Can You Reverse Health Mistakes?

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It’s only human to regret past mistakes – and that goes for health mistakes, too. If only you hadn’t made a greasy burger and fries your go-to lunch. If only you had put on sunscreen as a teenager instead of tanning oil. If only you had never bought that first pack of cigarettes in college. Well, it happened. But you can undo some of the damage done. You can make positive changes moving forward. Here are some ways to make healthier changes:

Smoking

You didn’t mean to start, but before you know it, you’re a smoker. The harm that cigarettes do to the body is extensive and well-documented – smoking harms almost every organ of the body. Blood vessels get thicker and narrower, lung disease is a significant risk, and smoking causes strokes and coronary heart disease, among other serious health problems.

But you can quit. Many of the risks and symptoms associated with smoking start to go away within minutes of of taking that last puff. Only 20 minutes after smoking your last cigarette, your heart rate returns to normal. Twelve hours later, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood drops to normal. As months go by, coughing and shortness of breath subside, and as years pass, your cancer risk becomes that of a nonsmoker. Quitting might not be easy, but it isn’t something you have to do alone, either. Talk to your doctor and make a plan.

Eating Junk Food

When your choices are a salad or a cheeseburger with fries, you pick the cheeseburger every time. When dessert is offered, you always say yes. Extra fat and calories can really take a toll on everything from your waistline to your heart health. This kind of diet also ups your risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer.

But you can make a few small changes for a big impact, keeping calories, fat and added sugars in mind. Swap fried chicken for grilled, and add more foods with healthy fats, such as salmon and avocados. If you want to have a burger, order a side salad instead of fries. Phase out one of your daily soft drinks, or trade your post-dinner bowl of ice cream for an orange or apple, which will give you a sweet taste plus vitamins and fiber.

Exercising Too Much

Exercise is critical for a healthy life, but even this healthy habit has its downsides. Maybe your half-marathons have left your joints aching, or you pushed yourself to finish that patio project even though your back was screaming at you to stop.

But you can treat and then recover. If strains and sprains from overexertion have you down, you’ll first need to remember RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Give your body a rest, ice the strained area to reduce swelling, compress it with a bandage, if needed, and elevate it. Once the initial pain has improved, it’s time to to rehab. Your healthcare provider can put you on an exercise plan to reduce stiffness, strengthen muscles and improve flexibility and motion. If you’re overweight, your doctor may suggest trying to shed some pounds to ease pressure on your joints.

Tanning

For years your motto was “SPF? Who needs it?” When you were younger, you loved your sun-kissed glow and brushed off sunburns. Now, freckles and age spots have arrived and you’re worried about skin cancer.

But you can make sunscreen part of your daily routine starting now, even when it’s not a sunny day. Then make a plan to touch base with a dermatologist. More skin cancer is diagnosed in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, so it’s important to keep an eye on moles and changes in the skin. From here on out, limit sun exposure. Sit under an umbrella at the beach or pool instead of baking in the sun. Your dermatologist also may recommend a topical treatment to help skin rebuild and refresh.