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5 Bad Habits You Can Kick Right Now

Here's how to reverse the damage and get your health back on track
1. The habit: A Diet Soda Addiction
If you can't get through the day without a diet soda fix, you may be hooked on the caffeine. "There is about as much caffeine in one can of [diet soda] as there is in a shot of espresso," says David J. Clayton, MD; author of The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living. Having a few cans a day could leave you feeling high, and then low when you come down from the caffeine buzz." Besides triggering major dips in energy, reaching for cans as a pick-me-up makes it tougher to fall asleep in the normal 30-minute range come bedtime. Plus, the acidity in soda can damage tooth enamel if sipped daily.

Lessen the impact: Limit your diet sodas to one a day, and don't drink any after 2 p.m. to keep the caffeine from interfering with your sleep patterns. Try rinsing your mouth with water after drinking soda to reduce the effects of its enamel-eroding acidity.

 
 
2. The habit: Popping Sleeping Pills
"Many people take over-the-counter sleep aids that are a combination of painkillers and antihistamines, such as Tylenol PM or Advil PM," says Dr. Clayton. "If you're a healthy person who wants occasional help falling asleep, there's no need for the painkillers." Acetaminophens such as Tylenol can damage liver if taken long-term, and is even more damaging if you've had alcohol, since the liver has to work over-time to metabolize all those toxins. A common cause of ulcers is regularly popping ibruprofen, such as Advil, because it affects your stomach lining.

Lessen the impact: If you you're going to take something to help you sleep, try Benadryl instead of an OTC painkiller and sleep aid combination. The antihistamine ingredients minus the painkillers will help you snooze with less risk of liver damage or stomach irritation. Just be sure to take a dose one to three hours before you plan on hitting the sack, because it takes longer to take effect than say, Tylenol PM.

 
 
3. The habit: Being a Weekend Warrior
Research shows that having about seven alcoholic drinks a week lowers your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But what if you abstain all week and guzzle six glasses on a Friday night? "The safest amount of alcohol to imbibe is about two drinks a day for men," says Dr. Clayton. "Binge drinking raises blood pressure, which offsets any of the cardiovascular benefits of moderate drinking." Moreover, heavy drinking zaps your thiamine (B1) reserves, which is needed for a healthy nervous system, and raises your risk of breast cancer.

Lessen the impact: Enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (pinot noir is high in resveratrol, an antioxidant linked with heart health and anti-aging) or a beer, but just don't have the entire bottle or six-pack. If you're at happy hour or a party, try adding seltzer water to your wine. Or, for every cocktail or beer you have, also drink a seltzer and lime so you automatically imbibe less.

 
 
4. The habit: Having Artificial Sugars
Adding artificial sweeteners to your coffee or snacking on sugar-free energy bars packed with sugar substitutes tend to prompt you to eat more calories later on. Why? They may make you hungrier because your body expects calories when it tastes something sweet, and sends hunger signals to your brain. That makes you want to keep noshing until your body gets those expected calories, says Dr. Clayton.

Lessen the impact: When empty calories in fake sugars might boost your appetite, so keep healthy snacks on hand, such as apples with packets of heart-healthy almond butter. It'll help prevent you from raiding the vending machine for candy and chips.

 
 
5. The habit: Bumming a Cigarette
If you don't buy packs, but you bum one or two cigarettes from friends on the weekend, you're still doing body damage. "Just one puff causes the same immediate harmful effects to the lungs as long-term smoking, such as constriction of your airways and paralysis of the tiny hairs that help filter toxins," says Dr. Clayton.

Lessen the impact: Your body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and once you quit smoking it takes about seven to 10 years for your risk of lung and other diseases to match those of non-smokers. Identify your triggers, such as a certain co-worker who smokes or being around alcohol, and arm yourself with gum, beef jerky or whatever you can chew to keep your mouth occupied. Your lungs will thank you tomorrow.

 
 

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