7 Alternatives to Your Worst Health Habits
We're not necessarily saying to quit cold turkey. Just stop and consider these strategies to make unhealthy behaviors, well, a little less so.
If Your Pep Comes from a Bottle...
Drink a cup of water or seltzer before reaching for another caffeine-charged, guarana-ginko-ginseng-spiked energy drink. What feels like fatigue may actually be a side effect of fluid loss
that’s so minor you might not feel thirsty, finds a study published in The Journal of Nutrition
. When women were only slightly dehydrated—just 1 percent less than optimal—they felt tired, unfocused and blue. The irony: Caffeine’s diuretic properties can cause
mild dehydration, and energy drinks have up to five times more of the stimulant than Coke does.
If Your Body's on Another Time Zone...
Fine, get back on that Dreamliner. Pull another string of all-nighters. But then, to avoid the subsequent week of jet-lagged, sleep-deprived misery, stop eating for 16 hours
. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. found that the fastest way to put a mouse’s circadian rhythms on a new (or correct) time zone
was to reset its "food-related master clock." This requires a single cycle of starvation during the normal wake period, followed by a meal on the right schedule (Note: Although there have been no human trials, only anecdotal support, the researchers think this strategy may help people too.) Consult your doctor before fasting.
If Your Derriere Is Deskbound...
Run to catch the elevator. Shift your La-Z-Boy to the upright position and back again 25 times. Overweight volunteers who racked up just 30 minutes
a day of short, sporadic activity—one minute here, six there—had significantly higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels than true couch potatoes, finds a study at Queen's University in Ontario. The key is breaking up sedentary time: If you sit for more than two hours, your "good cholesterol" drops along with your metabolic rate. A study published in Diabetes Care
found that just standing up for one minute every hour
during, for instance, a 10-hour slug-a-thon leads to a healthier blood lipid profile and body mass than sitting all day and being active for 10 consecutive minutes at the end.
If Your Teeth Get Fuzzy After Lunch...
Use "detergent" or add "water" if you don't brush after every meal, says Linda Niessen, DMD, clinical professor at Baylor College of Dentistry-Texas A&M University
. "Detergents" are fibrous foods such as celery, apples and carrots, which scrub away debris as you chew, she says. "Water" is saliva, which neutralizes acids and washes away food particles—and you make more of it when chewing sugar-free gum. But don't postpone brushing and flossing for too long. "Plaque must be thoroughly removed every 24 hours," says Niessen. (To put in the requisite two minutes, she recommends the timer app Brush DJ
If You Munch Mindlessly...
Identify the cue—a mood or setting—that makes you eat robotically, writes neuroscientist Darya Pino Rose, PhD, in her diet guide, Foodist
. Then, "take a different action whenever you encounter the cue." For instance, if you usually eat in front of the TV, go ahead—but try using your non-dominant hand this time
(moviegoers who did so ate 30 percent less stale popcorn in a study at the University of Southern California). A mindfulness technique, this helps you slow down and actually pay attention to what you're eating. Another option: Predict when or where you'll be in auto-feed mode and eat something healthful (like frozen grapes).
If You Get Nicotine Fits...
Massage yourself through three cravings a day, as smokers did in a study at the University of Miami
. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, they busied their hands in one of two ways: caressing their ear lobes or kneading the web of skin between their index finger and thumb for two minutes. It worked—at least much of the time.
Within a month, these self-massagers—who said they felt less anxious—smoked fewer cigarettes a day than the control group.
If Nasal Spray Is Your Old Faithful...
You know you're a nasal-decongestant-spray addict if your nose feels acid-burned, you can't smell, and yet you still feel stuffed up and spray all day. The alternative: a nasal steroid spray, says Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, FACS, a professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School
, who has seen exposed bone in abusers' noses. Your doctor prescribes the steroid to break the habit while tackling the underlying problem, like polyps or a deviated septum. If your habit is light, wean yourself by spraying every other
day for a week, Bhattacharyya says. (Claritin is another short-term option.)
Next: Perfect snacks for the anxious, the stressed and the tired