Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

Everyone knows there are certain practices so harmful to our personal health they cut short our lives. Being overweight. Smoking cigarettes. Not getting enough exercise.

But these aren’t the only ways you can cut your time on this earth short. Worse, you are likely to be unaware just how much you are hurting yourself. By making a few simple changes, you can improve your overall daily health and extend your life span.

These are the Top Ten Bad Habits that can steal years off your life.

  1. Not Enough Sleep. Scientific research points to lack of sleep as the catalyst for many other health-related problems. Without an adequate amount of sleep your metabolism slows and you can gain weight. Fatigue also leads to eating for energy to compensate. Your immune system is lowered and you are less able to fight off disease and infection. Your ability to focus, concentrate on important tasks such as driving and your memory all suffer without enough sleep. Aim for eight hours every night, and add naps when necessary.
  2. Failing to Floss. Daily flossing reduces the amount of bacteria in your mouth.  Doctors believe this bacteria enters your bloodstream and triggers inflammation in your arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease.  It is also thought to cause artery thickening.  Flossing will also preserve your natural teeth and gums as long as possible; when they deteriorate your overall health can suffer. A beautiful smile will also help you look younger.
  3. Not Keeping Up with Diagnostic Exams. Preventative exams such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and cholesterol screenings are proven to save lives. They can reveal conditions like cancer and heart disease at early stages where the potential for successful treatment is greater.
  4. Failing to Make Connections. Research increasingly shows that people who stay socially engaged with other people reduce their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Connect with family and friends on a regular basis. Develop new friendships through common interests. Take advantage of online social networks. Show interest in people around you.
  5. Worrying. More harm is done by worrying about something that you cannot change. Worrying creates stress, which triggers the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, releasing hormones like cortisol into your system. These can trigger reactions such as weight gain. Learn stress-reduction techniques such as meditation and yoga. If you can’t solve a problem, you should learn to let it go.
  6. Disengaging Your Brain. For good brain health, you should regularly engage in brain activities that are both new and challenging. It may be formal education, learning a new language, developing a new hobby, playing games like chess, bridge, or even poker, or solving puzzles.
  7. Too Much Sun Exposure. Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers, and melanoma is among the most deadly of all cancers. Use sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, even if you are just driving in the car.
  8. Not Getting Enough Calcium. Osteoporosis is a disease that becomes more common with older age. It is more prevalent among women, but men get osteoporosis too. Among the important ways to prevent osteoporosis is to be sure you get enough calcium in your diet. Add more nonfat and low-fat dairy products to your diet such as milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Take 1500 mg of calcium a day as a supplement if necessary.
  9. Exposure to Secondhand Smoke. You may not smoke, but if someone around you does or you are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, it’s nearly as bad as if you smoke yourself. Encourage loved ones and friends to quit; if you must, limit your exposure by limiting the time you spend with them.
  10. Not Taking Enough Time for Yourself. Leisure time is important to recharge your batteries and prevent stress. Don’t work yourself to death. Put aside quality time with family or for yourself. Relax!

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is President and CEO of At Your Home Familycare in San Diego, California. Read more  LifeCycles in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow At Your Home Familycare on Facebook and on Twitter @AYHFamilycare.
Copyright © 2011 by At Your Home Familycare

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