams include eye exams, skin cancer screenings and cardiovascular screenings for those at risk for developing cardiac issues.
6. Lying to Your Doctor: It may seem like your doctor wants to hear that you’re eating well, exercising regularly, and taking your medications as described. But if this isn’t true, your doctor needs to know it. Not knowing your full health history can make it difficult for me to diagnose and treat any issues that you’re having. If a patient is supposed to be checking their blood sugar or blood pressure regularly, I’ll ask them their last reading to make sure that they are consistently doing these checks. I need as much information I can get to make reasonable decisions about my patients’ care. Be sure to let your doctor know if you aren’t getting enough sleep or unable to take your medications or vitamins as directed. The physician-patient relationship is vitally important. We need to trust each other for it to be successful.
7. Using Alcohol to Destress: Having a drink after a long day can help take the edge off. However, if one glass of wine turns into one bottle of wine several times a week, you’re not just relaxing … you’re self-medicating. Experts recommend that women cap alcohol at one drink a day and men at two drinks a day. One drink is a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. If you’re drinking more than recommended, you’re drinking empty calories, risking liver damage and probably drinking to mask something: depression, anxiety, or loneliness. Talk to your doctor about any issues that you’re experiencing.
8. Popping Antacids Like Candy: An occasion antacid or over-the-counter heartburn pill is fine but if you find yourself heading to the medicine cabinet two or three times a week, it’s time to tell your doctor. These medications can mask the symptoms of serious conditions like gastritis or bleeding ulcers. Your doctor may recommend that you get an endoscopy to diagnose the reason for your discomfort.
9. Not Finishing a Course of Antibiotics: It’s tempting. You took antibiotics for a few days and now you feel better. Why should you keep taking them? Here’s why: Doctors prescribe a specific dose and duration of antibiotic for the specific organism causing the condition. You want to kill the organism and not have it stage a comeback. If you don’t finish the prescription and the organism returns, it may be resistant to antibiotics and much more difficult to treat.
10. Ignoring Severe or Frequent Headaches: Over-the-counter pain relievers can quickly tame a terrible headache. But when headaches become more frequent or more painful, it’s time to tell your doctor. Red flags include headaches that won’t go away with over-the-counter medications or the “worst headache” of your life, which can signal a change in your vision prescription, high blood pressure or something more serious, like an aneurysm. If you’re experiencing migraines more frequently, your doctor will likely recommend a CT scan to better understand what’s causing the pain.
11. Swigging Soda: It may seem like a nice treat, but soda is laden with empty, sugary calories with no nutritional value. Consuming excess sugar puts you at risk for developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. And diet soda isn’t much better. It raises your risk for those same diseases while tricking your body into thinking it’s drinking sugar when it isn’t, so you often crave more sugar.
12. Following Fad Diets: Fashionable diets like keto or intermittent fasting do provide results. But the downside is that they aren’t sustainable. It’s difficult to follow a stringent eating plan for the rest of your life. Additionally, keto diets are high in fat and cholesterol, which is not a healthy long-term eating plan. A better habit is to eat healthfully on most days by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Talk with your doctor before starting any diet plan.
13. Cracking Your Knuckles: Your mother may have warned you about the dangers of cracking your knuckles—and she was right. Cracking your knuckles traumatizes your joints by causing bubbles to collapse within the synovial fluid lubricating the joint. The speed of the collapse within the narrow space of the joint seems to be associated with the loud popping sound. While it’s not thought to cause arthritis, cracking your knuckles can result in diminished grip strength, tendon injuries and dislocations or hand swelling.
An occasional unhealthy choice is understandable, but when bad choices become habits, you risk doing serious damage to your overall health and wellness. Talk to your doctor about banishing these habits safely.
Dr. Joseph Raccuglia is a board-certified family medicine physician on staff at CentraState Medical Center. He can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.