Bad habits

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Whether it's a reality TV binge or devouring an entire packet of chocolate biscuits, when these vices are indulged occasionally, they seem harmless enough. But when the guilty pleasure becomes a die-hard habit, the impacts on your health can be serious and lasting.

There's a saying that "old habits die hard". When your habits negatively affect your health- like midnight snacking, watching more than two hours of TV a day, or relying more on your car than on your feet - it can be difficult but important to break the habit.

There are four main lifestyle factors that negatively impact upon our health:

Many bad habits fall under these categories, and while many of us give in to fast foodii or pass up doing exercise, it's these little things that can make a big difference to our future health. We take a look at the main vices and guilty pleasures that can be changed for a happier and healthier future.

Would you like fries with that?

It's easy to be tempted with the great range of food available in Australia: at the Chinese restaurant down the road, the kebab joint near the club or the junk food in our pantry. In fact, we love our food so much that we can't seem to get enough of it, with around 61% of Australians being overweight or obese in the years 2007-2008iii.

But there are some bad habits we can break to control and moderate our food consumption (even if we think we really deserve another slice of cake): weight and nutrition. Snacking at odd hours, bingeing on food and caving to sugar and/or fat cravings can be difficult to fight. However, simple measures such as taking more effort to make a home-cooked meal instead of ordering in, moderating snacking between meals, and choosing healthy substitutes for junk food can all, ultimately, make a big difference. Healthier eating can lessen the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and osteoarthritisiv.

Got a light?

In 2011-12, there were 2.8 million Australians aged 18 years and over who smoked dailyv, and on top of this figure, there are many more Australians who admit to smoking occasionallyvi. Common reasons people smoke are to relieve stress, relax in a social setting or due to peer pressurevii. However, it continues to be the bane of the medical world as it is so strongly linked to a multitude of health problems (not just for you, but for those around you as well). To name a few, smoking can cause severe disorders and diseases to your respiratory, circulatory and immune systems. Cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, stomach are linked to smoking as are heart disease, heart attack and strokeviii. The next time you pick up a cigarette, think about it: is this one cigarette really worth it?

Going for a drink? Moderating your alcohol consumption will lessen the risk of sickness or injury.

Another round?

Australians love a drink, especially when it's at the pub, bar or live music venue. It's a beer with our colleagues, cocktails with friends or wine at dinner that can help us relax and enjoy our surroundings. However, sometimes we have a bit more than we intend. Statistics from the ABS in 2011-2012 show that around 20% of Australians consume more than two alcoholic drinks per dayix, putting them in the category of possible lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Excessive drinking can have lasting damage on your insides and can affect your lifestyle in the long term. Each year approximately 3,000 people die as a result of excessive alcohol consumption and around 100,000 people are hospitalisedx. Long-term excessive alcohol consumption can lead to heart damage, high blood pressure and stroke, various cancers, disorders of the digestive system, liver and brain damagex. Alcohol can also be addictive, with dependents suffering significant negative impacts on their finances, relationships, and mental and physical healthxi. When it comes to alcohol, moderation is keyxii.

What's on the telly tonight?

Although many Australians love going down to the beach, throwing a ball around and going for a run, an inactive lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular with 67% of Australians aged over 15 years old doing no exercise or low level exercise each week in 2011xiii. It could be choosing to watch TV or spending time on your computer instead of going outside, or driving instead of walking down the road, but these things can lead to an inactive lifestyle in which you hardly exercise or raise your heart rate. What's worse is that while watching TV for hours, you'll want to eat and be unable to burn off any of the energy you've gained while sitting there, therefore storing it as fativ. A sedentary lifestyle coincides with obesity and weight gain: this combination can make it difficult to stay healthy. Keeping an active lifestyle lessens the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, colon and breast cancer, depression and fallsxiv.

Get up and get out! Being a couch potato leads to weight gain, lower fitness levels and a vulnerability to heart disease.

Get up! Get out!

If you give in to that sugar craving, the occasional cigarette or skip exercise more often than not -it's worth reconsidering your choices. Substitute a burger with a banana or your couch with a swim, it can impact positively on your health!

i Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, 4338.0 - Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13: Health Risk Factors,

ii Cancer Council NSW, Exposing the truth on fast food restaurants,

iii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, 4338.0 - Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13: Overweight and Obesity,

iv Better Health Channel (State Government Victoria), 2013, Obesity,

v Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, 4338.0 - Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13: Tobacco Smoking,

vi Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000, 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends: Trends in smoking,!OpenDocument

vii From the First to the Last Ash: The History, Economics and Hazards of Tobacco, 1997, Unit 3: Why People Smoke,

viii Better Health Channel (State Government Victoria), 2013, Smoking – effects on your body,

ix Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, 4338.0 - Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13: Alcohol Consumption,

x Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia, 2012, Alcohol and Its Effects,

xi Blue Sky Psychology, 2008, Alcohol Addiction and Counselling,

xii Live Life Well (NSW Government), 2013, Alcohol,

xiii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, 4338.0 - Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13: Exercise,

xiv NSW Premier’s Council for Active Living, 2010, Why active living?,