10 Unhealthy Habits You Need to Change Now
Pictured recipe: Lemon, Cucumber & Mint Infused Water
On This Page
- 1. Not Drinking Enough Water
- 2. Eating Late at Night
- 3. Not Getting Enough Exercise
- 4. Skimping on Sleep
- 5. Eating Too Much Sodium
- 6. Choosing Foods Because They "Sound Healthy"
- 7. Eating Lunch at Your Desk
- 8. Cooking Everything in Olive Oil
- 9. Skipping Dessert
- 10. Not Changing or Sanitizing Your Kitchen Sponge Frequently Enough
Some of the things you do—or don't do—every day might be sabotaging your efforts to be healthier. As you read this list of daily habits, don't beat yourself up if you find many of them resonate with you. We all have things we could change. And change can be hard—but there are some things that can help make it a little easier.
For example, a 2020 study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that practicing new habits consistently and in the same context helps them become more automatic so that you don't have to think about them as much to do them. For example, let's say you want to eat more vegetables. You could choose lunch to start with and decide that you'll have at least one serving of vegetables at lunch each day. Lunch becomes your trigger to eat more vegetables—and once that habit is formed, you can build on it.
Another tool to try is habit stacking. This takes a habit you already have and piggybacks the new habit onto it. For example, let's say you want to start your day by drinking water. You could habit stack this with brushing your teeth in the morning. So, after you brush your teeth, you'll drink a glass of water.
Or piggyback it with two habits—going to bed and getting up in the morning. In this case, you could fill your glass of water at bedtime, so your trigger to fill your glass is getting ready for bed. Now when you get up—which is your trigger to drink the water—it's there.
There is no one perfect way to change habits. And if you lapse—which is likely when forming new habits—simply learn from it and keep going. Research, including a 2019 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggests that making specific goals and writing them down increases your chances of success.
Take a look at these 10 habits to see if there are any areas you can make a healthy change. While it can be tempting to take on all of your habits at once, working on one at a time and consistently practicing it will help change your brain and make the habit automatic.
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
Water accounts for 60 percent of your body so it's not too surprising that drinking water benefits your total body health. Staying hydrated helps to keep your memory sharp, your mood stable and your motivation intact.
Keeping up with your fluids helps your skin stay supple, helps your body cool down when it's hot, allows your muscles and joints to work better and helps clean toxins from your body via your kidneys.
So, how much water should you be drinking? According to the National Academy of Sciences, adult men need about 13 cups per day of fluid, and adult women need about 9. (You get about an additional 2 1/2 cups of fluid from foods.)
But because one size doesn't fit all, the best way to know if you're adequately hydrated is to monitor your urine color: If it's light yellow (the color of lemonade or straw), that means you're probably drinking enough.
2. Eating Late at Night
There are a couple of reasons to consider having dinner earlier. Researchers suspect that eating dinner later and close to bedtime changes how the food is digested, including how fat is processed. This could lead to weight gain, per a 2020 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Another reason is that you may sleep better. A 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that eating close to bedtime can disrupt sleep quality.
And if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a 2022 review in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management suggests that eating within three hours of bedtime makes acid reflux worse through the night.
3. Not Getting Enough Exercise
Physical activity has so many benefits to our health that we can't name them all here (but we'll try). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exercise helps manage weight; improves brain health; strengthens bones, muscles, heart and lungs; helps you sleep better; improves mental health and reduces the risk of depression and anxiety; improves focus and judgment; improves ability to perform everyday activities; prevents falls; helps manage blood sugar; and reduces the risk of chronic disease.
According to a 2020 review in Cold Springs Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, exercise is associated with a longer life. This is because it delays the onset of at least 40 chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that all healthy adults perform moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week or vigorous-intensity activity for at least 20 minutes three days a week. They also recommend muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
It's important that you start where you're at and progressively increase the intensity and frequency of your exercise over time. One big mistake people make is going all out from the beginning and quickly burning out. Set big goals, but start small and work up to your bigger goals.
4. Skimping on Sleep
You know that falling short of sleep is a major no-no, but why—what's the big deal? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), not getting enough shut-eye can impact a whole slew of things. For starters, it can compromise your immune system, as well as your judgment and ability to make decisions—which can result in making mistakes or being injured.
Sleep deficiency is also linked to several chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression, per the NHLBI.
Being sleep-deprived may make it harder for you to lose weight if you're dieting—and more likely that you'll give in to that sweet temptation tomorrow.
While there is no magic number of hours to sleep (and the number changes with age), the NHLBI recommends 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night for adults. It's important to listen to your body and try to get the amount of sleep that your body needs to function at its best.
Related: 9 Foods to Help You Sleep
Pictured recipe: Air-Fryer Turkey Stuffed Peppers
5. Eating Too Much Sodium
According to the CDC, 90% of Americans eat about 1,000 mg more sodium each day than we should. Restaurant foods and processed foods both tend to be very high in sodium. One of the easiest ways to cut your sodium intake is to cook at home using fresh ingredients. To trim your sodium intake even further, try boosting the flavor of food cooked at home with herbs and spices rather than salt.
6. Choosing Foods Because They "Sound Healthy"
More and more food labels are sporting health benefits on their labels. If such claims lure you in, know that just because a product lacks fat or gluten or carbs doesn't necessarily mean it's healthier. For example, fat-free products often deliver more sugar than their counterparts to make up for the flavor the product lacks from having the fat removed—and many full-fat options are the healthier choice.
Avoid being duped by a healthy-sounding label claim by comparing the Nutrition Facts panels and ingredient lists across brands of the same food category. It's worth stating that some of the healthiest foods at the grocery store don't have any packaging or branding—like fruits and vegetables.
Pictured recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Quick Turkey Bolognese
7. Eating Lunch at Your Desk
It's all too easy to munch on your midday meal desk-side, but according to research published in Appetite, distracted eating was correlated to higher body weight. Researchers recommend shutting off devices and taking a break from work so that you can focus on what you're eating, enjoying your food and noticing when you're starting to feel full. Learn more about eating mindfully and how it can help you.
8. Cooking Everything in Olive Oil
Even though olive oil is packed with heart-healthy antioxidants (called polyphenols) and monounsaturated fats, there are times when it's not the best choice for cooking. Why? Because olive oil has a lower smoke point than some other oils (that's the point at which an oil literally begins to smoke and olive oil's is between 365° and 420°F).
When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds in the oil start to degrade, and potentially health-harming compounds form. So if you're cooking over high heat, skip it and choose a different oil.
When is olive oil a good idea? It's a great choice for making salad dressing or sautéing vegetables over medium heat.
9. Skipping Dessert
You may think you're doing a good thing by banishing sweet treats. But studies, like the 2022 review in Einstein (Sao Paulo) suggest that feeling deprived—even if you are consuming plenty of calories—can trigger overeating. And making any food off-limits just increases its allure.
So if it's something sweet you're craving, go for it. A small treat won't break your diet! Two squares of dark chocolate or ½ cup of ice cream clock in at under 150 calories.
10. Not Changing or Sanitizing Your Kitchen Sponge Frequently Enough
This might not be something you think about regularly, but your kitchen sponge can be a cesspool of bacteria, molds, and yeast, according to a 2020 study in BMC Public Health. And some of these microbes can make you sick. Add to that, if you're using the sponge to wipe down your sink, kitchen counter, stove and refrigerator shelves, you're providing the perfect transportation for cross-contamination.
It's important to disinfect your sponge every day by microwaving it wet for two minutes and replacing it frequently—at least every two weeks.