We all know our health is important, but we often neglect some of the little stuff that comes back to bite us later. Here are four of the simplest and cheapest things you can do now to make your future self happier and healthier.
Healthy living is all about taking care of everything in your body. You’ve probably been hammered with information on how important diet and exercise are, but your body has a lot of moving parts where things can go wrong. Here are four you might have forgotten about.
Take Care of Your Hearing
Most of us don’t worry about hearing loss until it's too late. Chances are most of us have gone to a concert, done loud machine work, or spent too many hours with the music cranked up on an iPod without a care in the world. All that loud noise damages your ears. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, some hearing loss is hereditary or from specific diseases, but noise is an important factor:
Excessive noise is recognised as an important cause of hearing loss in young people and adults. Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus may be temporary, but can become permanent if the noise exposure continues, or if the single event (as in my case) is very loud.
Noise-induced hearing loss comes when you listen to loud noises for long periods of time that damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Typically, the hearing loss develops gradually. Since it's painless, you won't notice until you find yourself turning up the TV a few notches just to hear it. Over time, this can also lead to a constant ringing in your ears known as tinnitus. I was diagnosed with tinnitus at 26, and when I talked to my doctor about it, the cause was clear: I never wore ear plugs at concerts. Now, I have a consistent, incredibly annoying ringing in my ears all the time, and I typically have to sleep with a fan or white noise machine to drown out the sound.
Thankfully, protecting yourself is cheap and easy. When you plan on being in a loud environment, wear ear protection, such as ear plugs. It may feel silly, and you probably already know you should do it. As for those times when you're playing loud music in your headphones, it's all about practising self-control. Health Magazine suggests you just stick to a few ground rules:
For now, said [Acoustics specialist Warwick] Williams, “without trying to be a ‘kill-joy,’ people should enjoy their music but try to limit their exposure by reducing the volume and/or limiting the time. Be aware of your hearing health and just remember that if you lose it, it won’t come back.”
If you don't want to deal with hearing aids when you're older, protecting your hearing now can decrease the chances you'll need a hearing aid in the future. If you don't have the self-control to limit the volume on your own, iPods and iPhones have a volume limit setting. Android users can use a third-party app like Volume Limiter for the same effect.
Use the Correct Kind of Sunscreen
Whether you're planning a day at the beach or you're just taking a long walk on a sunny day, it's important to wear sunscreen when you're out in the sun. According to the New York Times, skin cancer rates continue to rise, and melanoma cases have risen nearly 2 per cent a year since 2000. The primary cause of both of those? Sun exposure.
You may already know this, and you probably already wear sunscreen. However, that doesn’t always protect you like you think it does:
Some experts blame inappropriate use of sunscreen, saying that people do not apply enough lotion (a golfball-size dollop) or do not reapply it every two hours as instructed. But there’s another major concern: Until recently, many sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, or SPF, were designed primarily to protect people from ultraviolet B rays, the main cause of sunburn. These sunscreens may have enabled users to stay out longer but did not necessarily protect them from ultraviolet A rays. These are associated with ageing and skin damage, but some experts believe they may also be implicated in skin cancer.
The other problem is that we tend to rely on sunscreen too much. Sunscreen is a just a single defence against the sun. Around noon, when the sun is really pounding down, you still need to avoid exposure as much as possible. That means wearing hats and sleeves in addition to sunscreen. Skin cancer can sneak up on anyone. As writer Tim Layden lays out in the New York Times, it's not a pleasant experience to go through:
Mohs surgery involves progressively removing sections of cancer-afflicted tissue, microscopically examining the tissue and, if cancer is found, taking yet another larger and deeper slice. This process is repeated — in “stages,” according to the language of the profession — until the cancer is gone. It’s even more primitive than it sounds but it almost always leaves the infected area cancer free (though disfigured to varying degrees). The statistic quoted reassuringly by the surgeon’s scheduler was that 80 per cent of their patients are out of the office after one stage. Because my tumour (a basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer) was in the thin, alar wall of the nose, and near the bottom, I had been warned that some plastic surgery might be needed to smooth out the cosmetic damage (would it ever). In fact, removal of my cancer required 6 stages, 8 hours and 29 shots of Novocain. Office assistants who had been cheerful in the morning were averting their gazes by late afternoon. One of them blinked back tears when she gave me a phone charger to use.
So, how do you actually choose a sunscreen that will work? It's not as simple as just grabbing something off the shelf. You need to look for a few key things:
- Look for sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50.
- You want the sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, or a label that says "broad spectrum protection".
- Take endorsements and seals with a grain of salt. A seal from the Skin Cancer Foundation only comes when a manufacturer donates to the organisation.
If you need a little more help picking out the right sunscreen, this infographic tells you exactly what you need and when you need it.
Get More Sleep
We're all familiar with the effects of not getting enough sleep, at least on an immediate level. The next day, you’ll feel groggy and out of it. But the effects of consistently skimping on sleep go a lot further than that.
Researchers from the University of Colorado found that a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, and it's thought that consistent sleepless nights also lead to hormone imbalances that can lead to high blood pressure. Another study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found a correlation between lack of sleep and diabetes. Other studies even suggest that getting the right amount of sleep can lower your death rate. Getting a good night's sleep has a big impact on your health in both the short term and the long term.
All that said, no magic bullet for getting the perfect night's rest exists. We all need a different amount of sleep to be productive, and it's more about quality over quantity. Rebooting your sleep schedule isn't an easy process. It takes a bit of preparation, the willpower to stick with a routine and a possible change to your environment. Hard as it might seem to get your sleep schedule on track, it's not impossible. Here are a few things you can do to figure out if you're getting the sleep you deserve:
- Use sleep-tracking apps to find your target sleep schedule. They're not perfect by any means, but we've shown you how to use different types of tech to help you pinpoint the exact amount of sleep that works best for you. Remember, the eight hours of sleep myth isn't true for everyone, so you might find yourself in an entirely different schedule.
- Cut back on screen time before bed: We've seen time and time again that electronic devices harm our sleep cycles. The reasoning is that bright light confuses the brain and makes you think it's daytime instead of night. So, while you might still be able to fall asleep immediately after playing around on your smartphone, the quality of sleep won't be that good.
- Adjust your evening routine: Your daily (and nightly) routine has just as much of an effect on your sleep schedule as the actual sleep you get. Small things like staying away from spicy foods before bed or avoiding naps (at least when you're rebooting your schedule) has a significant effect on the quality of your sleep.
Getting a good night's sleep makes you feel better in the short term and the long term. Setting a reasonable schedule will provide you with all types of benefits. Once you settle into your new routine, it's not nearly as hard as you'd think, and if any of the Lifehacker staff's own experiences are any indication, you'll be waking up without an alarm in no time.
Brush and Floss Daily
OK, you’ve heard this one over and over again since you were a little kid. Not doing it now can lead to serious, incredibly expensive problems in the future. At first, it's tartar and then gingivitis. If you don't take care of your teeth for a long time, it will eventually lead to a set of inflammatory diseases that cause your teeth to fall out, called periodontitis.
Personally, I took horrible care of my teeth in my early 20s. Several cavities, a few thousand dollars and a dozen dentist visits later, I'm finally on back on track. The unfortunate side effect is that I now need to do cleanings and checkups twice a year instead of yearly, and half my teeth have fillings. Rest assured, the easier (and cheaper) plan of attack would have been preventative care.
The good news is that all those harmful effects are incredibly easy to prevent. Just brush your teeth at least twice daily, floss once a day, and make sure you're doing it right. It's also worth hitting up the dentist at least once a year for a cleaning and checkup.
When all is said and done, taking care of yourself means taking care of every piece of the machine. Diet and exercise are certainly a good starting point, but taking care of your ears, teeth, skin and brain are all just as important. The nice thing is that you can do pretty much all of that without spending a lot of money or visiting the doctor's office too often.