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Health reality check: The 5 habits you’ll be paying for later

At any given time in a day, you may stop to ask yourself if what you’re doing, in that very moment, is good for your health. You may regret popping that last chocolate chip cookie in your mouth or feel a twinge of regret when you light up yet another cigarette.

But very few people are aware of the actual effects of choices and habits we follow today. Will the choice to chill on the couch instead of working out really have an effect later on? Will your skin ever pay you back for the sunburn you get at the beginning of each summer?

AMAY spoke with five doctors: dermatolagist Adel Ibrahim, Ashraf Talaat, ENT, nutritionist Dalia Gamil, cardiologist Abdel Moneim Mohamed and neuropsychologist Damon Morgan about the habits that will take their toll in old age. 

1. Not getting enough sleep affects your memory.

“Getting less than seven hours of sleep nightly will eventually have an effect on your brain function,” says neuropsychologist Damon Morgan, PSYD. “Too little sleep affects long-term concentration, problem solving abilities and memory.” Although a “good night’s sleep” is hard thing to come by every night, people forget that it is a priority. “Inadequate sleep has been closely linked to dementia,” explains Morgan, “and early instances of memory loss are a clear sign.” Do you forget where your keys are every morning? Don’t panic. “There is a clear difference between having memory lapses and going into dementia,” Morgan clarifies. But he assures that letting memory lapses like that go without scheduling proper sleep hours can make memory issues escalate. Without proper rest, brain cells that have been killed during the day do not have a chance to properly regenerate. 

How to reverse it: Sleep, obviously – and actually fixing your diet and upping your vitamin B12 intake. Make associations – I took the keys back from my 2-year-old last night when I saw her with them in the kitchen so maybe they’re by the kitchen sink? – and keep lists to keep your mind functioning and your day on track. 

This habit also affects weight:  “A lack of sleep can also prevent you from losing weight,” explains personal trainer Tarek Hussein. In fact, sleepless nights take a toll on your skin, your weight and your overall health. 

2. A “healthy” tan will give you skin cancer.

“There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan – a tan is a sign that damage has been done to your skin,” explains dermatologist Dr. Adel Ibrahim. And forget your tan protecting you from the sun – the maximum protection your damaged skin has to offer is about SPF 4. Despite a relatively low incidence of melanoma skin cancers in Egypt, non-melanoma skin cancers can still reach life threatening levels if left untreated. Cosmetically, it may also be important to note that 80 percent of wrinkles are caused by prolonged exposure to the sun – so it’s a trade off whether you’d rather be brown and wrinkly or whiter and more youthful looking. “Sun exposure destroys the collagen under your skin,” adds Dr. Ibrahim, “and collagen injections will only fix the problem temporarily.”

How to reverse it: “Using prescription vitamin A products like Retin-A can normalize damaged cells,” assures Dr. Ibrahim, “you can plump up the cells in the top layer of skin and revive depleted collagen and elastin.” This treatment must be supplemented by religious use of sunscreen and of course, hydration. “Drinking water and green tea flushes your body of toxins,” says Dr. Ibrahim, “and the effects of this cleanliness show first on your skin.”

This habit also affects your DNA and eyes: “Research has proven that excessive sunburns can damage your DNA,” explains Dr. Ibrahim, “this damage causes cancer as well.” And surprisingly, prolonged exposure to the sun can severely damage your eyes! The sun can increase your chances for cataracts which cloud your eyes and can eventually lead to blindness. The sun can also damage your retina, affecting central vision and burning your cornea – a temporary but painful condition called snow blindness. 

3. Eating junk is like littering in your body.

“Eating well is proven important by a pretty simple equation,” says nutritionist Dr. Dalia Gamil, “if you put cooking oil in your car instead of gas at the proper octane, it will simply break down.” Dr. Gamil explains that saturated fat, transfat and cholesterol lead to plaque formation on artery walls and therefore narrower arteries and reduced blood flow – reduced blood flow means a considerably higher risk for, well, death.  “Try to minimize meats with high fat content and whole milk products such as cheese and ice cream, store-bought cookies, cakes, doughnuts and mayonnaise,” warns Dr. Gamil, “and blacklist most crackers, pies, potato chips, sausages and other processed foods.” Also keep down your intake of salty foods that raise blood pressure and sugary foods that bring on Type 2 diabetes. 

How to reverse it: Change your eating habits! Get your sugar from fruits and your flavor from spices (rather than salt). “Switching to whole grain can have a huge effect on your health,” explians Dr. Gamil. “The fiber found in whole grains will revive your digestive system and build a foundation for your energy and your entire food intake.” Fresh food is best as are skimmed dairy products and vegetable oils for fat. 

This habit also affects your psyche. Eating badly will actually chemically affect your mood and make you depressed. For many, this means that you will snack a little more to feed your emotional relationship with junk food. 

4. Sitting around will stop your heart.

Studies predict that by 2020, 80 percent of jobs will be cerebral, which means that more people will be sitting down to do their jobs and there will be one less aspect of our lives that requires physical activity. “Physical activity is one of the pillars of heart health,” explains cardiologist Dr. Abdel Moneim Mohamed. “Cardio,” the physical activity that brings your heartbeat up, strengthens your heart as a muscle, giving it more power to circulate blood and keep you alive. Sitting around and avoiding physical activity greatly increases your risk for heart disease and heart failure – as well as your risk for premature death. Living a sedentary lifestyle also increases your body fat and weight, both of which are “heart-stopping” factors.

How to reverse it: Move it! At a young age, muscle can be lost and gained, ripped and healed. You can spend a few months vegging out on the couch and then in half a year, be back in perfect shape. But if you’re waiting for the perfect moment to get fit – this is the time. “After 30, your body’s ability to build muscle decreases significantly,” explains personal trainer Tarek Hussein. “You have to move more and more often to see results.” Keep in mind that if you’ve been a couch potato for a few years now, get started gradually and don’t shock your body into extreme physical activity. 

This habit also affects brain function: Believe it or not, skipping out on physical activity can affect your brain function and increase your risk for dementia and other mental problems related to aging. 

5. A pack of cigarettes a day will ruin, well, everything.

All five doctors agreed that the effects of smoking appear in each of their specializations. You may be able to wash the smell off your hands, moisturize the dryness out of your face and cough up the tar in your lungs now, but in 10 years, the effects of smoking will be harder to remove. Dr. Ashraf Talaat, ENT, explains that with every passing year as a smoker, your wrinkles increase, your lung damage becomes more permanent and your gums and throat absorb more and more of the tar. “If you have sinus infections often or suffer from congestion or constant throat clearing, this is from smoking,” Dr. Talaat assures, “and it will not stop until you stop.” It’s no wonder children with smoke around them at a young age have an increased risk of everything from ear infections to full-blown lung cancer. 

How to reverse it: Quitting smoking by the age of 39 will add an average of nine years to your life; quitting by the age of 69 will add four. 

This habit also affects pretty much everything: Nicotine affects your brain – memory and brain function in general. Smoke from cigarettes affects your skin, yellowing it and causing wrinkles. Long-term smoking increases your risk for everything from osteoporosis to early menopause in women and from low sperm count and sperm immobility in men. Across the board it has been proven to be a leader in causing heart attacks, gum disease and even blindness. Need I continue?

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