Over 40? Here Are 40 Unhealthy Habits You Need to Purge from Your Life Immediately
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Turning 40 is a time to look on back on how far you’ve come and the life you’ve worked hard to build for yourself. But it’s also a time to consider how many more years you have left, and how you want to live them. Let’s face it: Not everything you’ve been doing in your first four decades should remain with you for the next four. There are plenty of unhealthy habits you should break in your 40s in order to live better, both physically and mentally.
From that nightly glass of wine to not taking responsibility for your own actions, these are some of the patterns that need to end as you stand at the top of that mid-life hill.
Not getting enough sleep.
Your years of surviving on five hours of sleep a night are over. “Many people over 40 don’t get enough sleep simply because they are consumed by everyday responsibilities,” says Dr. John Gilmer, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at Trinity College Dublin and a vice president of research and development at Active Iron.
But, Gilmer notes that after 40, it becomes crucial to get somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. “During sleep, your brain sends a signal to your body telling it to release hormones and compounds that assist with decreasing your risk for health conditions, retaining your memory, managing your hunger levels, and maintaining your immune system,” he explains.
In addition, “sleep is also the period when our muscles rebuild and repair themselves in addition to getting larger and stronger.” Need he say more?
Cluttering up your bedroom.
It’s obvious that getting enough sleep is crucial to aging gracefully. But did you know that one of the biggest ways you might be sabotaging your own sleep cycle is by treating your bedroom like a storage closet?
“It is a terrible habit to make your bedroom a storage area, when it should be a sleep sanctuary,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck.com, a resource on the science of sleep. “Our minds tend to race with clutter, and having piles of things in our room is counterintuitive to rest,” he explains.
Instead, try making your room as cool, dark, and clutter-free as possible. “By putting in some effort, you can break the bad habit and get back to a great night of sleep,” urges Fish.
Racking up credit card debt.
When we first get a credit card in our 20s, we tend to not understand the responsibility that comes along with it, which can lead to large balances and debt. In your 40s, that needs to change. “While cards can serve as valuable tools with perks that benefit your everyday life, large balances can incur hefty interest fees,” says Sean Messier, credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. “Plus, high credit utilization can deal serious damage to your credit cards.”
Instead, Messier recommends charging staples like food and gas to earn points, while using cash or debit to pay for the rest of your purchases.
Putting personal relationships on hold.
“When a person reaches 40, the fleeting nature of life becomes more obvious,” says Dr. Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. But even if you know this to be true, it’s still hard to put it into action.
Manly strongly recommends putting your time and effort into your most important relationships now. “Stop thinking that you’ll give your partner better TLC ‘later’ or ‘when life slows down,'” she explains. And the same goes for children: “Your kids will be gone before you know it. Give them your time and attention now,” Many says.
Neglecting to do the hobby you’ve always wanted to do.
“Many people over 40 get into the habit of coming home from work, having dinner, then laying down to watch TV before finally turning in for the night,” says Gilmer. “This activity doesn’t stimulate the brain like if you were to get out of the house and engage in a hobby.”
Your 40s is the perfect time to try the activity you’ve always thought about doing, but never made time for. “Engaging in hobbies has been linked to positive mental health and a longer life expectancy,” Gilmer says.
Not asking yourself the hard questions.
By the time you reach 40, you can no longer leave negative debilitating thoughts to fester. You have to bring them out into the open for a thorough examination.
Of course, this won’t be easy, warns Bridgitte Jackson Buckley, a writer on spirituality and personal growth and the author of The Gift of Crisis. After all, it’s never pleasant to face one’s biggest fears and insecurities. “However, if you want fewer toxic interactions in life, engaging in a reflective practice is not only beneficial to health, but critical for self-improvement,” she says.
Jackson Buckley suggests 40-somethings to try “creating a consistent reflective practice, such as meditation, [which] allows unconscious beliefs to rise to the surface to be examined and released.”
Thinking your health doesn’t matter.
Especially in your 40s—with numerous people to care for and responsibilities to worry about—it can be easy to put one’s health on the back burner, says Manly. But your health matters, too.
Instead of thinking that it will work itself out, or that you have more important things to take care of, it’s crucial to take charge and schedule regular doctor’s appointments. “Take your doctor visits, diet, and exercise seriously,” she urges.
Bemoaning the signs of aging.
While it’s easy to treat these things as signs of your mortality, they’re also evidence of the great times you’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Remember that while aging is inevitable, being around for it isn’t. “Be grateful that you had the opportunity to laugh, and cry, and get grey hair from your kids or spouse,” Matthezing adds. “Many people do not get the opportunity to grow old or complain about a few grey hairs.”
Not properly hydrating.
“Nearly 75 percent of adults in the U.S. walk around in a chronic state of dehydration,” says Wayne Anthony, clean water advocate and founder of WaterFilterdata.org. “This leads to fatigue, irritability, lack of productivity, brain fog, elevated heart, muscle damage… you name it.”
In addition to consuming more H20, Anthony also recommends cutting back on dehydrating liquids. Specifically for the over-40 set, he urges decreasing your alcohol and caffeine consumption. “Replace such beverages with water—even sparkling water if you need something different.”
Constantly yo-yo dieting.
“Yo-yo dieting not only damages your metabolism, it can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, hair loss, digestive issues, fatigue, and memory loss,” warns Tafiq Akhir, a certified personal trainer and owner of Tafiq’s Physiques in West Hollywood, California.
Instead, find a nutritional program that works for you, and stick to it. “Not only will it help you look better, you’ll improve your overall health and wellness, as well,” Akhir adds.
Using weak sunscreen, or none at all.
After 40, using sunscreen in the summer isn’t enough—it’s gotta be strong and it’s gotta be year-round. Gilmer recommends nothing under SPF 30. Anything lower than that “can give you sunspots, leaving your skin with hyper-pigmentation, as well as speed up the aging process.” In addition, a lack of sufficient sunscreen may damage your skin’s collagen, leaving you with premature and increased wrinkles. And, most importantly, not protecting your skin from the sun can lead to skin cancer.
While looking like a bronze god or goddess may seem aesthetically pleasing, it’s not worth sacrificing your health for it.
Drinking too much alcohol.
Another unhealthy habit ruining your skin in your 40s? Heavy alcohol consumption. “Drinking alcohol causes the pores to dilate, contributing to breakouts and excess oil,” explains Bobbi Del Balzo, a medical aesthetician at Deep Blue Med Spa in New York. “Alcohol also increases certain enzymes in the skin tissue, causing it to become dehydrated and dry.” So, to keep your skin looking taut and glorious in your 40s and beyond, it might be time to rethink your drinking habits.
And it goes without saying that alcohol can damage much more than your skin. “Drinking several glasses of alcohol on a daily basis is not good for your long-term health and it doesn’t help your quality of sleep, either,” Akhir explains.
Or even just one glass of wine a night.
Unlike apples, it turns out one glass of wine a day may not keep the doctor away. “While it’s easy to to look to wine or a cocktail to relieve the daily stress, the jury is still out on whether the pros outweigh the cons, even with one glass,” says Akhir.
Eating all that salt.
Almost 90 percent of Americans consume more salt than is recommended, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the salt you eat comes from packaged and processed foods with high sodium content, says Dr. Garth Graham, a practicing cardiologist in Kansas City, Missouri.
So, while you don’t need to get rid of your salt shaker, it’s important to be aware of these levels and keep yours to a minimum. “Recommendations are for no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day,” Graham explains.
Not taking responsibility for your actions.
An immature person will all too often blame external circumstances for their own unhappiness. However, even after 40, many people hold on to this tactic to absolve themselves of looking at their own flaws, says Matthezing.
Take weight gain, for example. It’s easy to blame your age and slowed metabolism for your expanding waistline. “However, is there real proven science to say it’s your hormones and not also your poor choices of lifestyle and food?” Matthezing asks.
The point is, while some circumstances will always be out of your control, there are also always the ones that aren’t. And opting to focus on the latter puts you back in the driver’s seat. “Blame absolves ourselves of taking responsibility, and if we would just take responsibility and know that we are important, we would stay committed,” Matthezing explains.
Using bar soap.
There’s something so simple about having one bar of soap for all your cleansing needs. Nonetheless, this is one area of hygiene that requires upgrading post-40, for many reasons. “First off, bar soap harbors bacteria by just sitting in the shower daily,” explains Del Balzo. Secondly, “soap bars imbalance your skin’s natural pH, causing dehydration.”
Del Balzo adds that “when you wash with bar soap, it pulls the water out of your skin, offers little to no exfoliation, and causes dead dry skin to build up.” In short: Leave the bar behind.
Not protecting your ear drums.
Caring for your ear canals is crucial as you get older. Nobody wants to be the first of their friends in need of hearing aids.
One important change to make in your 40s is to use earplugs when you’re somewhere loud, like a concert, says Dominique Malinowski, hearing instrument specialist at Robillard Hearing Centres in Canada. Whether it’s at a huge venue or a local bar, the fact is, those events can get pretty loud. So be sure to bring proper protection.
And if you do begin experiencing hearing loss regardless, Malinowski recommends seeing an audiologist immediately “to ensure there are no underlying issues.”
Cleaning your ears out with cotton swabs.
In addition to not using ear plugs, too many people over 40 are inflicting damage on their ears in the misguided name of hygiene, says Malinowski. They continue to use the much-maligned cotton swab to remove earwax, which causes more harm to the ear canal than it does good.
However, that doesn’t mean one should simply live with the wax. “The best option would be to book an appointment with your doctor to remove the earwax, or even use an at home ear wax removal aid,” says Malinowski.
Snacking late at night.
We all know snacking before bed affects your waistline, but it can cause problems for your complexion, as well.
According to Del Balzo, “When you eat late at night, your body doesn’t have time to metabolize the food and it disrupts an important enzyme that plays a key role in skin repair.” To get your proper beauty sleep, make sure to avoid munching for a good three to four hours before hitting the hay.
Eating sugars and processed carbs.
You’ve heard this one before, of course. But Dr. Kyle Varner, a physician specializing in internal medicine, warns that it’s even more dire than you might’ve realized. In addition causing weight gain, eating too much sugar and processed carbs can “greatly increase” one’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
In addition, “there is some evidence that it could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease,” Varner explains.
Skimping on your oral hygiene routine.
Just because flossing gets all the headlines doesn’t mean it’s the only part of your dental hygiene you should be thinking about. “If you want an amazing smile when you enter the golden years, I recommend following my four-step smile workout: brush, floss, rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouth rinse, and clean the tongue,” explains Dr. Catrise Austin, dentist to the stars and founder of VIP Smiles.
Of course, you can’t do it all on your own. “Don’t forget to see your dentist every six months!” she adds.
Coffee is not breakfast. Sure, a younger you may have rushed out the door with a cup of Joe, too late for work to eat a full breakfast. But 40-year-old you should take the time to eat a balanced breakfast before heading out for the day. “By avoiding breakfast, you cause blood sugar fluctuations that can negatively affect your energy,” Akhir explains.
And the consequences don’t end there. “People who skip breakfast also tend to overeat and choose unhealthy food options later in the day,” he says.
Eating out too often.
Just because you have the added income to splurge on a few more meals out every week now that you’re 40, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. As Gilmer explains, “Restaurant food is full of fat and salt.” That’s why he urges his patients to “keep eating out to a minimum.” Then, when you do go out, you can really splurge—both calorically and monetarily—to your heart’s content.
Pretending fast food isn’t that bad.
Every time you consume fast food, your body almost certainly lets you know it isn’t happy—you just need to listen. “You can pretend your body isn’t affected for only so long,” says Bess Berger, registered dietitian and founder of ABC Nutrition By Bess in Teaneck, New Jersey.
You don’t have to go cold turkey, either. “Think about how many times you eat fast food a week, then come up with a reasonable number to cut it to down to,” she suggests. “Then, cut it down again and again.”
Eating canned foods.
Now that you’ve over 40, you should have the time and money to stop using canned food as a cooking crutch. By eliminating those cans, you’ll avoid exposure to BPA—an ingredient used in aluminum can linings—that has been shown to disrupt thyroid function, says Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
But BPA is not the only thing to look out for. In his new book, Sicker, Fatter, Poorer, Trasande writes that “as BPA-free has come into vogue so have a bunch of replacements: BPP, BPF, BPS, BPZ, and BPAP, just to name a few. [And these] pose similar if not worse threats.” It’s best to ditch anything that comes in aluminum altogether.
Avoiding weight training.
Weight and resistance training is a must after 40, says Akhir. Even if you’ve been hesitant to try it before, now it’s imperative. That’s because resistance helps to fortify things that tend to suffer with age, such as bone density, hormone levels, metabolism, and cognitive function, explains Akhir.
Of course, when lifting weights for the first time, it’s best to start with a coach or somebody with experience to ensure you don’t injure yourself.
Surrounding yourself with the unhealthy people.
Of the 7,000 waking hours you have each year, very few of them are spent in the doctor’s office. So it’s really the people you spend the most time with who influence your health. “Your boss, your teacher, your local elected official—even your neighbors—have the potential to influence your health more than your doctor,” says Graham.
To remain in top shape, it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right people. “Social determinants of health are adding and detracting from your health every day,” Graham notes.
Unhealthy foot hygiene.
“Many people over the age of 40 have some unhealthy foot hygiene habits,” says Dr. Bruce Pinker, a foot and ankle surgeon at Progressive Foot Care in New York City.
The most common, he says, is failing to dry between their toes after bathing. “If moist feet are placed inside closed shoes, the feet may become warm and fungus growth may be promoted, due to the wetness and the footwear which prevents breathability,” Pinker explains. This can lead to blistering and cellulitis, as well as athlete’s foot.
“By simply drying between the toes after bathing, one can help reduce the occurrence of such infections and therefore reduce foot discomfort,” Pinker says. In addition, he recommends using over-the counter powders, which can be placed directly onto feet or into socks to reduce wetness.
Sitting too much.
While you don’t need to go all the way to a standing desk, you should remain vigilant when it comes to exercising your body during the workday. According to Monica Lam-Feist, a certified personal trainer and lead fitness expert at AlgaeCal, “sitting can increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease.” She urges the over-40 set to “get into the healthy habit of reminding yourself to get up and go for a quick walk or stand-up stretch when you’ve been sitting too long.”
Watching too much television.
“There is no excuse for sitting on the couch and watching a mindless sitcom,” says Varner. “It is a waste of time and life.”
While it may sound extreme, he says one easy way to resist the temptation to spend your downtime binge-watching is to get rid of the screen altogether. “I do not own a television and I recommend that anyone with one rid themselves of this pernicious device that will rob you of precious time,” says Varner.
Looking at screens before bed.
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Screens are unhealthy, especially at night.
“Looking at our phones before we go to bed is terrible for our sleep,” Fish says. That’s because of both the light of the screen itself, and the activities we tend to do on our phones or tablets. “Not only are the blue lights emitting from screens bad for our sleep process by stopping our bodies from producing melatonin naturally, but checking emails before bed doesn’t exactly elicit relaxation,” he explains.
Not expressing gratitude.
When you’re younger, forgetting to say “thank you” is immature. But as a 40-something, it’s just unacceptable.
Besides, being more appreciative, especially out loud, has great health benefits. A 2013 study published in Personality and Individual Differences concluded that verbal gratitude had an even greater impact psychologically in older adults.
Eating your kids’ snacks.
After 40, mindless snacking on packaged, processed foods should be cut be down to zero. But having kids can make this a difficult task. Instead of keeping tasty snacks in brightly-colored packaging lying around, reduce their allure by storing them in hard-to-reach places, which will benefit both you and your little ones. Out of sight, out of mind.
You may have more income nowadays, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to spend recklessly. Like snacking, impulse spending is another mindless, unhealthy habit in your 40s. In fact, it’s been linked to feelings of low self-esteem, according to a 2007 study in Psychology & Health. Those expensive shoes and that pricey purse just aren’t worth it.
Staying at a job that’s not right for you.
Just because you need a job doesn’t mean you need the job you have. By now you have enough experience to recognize what a good working situation is. And if you don’t have it, find it!
Leaving a bad job can boost not just your mental health, but your physical well-being, too. According to a 2014 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, people with high job strain are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Working too much.
Hopefully, you’ve reached a point in your career where you don’t have to over-exert yourself to prove yourself. So nowadays, you should be working smarter, not longer.
Besides, spending too much time at work isn’t good for your brain. A 2016 study from the Melbourne Institute found that for workers over 40, work weeks longer than 25 hours had a negative impact on cognition.
Relying on vitamins for nutrients.
A handful of vitamins no longer counts as a substitute for broccoli in your 40s. The fact is, essential nutrients react with the body differently depending on how they are consumed. One 2006 study in Clinical Interventions in Aging warned that supplementing essential nutrients with vitamins was associated with a higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Instead, you should just get your vitamins from actual fruits and vegetables.
Keeping negative people in your life.
In your 40s, it’s time to stop putting up with toxic people. While no one is urging you to excommunicate family and loved ones, if people in your life are unpleasant to be around, Matthezing recommends instituting barriers and limiting the time you spend together.
Comparing yourself to others.
Invoking Eleanor Roosevelt, Matthezing says: “Comparison is the thief of all joy.”
If you focus on the fact that your journey is your own, the results can be tremendously freeing. “When we can get honest and truthful about how we are limited by our own ideas of what a 40-plus-year-old should look like, we can commit to how we want to look and feel for ourselves, not someone else’s version of us,” Matthezing explains.
Wishing you were younger.
In a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, Brandeis University researchers found that the majority of those at mid-life wished they were younger than they are. (The median desired age was 33, specifically.)
But just as a 30-year-old shouldn’t be comparing their accomplishments to yours, you shouldn’t be comparing your looks to theirs either. “Women over 40 are always comparing themselves to much younger women,” says Matthezing. And men are just the same.
Everyone knows it’s not healthy to wish to be something you can’t possibly be. Focus on everything you have now that you didn’t have when you were younger and you’ll realize, you’re much better off. And once you rid yourself of all those habits, try replacing them with these 40 Amazing Habits to Adopt After Age 40.
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