The seemingly small choices we make each day add up. Even if you practice healthy habits like meditation or meal prep, it’s likely that you still engage in other behaviors that can negatively affect your physical and mental well-being.
Of course, picking up a few bad habits over time is to be expected, but it’s important to work on replacing them with healthy ones. Read on to find out how.
9 Daily Habits That Can Wreck Your Health — And What to Do Instead
What’s the first step toward changing habits? Awareness. Following are some common behaviors that may be hurting your health — and how you can break them.
1. Skipping breakfast
Forgoing the first meal of the day in favor of a cup of coffee — or nothing at all — can mess with your appetite and energy levels. Without the right sustenance in the morning, you may be more likely to overeat at lunch and make poorer food choices the rest of the day to slake your hunger.
Of course, not all breakfasts deliver the same benefits. Eating a donut doesn’t do your body any favors, but a healthy breakfast can help stabilize your blood sugar and facilitate smarter eating as the day goes on.
At least that’s what the research says. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat breakfast tend to choose foods throughout the day with a lower dietary energy density (calories per gram of food). Another study found that eating a high-protein, low-glycemic breakfast can help increase your energy levels.
The Fix: Meal prep a nutritious breakfast so you never have an excuse not to fuel up in the morning. Egg muffins or oatmeal with berries are loaded with protein and fiber, respectively, so you stay satisfied until lunch.
2. Dining in front of a screen
It’s tempting to catch up on your favorite show during dinner or listen to a podcast at lunch, but mixing programming with pigging out is a bad habit.
Eating while distracted makes it easier to ignore your body’s satiety signals and, thus, end up overeating. A study from Brigham Young University discovered the “Crunch Effect,” a theory that suggests you’re likely to consume less food if you’re conscious of the noise it makes as you eat.
But when you negate the sound of your own tortilla chip chewing with the din of eyeballs exploding during Game of Thrones, you might end up overeating. That is, if you don’t throw up.
3. Sitting more than 8 hours
Unless you have a physically demanding job, chances are you spend a majority of your waking hours seated — either during your commute, at your desk, or on the couch.
Sitting is the new normal, but it can wreak major long-term health consequences even if you exercise regularly. One review analyzed 47 different studies on sedentary behavior and found that prolonged sitting was linked to a range of health risks, including all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
The Fix: Break up long periods of sitting with NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT refers to intermittent movement throughout the day, like cleaning the kitchen, walking to the bathroom, or carrying laundry upstairs.
4. Indulging afternoon sugar cravings
If you find yourself embarking on an office-wide search for chocolate around 3 p.m., you’re not alone. It’s normal to crave a sugary treat when your energy’s flagging, but instinctively reaching for a slice of leftover cake isn’t the answer. Consuming high-glycemic foods and drinks can cause your blood sugar levels to spike, and leave you feeling hungry and/or sluggish not long after eating.
The Fix: To get yourself out of an afternoon slump, look for low-glycemic snacks that are high in fiber. Not only is fiber filling, it also helps regulate blood sugar levels, keeping your energy stabilized. Try an apple with peanut butter or some carrots and hummus.
5. Scrolling before bed
Time to ban bedtime internet browsing and social media scrolling. Besides not being the most relaxing way to end your day, it turns out that staring at a bright screen mere inches from your face inhibits your ability to fall asleep (shocker). That’s because the blue light from digital devices can suppress melatonin production and disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to achieve a restful sleep.
In a society that glamorizes productivity and constant busy-ness, it’s normal to want to cram your weekdays full. But booking too many social activities or habitually working late can leave you feeling frazzled, burned out, and stressed.
And when you’re in a perpetual state of overwhelm and anxiety, your mental and physical health suffers. Chronic stress has a host of negative consequences: it can compromise your immune system, cause digestive issues, impair your sleep, and contribute to serious health concerns like high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.
The Fix: Start saying no to plans and projects for which you don’t have the time or bandwidth. And try to prioritize your favorite relaxing, healthy habits, whether that means taking a walk with your dog or reading in bed.
7. Checking your phone every 4 seconds
Frequently checking your phone may feel comforting in the moment, but it can take a toll on both your body and brain. For starters, staring at screens all day can cause headaches and eye strain, but being constantly plugged in can also imperil your mental health.
One study from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions found that university students with high smartphone usage turned in higher scores for depression, anxiety, and sleep problems than those in the low smartphone usage group.
The Fix: Start by turning off all unessential notifications — you don’t need to know every time someone with whom you went out on one date added to their Instagram story. Next, spend at least part of your day out of arm’s reach of your phone; charge it in another room or go for a walk and leave it at home. Next, replace your incessant scrolling habit with something similarly productive: practice an instrument, work on a crossword, or stare at a wall.
8. Eating late at night
Post-dinner snacking isn’t inherently bad, but you should approach it with mindfulness.
Most people who have a habit of eating late at night reach for refined carbs and sugary foods in large portions. Racking up these extra calories without giving your body a chance to burn them off can lead to weight gain. One study found that late-night eating is also associated with other unhealthy eating patterns, like skipping breakfast or choosing high-calorie snacks during the day.
The Fix: When you feel the urge to open the fridge at 11 p.m., make a quick assessment of your state of mind. Are you bored, upset, or genuinely hungry because you didn’t eat enough earlier? If it’s the third option, eat a small, nutritious snack, like a handful of almonds or piece of fruit. If you’re not actually hungry, though, make yourself a cup of tea or dive straight into your bedtime routine instead.
9. Going to sleep… whenever
Sacrificing a few hours of shuteye may seem like no big deal, but sleep deprivation can put you at risk for inflammation, hypertension, and even depression. Without sufficient rest each night, it’s harder to stay focused at work and maintain healthy habits, like choosing nutritious foods or following through with exercise.
The Fix: Set a regular bedtime — shoot for seven to eight hours ahead of your wake-up time — and stick to it, even if that means rearranging your evening social calendar. You should also work on priming yourself for sleep earlier in the day by limiting caffeine after lunch, shutting off technology 30 minutes before bed, and preparing your bedroom for a good night’s rest.