How to break everyday habits that are bad for your health

Start the year afresh by breaking seemingly-harmless habits that are surprisingly bad for you.

30 December 2013
by Delia du Toit

Sleeping while wearing contact lenses

Eyes need oxygen for optimal health, and wearing certain types of contact lenses for too long deprives them of it, explains Clicks pharmacist Nico Passetti. This can lead to infections, an allergic reaction to your lenses, and even permanent scarring and vision loss. Ophthalmologist Robert Cykiert says you have as much as a thousand percent increased risk of cornea infections if you sleep with your contacts in.

Break the habit: If it’s simply a matter of being forgetful, place your contact lense case – or other suitable reminder – next to your bed where you can’t miss it at night. If you do doze off in your lenses, wear glasses the next day to give your peepers some air. And if you find the habit too tough to break, consider using extended-wear contact lenses. These allow more oxygen to reach the cornea, making them suitable for day and night wear.

Wearing the wrong shoes

Whether you prefer heels or flats, both can hurt if they don’t offer enough support or you wear them for prolonged periods. Extended heel wearing can lead to pain and sprains, or even shortened tendons that require surgery to fix. On the other hand, flats with no cushioning can cause inflammation of the tissue under the foot, says Megan Leahy, a Chicago podiatrist. Oprah’s Dr Oz says if you can bend the shoe in half, then it is not a suitable shoe for long-distance walking or standing in for long periods of time. Some of the medical problems that result from wearing flat shoes include shin splints and plantar fasciitis. Dr Oz advises wearing shoes with at least 1 inch (2.5cm) heels.

Break the habit: Mix it up. If you wear heels to work, put on a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes at the end of the day. If you are constantly in flats, replace them with a pair that provides a slight elevation. If your feet feel tight after a day’s shoe torture, do ankle stretches or invest in cushioning insoles to absorb some of the pressure caused by your shoes.

Biting your nails

Despite damaging your nails and fingertips, and stunting the growth of healthy nails, biting your nails could lead to digestive problems. Passetti explains that the chewing activates your stomach acid in preparation for food and when nothing comes, your stomach lining has to deal with the extra juices and a stomach ulcer could form. Plus, bacteria such as staphylococcus just love living under nails...yuck!

Break the habit: If you can’t stop, a manicure might deter you, or munch on crunchy carrot sticks instead.

Lying to a doctor or pharmacist

Apparently few people are completely upfront with doctors or when getting over-the-counter meds. One study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the US showed that while 73 percent of patients said they used their inhaler three times daily, only 15 percent actually did. If a healthcare consultant doesn’t know exactly what you’re ingesting – from vitamins to medicines or drugs and alcohol – the prescribed medication could interact negatively with other substances and cause health complications.

Break the habit: Don’t be embarrassed – healthcare practitioners have heard it all before, says Passetti.

Skipping sleep

Not only does it cause elevated levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, getting less than six hours of sleep a night doubles your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Sleep is the body’s chance to repair, rest and cleanse out harmful toxins properly, and a lack thereof affects your mental and physical wellbeing in myriad ways.

Break the habit: Start following a relaxing night-time routine and avoid computer or TV screens late at night – their blue hues have been shown to affect sleeping patterns.

Listening to loud music

Just one hour of listening to music at 50 percent or more of an iPod’s volume causes significant short-term hearing damage, found a study by Belgium’s Ghent University. Repeated exposure can cause permanent damage.

Break the habit: Make a conscious effort to keep the volume down, or try sound-isolating headphones that block out ambient noise so you can listen to your music at a lower volume.