Damage Control for Six Unhealthy Habits
Someone who has smoked this long likely has “bad breath, smelly clothes and hair, beginning wrinkles, discolored teeth and perhaps nails,” says Dr. Edelman. “In addition, their exercise tolerance is likely to be limited to some degree and they are likely to have chronic smoker’s cough.”
After quitting cigarettes, long-time smokers should check for lung damage. To do this, Dr. Edelman recommends asking your health care provider for a simple breathing test called a spirometry, which can be performed in your doctor’s office to evaluate lung health.
Every summer, you’ve splashed in the pool, picnicked in full sun, and played one too many match of beach volleyball—without sunscreen. You may have even paid some visits to the tanning salon for a head start on your summer glow.
Dr. Arielle Kauvar, associate professor of dermatology at NYU’s School of Medicine
“Aside from causing skin cancer, sun exposure and indoor tanning are the major causes of skin aging,” says Dr. Kauvar. “Severely sun damaged skin will have a dry, dull appearance, uneven skin pigmentation and freckling, visible capillaries, and wrinkles.”
“Start by having a full-body skin examination by a dermatologist,” says Dr. Kauvar, who points out that this recommended yearly exam is especially important for people who have had a lot of sun exposure. Next, invest in a good broad-spectrum sunscreen. Select one with UVB and UVA coverage and SPF of 30 or higher, then pair this with a topical anti-oxidant. “Antioxidants neutralize the damage from the sun’s rays that pass through the sunscreen,” says Dr. Kauvar. Finally, “Avoid direct exposure between the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says our expert. If you must head outdoors during these hours, wear protective clothing and break out the sunscreen.
Your toothbrush and floss are buried in the bathroom drawer, and you can’t remember the last time you visited the dentist.
Matthew Messina, dentist with a private practice in Fairview Park, Ohio, and consumer adviser for the American Dental Association
“Just because someone ignores the bacteria present in their mouth doesn’t mean the bacteria will return the favor and ignore them,” says Messina. “Failure to address the damage from bacteria will lead to cavities, gum inflammation, gum recession, and periodontal disease [also known as gum disease]. Eventually, this will lead to infection and tooth loss.” Though your mouth may seem like a lost cause, there's no need to throw in the towel, says our expert. “While there will likely be damage that we have to address with some dental work to 'make up' for the routine maintenance that hasn't been done for some time, usually things aren't as bad as people fear.”
To start, says Messina, “It’s time to get a new toothbrush and begin to put it to use. Try brushing after breakfast and before bed and work up from there.” Next, bring your floss out of retirement. “While flossing daily is best, three times a week is better than none,” says our expert. Finally, make an appointment with your dentist for a thorough exam. Beyond any special treatment that may be in order, “a professional cleaning will be needed to remove the hard tartar buildup that brushing and flossing won’t get off,” says Messina.
The building blocks of your personal food pyramid include items from the office vending machine and the local fast food chain.
Lona Sandon, registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association
“It took years to get to this point, and it will take years to reverse it,” says Sandon. “Start assessing the consequences of the past by stepping on the scale.” Our expert recommends calculating your body mass index (BMI calculator) to determine if you are at a healthy weight. “Next, visit your doctor to find out your blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” says Sandon.
Cleaning up your diet for the long run requires both a strategy and advance preparation—but the good news is that your game plan is relatively simple, says Sandon.
You’ve had more than a few sexual partners—and you often skipped the condom.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, medical director of the Seattle STD/HIV Prevention Training Center
Having unprotected sex puts you at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases—and the more partners involved, the greater the risk.
“While the incidence of HIV remains low in the U.S. in many populations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that all adults be tested for HIV at least once. This is an excellent opportunity to get that done,” says Dr. Marrazzo. Free tests are available at many clinics and community organizations.