Drinking coffee when you’re tired. Cracking your knuckles. Taking medication first thing in the morning. Checking Facebook and Twitter throughout the day. The list of bad habits goes on and on. Unfortunately, these behaviors are often effortless—we do them without ever really having to think about them.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, would call these actions "habits"—decisions triggered by the cue-routine-reward loop. This cycle is why we fall victim to certain bad behaviors.
“First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use,” Duhigg explains. “Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.” Over time, the loop, if repeated enough, can become involuntary—such as thoughtlessly pouring yourself a cup of coffee every morning.
But some everyday habits we engage are more detrimental to our health than we realize. Here’s a list of six bad habits you really shouldn’t wait until next New Year’s to resolve—plus six good habits to replace them.
01. Sitting for Long Periods of Time
For those of us who work in a seated position for most of the day, it’s easier said than done to interrupt yourself and get up every now and again. Research from the University of Missouri and the American Diabetes Association confirm that staying seated for prolonged periods of time—more than half of the average person's waking hours—contributes to weakened abdominal and back muscles, decreased brain functions, weakened leg bones, higher risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes over time.
Here are five creative ways of engaging your body throughout the course of the day, such as replacing your chair with an exercise ball or using a phone call as an opportunity to stand up and walk around for a bit while you chat.
02. Crossing Your Legs
A study by the Blood Pressure Monitor to determine the effects of crossing our legs found that blood pressure increased when legs were crossed at the knee while sitting, regardless of how long the position was held. Leg crossing at the knee resulted in a nearly 7 percent increase in blood pressure.
Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, FACC, a Connecticut-based cardiologist and author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, explains that regularly crossing your legs “puts stress on the hip joints and can cause pooling of blood in the legs when the veins are compressed. This could predispose you to inflammation of the veins of the lower legs and possibly a blood clot."
Why contribute to a recipe for spider veins and heart problems? While crossing your legs may be comfortable, it's healthier for your heart to plant both feet on the floor. Try standing or performing these ankle-rotating, leg lifting, sneaky sitting exercises at your desk while you work.
03. Using Painkillers When It’s Not Necessary
Josephine Briggs, MD, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for National Institutes of Health, says pain is a primary public health problem. But overmedicating is not the answer. As she argued before the Senate committee in 2014, “While an important part of pain management, pharmaceutical approaches may provide incomplete relief and can carry serious side effects, including overmedication and . . . dependency and, in some cases, addiction.”
Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, writes that many medications are helpful—but are unnecessarily overused. “Most (or all) of the relief patients feel taking the med is probably due to natural improvement or placebo effect, not to the med itself.” Frances suggests that before taking any medication or deeming it absolutely necessary, we should get out of the mindset that medication is the first or only remedy. Many alternative pain relief methods are easily accessible, such as heat, ice, or something as simple as resting or drinking water to relieve a muscle or headache. When it comes to that time of the month, for instance, try these natural ways to reduce pain from menstrual cramps rather than resorting to popping Midol every four hours.
04. Adding Both Cream and Sugar to Your Coffee
Creamers—especially nondairy coffee creamers—often contain filler ingredients such as sugar, sodium, corn syrup, and food coloring to mimic the qualities of milk and cream. And plenty of recent research has found sugar to be addictive‚ comparable to serious drug abuse as with heroine and morphine. But if you just can’t stand the taste of black coffee, consider compromising and adding either cream or sugar to your cup of joe. Or even better, sub out cream and sugar for protein-packed soy or nut milk or raw honey.
05. Adding Additional Salt to a Meal
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a high sodium consumption is associated with metabolic syndromes such as high blood pressure, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. As in the case of sugar, the more salt you add to your diet, the higher the risk of damaging your body in the long term. The remedy? Instead of salt, try seasoning your food with these seven herbs and spices with nutritional superpowers. Or prepare flavorful meals without added salt that will help reduce your risk of metabolic syndromes without having to sacrifice taste.
06. Living by the Mantra of ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’
If you deprive yourself of the sleep your body depends on, you are cheating your body of the opportunity to naturally clean itself and recharge. And because new research has found that women need an average of twenty minutes more sleep than men, we especially can’t afford to live by making sleep anything other than a priority. Consider these expert tips to help you sleep better, such as cutting all caffeine intake six hours before bed. Or you might find it worthwhile to invest in a sleep-transforming mattress, like one by OSO.
While none of these bad habits are easy to reverse right away, it’s important to be aware of the times you tend to lapse back into their loop. But the good news is, as Duhigg reminds us, “If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real.” The first day toward a better, healthier you starts today, one good habit at a time.
Photo Credit: Jason Briscoe