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.

Habit: Knuckle cracking

Why it matters: Actually, this habit may not be so bad. While your mother may have insisted that knuckle cracking will lead to arthritis, research largely disproves that myth. Still, as Peter Bonafede, medical director of the Providence Arthritis Center in Oregon, wrote in a 2004 Q&A: "Nature did not intend for us to repeatedly stretch the ligaments of the finger joints." He points to two cases in which patients injured their hands by knuckle cracking—one dislocated his fingers, and the other partially tore the ligament in her thumb. Plus, the popping sound of gases escaping your joints may be satisfying to you, but it's likely driving others crazy. "While cracking knuckles may not get you arthritis faster, it won't win you many fans and might injure those fingers in other ways," Bonafede wrote. "It's best not done."

How to stop: Like someone who's trying to quit smoking might do, tell your friends and family that you're trying to stop cracking your knuckles, which will make you feel more accountable for changing your ways. And just as some dieters record what they eat each day, it may be helpful to keep a tally of how many times you crack your knuckles. Then try to slowly cut back.

[See Top Recommended Bone/Joint Strengtheners.]

Habit: Late-night snacking

Why it matters: Research suggests that it can lower your metabolism. And if you plow through a bag of popcorn during a 10 p.m. movie, your body will need to digest it while you sleep, rather than burning fat. Plus, late-night snacking can wake you up with heartburn—an unpleasant way to throw off your sleep cycle.

How to stop: Think about why you're eating so late. Are you consuming enough during the day? How filling are your meals, and what's your breakfast look like? It may take some shifting in your daytime eating habits to curb those midnight fridge raids. If you're trying to slim down, make a point to not eat after dinner—an easier task to accomplish if the day has left you full and satisfied.

[See Want to Lose Weight? Get Some Sleep.]

Habit: Sleeping through alarms

Why it matters: If you tend to hit snooze one or two or ten times each morning, you likely end up running late and frazzled before your day has even begun. Plus, trouble waking up is often a sign that you're not getting enough quality sleep, which can lead to a slew of health problems, from weight gain to high blood pressure.

How to stop: It's all about getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Pick the time you'd like to actually wake up (not the time you'd like to first hit the snooze button), and count back eight hours. That's your bedtime. If falling asleep at, say, 10 p.m. seems ridiculous, try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach it. Also, avoid toying with electronics and consuming caffeine before bed.

[See How and Why to Become a Morning Person.]

Habit: Guzzling energy drinks

Why it matters: These shorter, colder days may leave you itching for a sugary caffeine fix. But in a report last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about drinks like 5-Hour Energy, Monster, and Rockstar. In just an eight-year timespan, about 20 deaths were linked to these products, in addition to many more hospitalizations. Is it worth the risk?

[See Easy Ways to Reduce Caffeine Intake.]

How to stop: If your energy wanes, try a snack packed with energy-yielding carbs, like half a tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread. That way, your blood sugar is less likely to spike, and you won't crash later. Other ways to boost your energy include a B vitamin supplement, a cold shower, or a walk outside.