Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Damage Control for Six Unhealthy Habits

If you’ve ever ignored the conventional wisdom of health experts on the dangers of smoking, tanning, junk foods, or other indulgences, you’ve likely suffered damage to your health and body. Keep reading and learn how to reverse or minimize the effects of those bad habits.
By Bethany Lye for MSN Health & Fitness

The mistake: Smoking
You drained carton after carton of cigarettes—for 15 years.
The expert
Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association
The damage
Someone who has smoked this long likely has “bad breath, smelly clothes and hair, beginning wrinkles, discolored teeth and perhaps nails,” says Dr. Edelman. “In addition, their exercise tolerance is likely to be limited to some degree and they are likely to have chronic smoker’s cough.”

Smoking: Damage control
After quitting cigarettes, long-time smokers should check for lung damage. To do this, Dr. Edelman recommends asking your health care provider for a simple breathing test called a spirometry, which can be performed in your doctor’s office to evaluate lung health.
In our scenario, which involves a smoker of 15 years, most of the symptoms listed on the previous slide are reversible after quitting cigarettes, says Dr. Edelman. Kick the habit and the bad breath, coughing, and strong body odor will likely fade away. What sticks around, according to our expert, are the wrinkles and discoloration. Still, it’s worth noting that upon quitting, the physical ramifications of smoking won’t progress. Need more incentive? Swearing off nicotine is “the most effective preventive action anyone can take to insure better health,” according to Edelman. “On the average, it will add six to eight years to one’s life.”

The mistake: Sun without sunscreen
Every summer, you’ve splashed in the pool, picnicked in full sun, and played one too many match of beach volleyball—without sunscreen. You may have even paid some visits to the tanning salon for a head start on your summer glow.
The expert
Dr. Arielle Kauvar, associate professor of dermatology at NYU’s School of Medicine
The damage
“Aside from causing skin cancer, sun exposure and indoor tanning are the major causes of skin aging,” says Dr. Kauvar. “Severely sun damaged skin will have a dry, dull appearance, uneven skin pigmentation and freckling, visible capillaries, and wrinkles.”

Sun without sunscreen: Damage control
“Start by having a full-body skin examination by a dermatologist,” says Dr. Kauvar, who points out that this recommended yearly exam is especially important for people who have had a lot of sun exposure. Next, invest in a good broad-spectrum sunscreen. Select one with UVB and UVA coverage and SPF of 30 or higher, then pair this with a topical anti-oxidant. “Antioxidants neutralize the damage from the sun’s rays that pass through the sunscreen,” says Dr. Kauvar. Finally, “Avoid direct exposure between the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says our expert. If you must head outdoors during these hours, wear protective clothing and break out the sunscreen.

The mistake: Poor dental hygiene
Your toothbrush and floss are buried in the bathroom drawer, and you can’t remember the last time you visited the dentist.
The expert
Matthew Messina, dentist with a private practice in Fairview Park, Ohio, and consumer adviser for the American Dental Association
The damage
“Just because someone ignores the bacteria present in their mouth doesn’t mean the bacteria will return the favor and ignore them,” says Messina. “Failure to address the damage from bacteria will lead to cavities, gum inflammation, gum recession, and periodontal disease [also known as gum disease]. Eventually, this will lead to infection and tooth loss.” Though your mouth may seem like a lost cause, there's no need to throw in the towel, says our expert. “While there will likely be damage that we have to address with some dental work to 'make up' for the routine maintenance that hasn't been done for some time, usually things aren't as bad as people fear.”

Poor dental hygiene: Damage control
To start, says Messina, “It’s time to get a new toothbrush and begin to put it to use. Try brushing after breakfast and before bed and work up from there.” Next, bring your floss out of retirement. “While flossing daily is best, three times a week is better than none,” says our expert. Finally, make an appointment with your dentist for a thorough exam. Beyond any special treatment that may be in order, “a professional cleaning will be needed to remove the hard tartar buildup that brushing and flossing won’t get off,” says Messina.

The mistake: Junk-food junkie
The building blocks of your personal food pyramid include items from the office vending machine and the local fast food chain.
The expert
Lona Sandon, registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association
The damage
“It took years to get to this point, and it will take years to reverse it,” says Sandon. “Start assessing the consequences of the past by stepping on the scale.” Our expert recommends calculating your body mass index (BMI) to determine if you are at a healthy weight. “Next, visit your doctor to find out your blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” says Sandon.

Damage control
Cleaning up your diet for the long run requires both a strategy and advance preparation—but the good news is that your game plan is relatively simple, says Sandon.
Step 1: Make a list of fruits and vegetables you like and will eat. Buy these items and keep them within reach in case hunger strikes.
Step 2: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, list snacks you typically choose and when you usually eat them. On the other side, write down a healthier snack option for that snack and time. Plan to eat the healthier alternatives whether at home or work.
Step 3: Think small. Start with small goals that you know you can reach, like eating two servings of fruits per day instead of going for the full four. After you meet these modest goals, shoot for a slightly bigger goal. It’s all about sustainable, lifelong changes—nothing too dramatic.
Step 4: Add more physical activity in your day. One option is to walk the stairs at work during your break. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes or keep a pair of sneakers at your desk. Setting up your environment with all the right tools encourages healthy behaviors.

The mistake: Unprotected sex
You’ve had more than a few sexual partners—and you often skipped the condom.
The expert
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, medical director of the Seattle STD/HIV Prevention Training Center
The damage
Having unprotected sex puts you at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases—and the more partners involved, the greater the risk.

Unprotected sex: Damage control
“While the incidence of HIV remains low in the U.S. in many populations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that all adults be tested for HIV at least once. This is an excellent opportunity to get that done,” says Dr. Marrazzo. Free tests are available at many clinics and community organizations.
Beyond HIV, our expert recommends a blood test for anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated for Hepatitis B or anyone with recurring genital rashes or sores (often the result of a very common sexually transmitted infection called genital herpes). “If a person is in his or her 30s and has no genital symptoms, I would not recommend routine testing for other sexually transmitted infections, like chlamydia or gonorrhea,” says Dr. Marrazzo.
As for guaranteeing your future sexual health, our expert recommends finding a good health care provider with whom you can comfortably and openly discuss any of your concerns.

The mistake: Heavy drinking
In college you majored in drinking and your bar-hopping habits didn’t stop on graduation day.
The expert
Mark L. Willenbring, M.D., director for the division of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
The damage
“Risky drinking is defined as more than four drinks a day for men or three for women on any given day, and more than 14 drinks for men or 7 for women in a typical week,” according to Dr. Willenbring. “Exceeding this daily limit even 12 times a year places the drinker at increased risk for alcohol use disorders, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependence. Of course, the impact of drinking to excess differs according to an individual’s mental health history, family history, and personal experiences: “If a parent or sibling is dependent on alcohol, a person’s risk of developing dependence increases by a factor of two to four times,” says Dr. Willenbring. The good news is that “many people who drink excessively in their 20s incur no lasting damage.”

Damage control
Former heavy drinkers and binge drinkers (defined as males who consume upward of five drinks and women who consume upward of four drinks in a two-hour period) should “initiate a personal health promotion program focused on diet, exercise, sleep, and social support,” says Dr. Willenbring. This should include learning new behaviors to fulfill the same purpose that drinking once served. Reformed social drinkers, for instance, might satisfy their desire to interact with others by enrolling in a community class or a recreational sport. Those individuals who used alcohol to self-medicate during times of stress might search for a relaxing new hobby like yoga. The goal is to promote well-being and self-confidence. Dr. Willenbring concludes, “Remain vigilant. Know how much and how often you drink and why.”
Bethany Lye is a freelance writer for MSN Health & Fitness, and she has also written for People and Health magazines.

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