4 Lifestyle Mistakes That Can Kill Later

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An experts’ guide to the most common lifestyle blindspots that can lead to serious illnesses , including cancer.

1. Between your mobile phone and pillow
Eight out of 10 of us keep our cell phones on through the night, with around half using them as alarms. But experts warn that a small gap between your head and the mobile phone could dramatically affect both, quality and quantity of your slumber. According to sleep therapists, having a mobile close makes us hypervigilant, waiting for a call or text. It leaves us unable to sink into restorative shut-eye for long enough. And even short exposures of ‘blue’ light from a mobile screen has an immediate effect on our sensitive retinas, which transmit messages to the brain. Studies have proven that this suppresses the nighttime secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin, making you more alert.

Close the gap: Never sleep with your phone under your pillow. Moving it 20 cm away from your head reduces radiation emissions by 98%. Set yourself a technology cut-off time each evening. Setting aside a techno-free time to unwind and prepare for rest is crucial for good-quality sleep. Place all mobiles in a separate room or out of reach until morning and use an old fashioned alarm clock.

2. In your monthly cycle
Most women dismiss irregularities in their period if they are anxious, stressed or approaching menopause. But the older a woman is, the more significance a change in menstrual cycle can potentially have, warn gynaecologists. Gaps between periods in your teens or early 20s are quite common. However, as women enter their 30s and 40s, irregular bleeding may be a symptom of a host of illnesses – including fibroids, infection, even cancer. Unscheduled bleeding between periods or a change in the bleeding pattern are causes for concern too.

Close that gap: A sudden, stark change in your menstrual pattern, which affects more than two cycles should always be checked. “This is especially true if there are other associated symptoms such as offensive discharge or bleeding after or pain during intercourse, in which case you should seek help. Keep a diary of your periods so sudden changes can be spotted early.

3. Between your chair and back
Experts warn that we are facing an epidemic of back pain, largely caused by poor posture and gaps in back support when using computers, tablets and laptops. Seven out of 10 cases of neck pain, say city physiotherapists, are often attributed to gadget abuse. People slouching on the sofa, half propped up and contorted when they get back home is bad news. Add to that working for eight hours a day at a desk, and you are creating a recipe for disaster.

Close the gap: When seated, increasing the angle between your torso and thigh encourages the spine into an upright posture. It’s essential that the pelvis sits slightly higher than the knees, with feet flat on the floor. Ensure that your bottom is at the back of the chair so you are gaining support from the backrest and keep a fist-sized gap between the back of your knee and the chair. Once in the correct position, it’s important that you support that position with a lumbar cushion to block the gap in the small of the back and avoid muscle fatigue. If working on a laptop, ensure it’s placed on a desk — not lap. And make sure the screen is raised to eye level.

4. In the health of your skin
Most of us still don’t bother applying sunscreen or think we need it only when vacationing in Goa. Worse still, the rest apply less than half of what we need to stay protected in the sun or leave entire patches of skin exposed — including the neck, ears, shoulders. In women, melanoma is found, mainly, on the legs and arms while, for men, problem areas are the torso, head and neck, studies have shown. These are the areas we tend to expose to the sun more often, which shows the link between prolonged sun exposure and skin cancer. The popularity of once-a-day sun creams means that we’re now applying longer-lasting cream less often, so if we miss a spot it matters more.

Close the gap: A Re 1 sized dollop of sun cream on each small section of your body is the only way to ensure you’re using enough. Rub in methodically from top to toe, or in front of a full-length mirror to ensure every exposed inch is covered. Choose your sun cream carefully, preferably a well respected brand. An SPF of 30-40 should work for Mumbai weather.

Says Sheetal Sabherwal, obstretician and gynaecologist The biggest mistake women make is the allowance of excessive bleeding after they hit 30. It’s never normal. It could point to fibroids or new growth. An irregularity in your menstrual cycle (more than five days early or delayed is cause for concern) should be checked because it could hint at ovarian cysts. A slight twist in the cyst in one cycle can lead to pain while the next period can be painless. By the time you get it checked, it grows in size. Any new pain should be addressed because it could indicate endometriosis, infection in tube ovaries or a bladder infection.

Says Jaishree Sharad, dermatologist. For those who work in offices, it’s imperative to wear sunscreen (even though you think it’s only meant for the outdoors). If you sit by a large window, or the office is well lit via sunlight, remember you are exposing yourself to UV8 light. Develop a habit of wearing sunscreen every day. For your face and neck, use half a teaspoon of it. And another half teaspoon for each arm.