NUTRITION and FITNESS

What your past habits may mean for your future health

 (iStock)

Nobody’s perfect. Whether you considered a juicy hunk of steak as a staple in your diet, stayed up too late to catch your favorite TV show at night, or chain-smoked cigarettes as a teenager, everyone has a few health skeletons in their closet.

Lucky for you, it’s never too late to start practicing better habits to reverse any potential damage to your physical health. Making a change — even in midlife — can help reverse some of the problems you think you’re doomed for.

Fox News sifted through the science and spoke to Dr. Keri Peterson, a New York City-based internist, to get the lowdown what your past habits may mean for your future health:

You smoked a pack a day a decade ago
Safe:
(Eh, almost.) It’s better if you never did. But kicking the habit before age 39 cut men and women’s smoking-associated risk of death from any cause by 90 percent in a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s the equivalent of nine extra years to pile candles on your birthday cake.

Your butt used to be glued to your couch
Safe:
A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that when older adults logged just one moderate or vigorous exercise session per week, they were three and four times, respectively, more likely to age healthfully — even if they used to be complete couch potatoes.

You skimped on shut-eye regularly
Safe:
Sleep deprivation is no joke. “You’re taking away vital energy that your brain needs to properly function,” Peterson, who also works with the digital health platform Zocdoc, told Fox News. “But luckily, most of the effects quickly disappear after giving your body the time it needs —and deserves — to rest and repair,” she said. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults younger than 65 aim for seven to nine hours per night.

More on this...

You loved your BBQ and burgers
Tie:
Loading up on red meat is linked to weight gain and developing diabetes. However, over a four-year period, reducing red meat consumption by at least a half serving per day can drop your likelihood of the disease by 14 percent, a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests. Peterson advised eating no more than 15 ounces of red meat per week.

You considered cookies a food group
Safe:
Unfortunately, the sugar industry has historically downplayed the health effects of sugar, research reveals. And while eating too much of the sweet stuff can boost your odds of dying from heart disease by nearly threefold, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, other research from 2015, in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests you can undo some of the metabolic damage in a week or so of cutting down your consumption.

You let stress build up
Not safe:
Unfortunately, getting keyed up from even minor things can drag down your health a decade or two in the future, a 2014 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine suggests. However, having a better perspective on those stresses — not letting them bother you — can mitigate those ill effects.

You soaked up the sun — sans SPF
Not safe:
Remember getting a blistering sunburn as a kid? That’s enough to double your risk for developing melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, as an adult, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. That said, it doesn’t mean you’re going to. To reduce your future risk, wear a broad-spectrum SPF 15 every time you go outside.

You have no clue when your last physical was
Tie:
Men are the bigger culprits here. Women are more likely than men to see their doc, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — and are more likely to share embarrassing symptoms and talk about their mental health, according to a recent Zocdoc survey. But guess what? Many well-regarded docs don’t think you need one anyway, according to 2015 editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine because they don’t actually help you achieve better health. That said, the annual physical can help your physician spot red flag symptoms, Dr. Peterson noted. The important thing is staying proactive about your health.