8 Unhealthy Vices to Extinguish Now

If you’re a knuckle cracker or nail biter, listen up. Here’s how to leave these vices in 2012.

A businessman bites his nails.
By SHARE

How are those resolutions going, two weeks in? Only 300-something days left to drop 30 pounds or quit smoking or become happier. While these positive, long-term goals are well intended—and we trust you can pull them off—why not tackle a couple short-term resolutions this month? Consider these seemingly-innocent health habits you can (and should) start crossing off your list:

Habit: Chewing on ice

Why it matters: "Pica" is a condition that causes people to crave and chew non-foods, like paper and ice. It's sometimes triggered by nutritional issues, such as iron-deficiency anemia, according to the National Institutes of Health. Chewing ice could also signal emotional troubles like stress or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Not to mention: That crunching is likely annoying your nearby co-workers.

How to stop: Make and order your beverages ice-free to avoid temptation. Bring it up with your doctor, too. She can determine if you have a nutritional deficiency, and if so, help you overcome it. If she suspects it's an anxiety issue, she may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy.

[See Top Recommended Iron Supplements.]

Habit: Slouching

Why it matters: When you're stooped over as you stand, or slouched so far down in your seat that you're nearly falling off, your back muscles and ligaments have to work harder to keep you balanced. This struggle in your muscles can lead to back pain, fatigue, and headaches, among other issues.

How to stop: Practice makes perfect, and posture is no exception. When standing, check that your shoulders are back and relaxed, your chest is high, and your knees are relaxed—not locked. As you sit, aim for both feet to be on the floor, with your hips level with your knees. Make sure your back presses firmly against the chair, and keep your upper back and neck "comfortably straight," the Mayo Clinic recommends. While sitting and standing straight may seem unnatural and stiff at first, keep at it. It may help to stretch throughout the day or even try core strengthening classes.

[See How to Break Your Sitting Habit.]

Habit: Nail biting

Why it matters: Well, it's not the most sanitary habit. Unless you compulsively wash your hands, the germs that sneak onto your nails every time you type on a keyboard, open a door, or pet a dog will likely land in your mouth. If you tend to gnaw at your cuticles, too, you may develop a nail infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. And as is the case with many habits, nail biting could be a sign of emotional problems like stress or anxiety.

How to stop: You've got a couple options. Most drug stores sell products that look and work like clear nail polishes, except they have lasting, distinctly bitter tastes to discourage folks from biting. The Mayo Clinic suggests you identify what triggers your nail biting, like boredom, and, well, stop being bored. Chewing on some gum to keep your mouth preoccupied could also help. If you realize you bite your nails whenever you're anxious, stressed, or sad—and you bite your nails often—that might be a cue to see a psychiatrist.

[See Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don't Let It Get You Down.]

Habit: Sleeping in your contacts

Why it matters: Your risk of an eye infection spikes significantly when you sleep in contact lenses. Continually sleeping overnight in your lenses could also deprive your eye tissue of the oxygen it needs, and in some cases, the eye could compensate by creating small blood vessels. Left unchecked, these vessels could cause permanent damage. Even if your eyes don't develop an infection or form blood vessels, chances are, they'll be red and irritated the next day.

How to stop: Make taking out your lenses part of your daily schedule. Each day, switch into glasses when, for example, you change out of your work clothes, or during a nightly news commercial break. You could also try extended-wear contacts, which are relatively new to the market and safe to sleep in. Ask your optometrist if these are a good fit for you.