Before you give yourself a pat on the back for all your so-called 'healthy' habits, you might want to read this

Eating your greens, flossing daily, moving more... we all know the keys to keeping fit and well. But what about those deeply ingrained habits we think are doing us good, but are actually hindering our health? Here are six you need to reconsider right now.

Avoiding all sunlight

Australians have really taken the 'Slip Slop Slap' message to heart in recent years, with Cancer Council research showing that in Victoria alone, a third of adults think to prevent skin cancer you need to avoid all sun exposure, even in winter. The trouble is that It's leading to dangerously low levels of vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health.

Avoiding all sunlight

Thinking you need to avoid all sun exposure is a common misconception," says SunSmart Manager Sue Heward, at Cancer Council Victoria. "In fact, there are times when ifs actually important to leave your hat and sunscreen off. Over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer but UV is also the best natural source of vitamin D. That's why some sun is important for our health but it's essential to get the balance right."

The SunSmart app or Bureau of Meteorology website (www.bom.gov.au/) shows when UV is forecast to be 3 or above and on these days, aim for a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon. If UV is below 3, aim for 20 minutes outside.

Drinking eight glasses of water a day

It's a myth that persists, but the belief that we should be chugging eight glasses of water a day for optimal hydration just isn't true, says Howard Murad, author of The Water Secret (Wiley, $22.95). In fact, Murad claims we're better off 'eating our water" than sipping it.

"Eight glasses means eight trips to the bathroom, flushing the system of vital nutrients," he explains. "Colorful raw fruits and vegies are the best form of water for your cells as they provide structured water and antioxidants so the hydration stays in your system long enough for your body to put it to good use."    

Opt for high-water foods such as watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes and peaches. Also keep an eye on the color of your urine - pale to light-yellow urine is a sign of adequate hydration. 

Drinking eight glasses of water a day

Cleaning with spray products 

If you love a clean house but often finish your dust-busting sessions gasping for breath, look out. Cleaning with sprays containing chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine and sodium hydroxide can irritate the lining of your airways - and drastically raise your risk of developing asthma.         

The nine-year European Community Respiratory Health Survey, conducted across 10 countries, found the risk of asthma was 40 per cent higher in women who used cleaning sprays just once a week. Sprays most likely to cause symptoms were glass-cleaning, furniture polish and air-freshener products.           

Swap chemical sprays for natural options, says cleaning guru Shannon Lush. "Most people think that because the chemicals are stronger, commercial products will be better but, in fact, natural products are up to 600 times as strong and aren't toxic."

Avoiding all saturated fat

“For the last three decades, Australians have been told that the cure for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer is to eat less saturated fat, less salt and lose weight by exercising. And we’ve listened... [but] the statistics keep getting worse,” writes David Gillespie, author of Big FatLies (Penguin, $29.95).

Studies show obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, type 2 diabetes has more than doubled between 1990 and 2005, and rates of prostate cancer and breast cancer are also on the rise. The reason? “There’s only one possible explanation for why things have gotten worse in a period when we’re doing exactly what we’re told - the advice is wrong,” Gillespie says.

Avoiding all saturated fat

US scientists would agree, after a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no link between saturated fat consumption and the risk of heart disease. Evidence now points to processed carbs cakes, soft drinks and snack foods as the real culprits. Gillespie says it’s becoming increasingly clear that the things used to replace dietary animal fat (usually sugar and seed oils) are likely to be the real cause of not just heart disease, but also type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Catching up on sleep

If you find yourself ‘catching up’ on sleep every weekend, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. Studies at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that it takes far longer than we think to recover from a sleep debt even if you ‘catch up’. “When we’re sleep deprived everything is affected, from our energy to our hormones,” says nutritionist Julie Maree Wood, author of 4 Week Energy Diet (ABC Books, $29.99). Wood suggests establishing a bedtime routine so your body learns to wind down. “Go to bed at 10pm. It’s six and a half hours before our lowest body temperature at 4.30am. It’s important to get at least six hours before this time.”

Going overboard on vitamins

Popping pills to reduce your risk of certain diseases, to give you more energy, to boost your antioxidant level or to sort out nutrient deficiencies is something many of us are committed to - in fact, according to Gillespie, 43 per cent of Australian adults regularly take vitamin supplements. As our health problems get worse and worse, we increasingly turn to over-the-counter supplements as part of the solution,” he writes.

Going overboard on vitamins

But whether we need to take as many as we do is debatable. Of course, mums-to-be need to take foliate, vegans might need to top up their vitamin B and iron levels, and a person who doesn’t get a lot of sun may need a vitamin D supplement. But experts say most of us should first try to get all our vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet and rely on vitamin supplements only when we’re deficient and can’t make up the shortfall through the food we eat.

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