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Seven daily sins: Shower every day? Rinse after brushing teeth? These 'healthy' habits could be devilishly bad for you
Could your daily routine be ruining your health? We all know that smoking, drinking and bingeing on junk food are behaviours to avoid if we want to keep fit - but an increasing amount of research is emerging to suggest other seemingly benign habits could also be bad for us.
Here, MATTHEW BARBOUR asks the experts to reveal these seven daily sins, and what we can do about them...
DAILY SIN: SHOWERING EVERY DAY
Using piping-hot water combined with harsh soaps can strip the skin of its oils, resulting in dryness, cracking and even infection
The modern preoccupation with personal hygiene could be to the detriment of our skin, according to Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic in London.
‘Most people wash far too much,’ he says. ‘Using piping-hot water combined with harsh soaps can strip the skin of its oils, resulting in dryness, cracking and even infection.
‘For the majority of us, there is no need to have a thorough wash every day.’
If the prospect of skipping a daily shower horrifies you, at least make sure you wash with cooler water, he says.
If you have a tendency towards dry skin, use a soap-free shower gel or aqueous cream — an emulsifying ointment containing paraffin oils, water and preservative that can be used in place of soap.
DAILY SIN: SLEEPING EIGHT HOURS A DAY
A short four to 15-minute 'power nap' can be as effective as an extra hour at night
The notion of getting eight hours of solid sleep each night is a ‘modern convention’ that could leave you feeling more tired, says Professor Jim Horne, of Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre.
‘We’ve evolved to have very flexible sleep patterns and fragmented sleep — including daytime napping — can be of real benefit,’ he says.
‘A short four to 15-minute “power nap” can be as effective as an extra hour at night.’
He explains that hundreds of years ago, dividing up daily sleep was commonplace.
‘People would have what they called a “fyrste sleepe” of around two hours in the early evening, followed by supper and lively interactions with their family and friends, followed by bedtime around midnight, then three to four hours of uninterrupted sleep, before prayers and rekindling the fire, then another couple of hours sleep until dawn, making a total of around seven hours of daily sleep.’
He adds: ‘This modern notion that waking in the middle of the night is a bad thing can actually be destructive to the quality of our sleep.
‘For instance we wake at 3am and lie there becoming anxious about not sleeping, whereas we should simply get up and occupy our minds with something distracting but relaxing — such as doing a jigsaw or reading a book — until our bodies tell us we’re ready to sleep again.
‘If cavemen had slept through the entire night they’d have been eaten alive.’
DAILY SIN: RINSING AFTER BRUSHING TEETH
Rinsing washes away the protective flouride coating left by the toothpaste, which would otherwise add hours of protection
Fight the urge to rinse after cleaning your teeth, says London dentist Dr Phil Stemmer, from The Fresh Breath Centre in London.
‘Rinsing washes away the protective flouride coating left by the toothpaste, which would otherwise add hours of protection.
‘I try to avoid drinking any fluids for at least half an hour after brushing — it’s a strange sensation at first, but you quickly get used to it.
‘And I don’t even wet my toothbrush under the tap before brushing as this can dilute the effect of the toothpaste. There’s plenty of moisture in your mouth without adding excess water.’
And whatever you do don’t clean you teeth straight after eating, he says.
‘Wait at least half an hour because the food acids and sugars temporarily weaken the protective enamel on the teeth. If you clean your teeth too soon, you are actually brushing away at the enamel before it hardens again.
‘The best routine is to brush your teeth before meals, and then freshen up after eating using an alcohol-free mouthwash.’
DAILY SIN: SITTING ON THE LOO
Squatting instead of sitting on the toilet is a more natural position, and requires less straining
Modern toilets are bad for us, suggests research.
A study published by Israeli scientists in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences revealed that squatting instead of sitting is a more natural position, and requires less straining. This in turn reduces the risk of bowel problems such as haemorrhoids and diverticular disease.
Both cause painful swellings in the gut.
Dr Charles Murray, Secretary of the British Society of Gastroenterology and consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital, says that for the majority of us, opening our bowels is one of those things we don’t often think about, but it is ‘actually a complicated physiological process’.
He advises patients who are having trouble with bowel movements to place something under their feet while seated on the toilet, as this helps to simulate the squatting position.
He explains: ‘Placing a six-inch footrest under your feet and leaning forward on a regular sitting toilet may help, and this effect could be achieved to a lesser extent with toilet rolls placed under the feet.
‘Raising the feet in this way on a regular basis may well result in shorter visits to the loo and less straining.’
DAILY SIN: CLEANING
Those who took on most of the responsibility for running the home had significantly higher blood pressure than those who left it to their partner
It’s the perfect excuse to unplug the vacuum and abandon the washing up — housework can actually be bad for your health, according to research published earlier this year.
Scientists in the U.S. tested over 100 working men and women and found those who took on most of the responsibility for running the home had significantly higher blood pressure than those who left it to their partner.
The strongest link with high blood pressure came from worries over how to get domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping done.
The findings, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, suggest it’s not the workload itself but the stress about how to cope with it that causes the damage.
And, added to this, studies suggest that using household cleaning products could increase the risk of developing asthma. Data from the Municipal Institute of Medical
Research in Spain found using cleaning sprays and air fresheners as little as once a week could be contributing to as many as one in seven cases of adult asthma.
The nine-year study looked at more than 3,500 subjects across 22 centres in ten European countries and found the risk of asthma was 40 per cent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others.
The risk of developing asthma increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used.
DAILY SIN: BREATHING WRONGLY
As we get older we revert to the more inefficient style of chest breathing. Luckily, you can train your body to go back to breathing properly
Ask anyone to take in a deep breath and they will no doubt puff out their chest as they inhale — but this is wrong, says Neil Shah, psychotherapist and director of the Stress Management Society.
‘As babies we all breathed from our bellies, which uses all the lung capacity,’ he says.
‘But as we get older we revert to the more inefficient style of chest breathing.
‘This means that stale air lingers in the bottom of our lungs, and because our lungs have a finite capacity this means that fresh air doesn’t reach this lower section.
‘Yet it’s the bottom section of the lungs that contains the warmest and wettest blood vessels — the most efficient for gas exchange and moving oxygen into the blood.’
Luckily, you can train your body to go back to breathing properly, he says.
To practice it, try to inflate your stomach as you breathe in, while keeping your chest relatively still — imagine a beach ball inflating in the space between your belly button and your spine, pushing your tummy out.
Then contract your abdominal muscles on the exhale.
‘Breathing should be rhythmical and regular, with between 12 and 20 breaths a minute, and a short pause between the in-breath, out-breath. Just a few minutes each day practising can have a huge effect — it can help combat stress and even lower blood pressure.’
DAILY SIN: RELAXING AFTER DINNER
If you're inactive during the evening, or you eat just before bed, your body's more likely to lay down that food as fat
We’ve all been there — after a busy day you whip up a quick supper before relaxing on the sofa for an hour and then head towards your bed.
‘If you’re inactive during the evening, or you eat just before bed, your body’s more likely to lay down that food as fat,’ says Claire MacEvilly, nutritionist at the Human Nutrition Research laboratory at Cambridge University.
If you shift your calorie intake to the morning, eating a large breakfast instead, you’re more likely to burn through those reserves by carrying out normal activity later in the day, she says.
‘But taking a brisk 20-minute walk after dinner — as you should — means there’s no reason why eating your evening meal at 8pm, or even 9pm should make you put on any weight.’
The real key to not putting on weight, she says, is regular, small meals: ‘Having a light supper followed by some relaxing exercise is a healthy extension of that.’