Surprising habits that are hurting your health

Habits are actions that we do automatically in response to cues. For example, brushing your teeth before going to bed, putting on a seatbelt when you get into the car, grabbing the bag of cheese curls when you open the pantry door. There are healthy habits and unhealthy habits.

Researchers say the easiest way to change a habit is to understand why a certain behavior is not beneficial to you and, even more important, how a change to a healthier habit will reward you. We all have unhealthy habits. The first step is recognizing them. Here are seven that might be hurting your health.

Skipping breakfast

Unless you are following an intermittent fasting diet in which you postpone eating your first meal of the day until late morning or lunch, studies support the common notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve heard about studies showing how missing the morning meal decreases the academic and physical performance of kids? Same deal for adults. And a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that adults who skipped breakfast became obese at a rate five times higher than people who ate breakfast.

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Eating nonfat yogurt

Nonfat yogurt sounds healthy, right? But the few calories you might be saving by choosing the nonfat version isn’t worth it. Here’s why: sugar. Companies compensate for the fat removed by adding in sugar — upward of 30 grams (60% of your daily limit) — to make the yogurt taste better. Those quick-digesting carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly and then dip, triggering rebound hunger. Full-fat yogurts tend to have much less sugar and, as a result, will be more satiating.

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Sitting for 8 hours a day

Between commuting to work, sitting at your work desk, eating meals, checking Facebook and watching TV, you sit a lot. Probably too much. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average American adult spends 6.5 hours a day sitting. (For teens, it’s 8 hours daily.) Dozens of studies have shown that sedentary behavior for extended periods can have significant negative impacts on physical and mental health, including increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, blood clots, and decreased mental focus and productivity. Time for a stand-up desk?

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Drinking too much

Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two per day for men puts your heart at risk, according to the American Heart Association. Heavy drinking can also harm your liver. But even if you are a teetotaler, your drinking habits can have negative effects. We’re talking about sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, fruit juices, coffee drinks and sweet iced tea. Americans consume an average of 66 pounds of added sugar annually, and the biggest source is sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

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Eating at restaurants often

When you cook meals at home, you have control over the ingredients. Not so in restaurants. Restaurant-made meals tend to be heavier on saturated fats, added sugars and sodium. One study found that young adults who frequently ate at fast-food restaurants gain more weight and have a greater increase in insulin resistance in early middle age.

Not flossing

You probably brush your teeth habitually, twice daily, but do you floss, too? A study involving 500 adults found that those with gum disease were twice as likely to have high blood pressure than those with healthy gums.

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Sleeping fewer than 6 hours

Sleep restores the muscles and brain, and strengthens every critical system in the body. Research suggests that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Getting less-than-optimal sleep is believed to compromise health by lowering immune system strength. Sleep researchers explored this theory by exposing 164 volunteers to the cold virus through nasal drops while monitoring their sleep. Those who slept less than 5 hours were 4.5 times more likely to catch a cold than those who regularly slept 7 hours a night.

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