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You can’t turn back the hands of time, but you can easily make amends by forming good health habits today.

Physical Inactivity

If you hate the idea of exercise, you’re at risk of so much more than getting fat, says exercise physiologist Dr Adam Fraser. “There’s a lot of research that highlights the impact of physical activity on chronic diseases, quality of life, longevity and even brain function,” he explains.

The good news: “Many of the health benefits of being physically active are immediate, ” Dr Fraser says. “They include improved sleep and mood, clearer thinking and an increase in energy levels.” He adds, “New research into the benefits of physical activity shows that finding an exercise you like and doing it regularly is the most important thing you can do for your health.”

What you can do: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, but don’t despair if you can’t do that much. Any amount of exercise will be of massive benefit to your health, Dr Fraser says. Make a start and do whatever you can. Try to choose activities you enjoy, so you’re more likely to keep it up. For help, visit www.theglucoseclub.com.au or www.healthyactive.gov.au.

Smoking

Smoking is hazardous to your body and mind, and is linked to causing several diseases including cancer, heart disease and stroke. Giving up is the best thing you can do, even if it takes several attempts. The earlier you quit the easier it will be to reverse the damage but, according to Emma Dalglish from the Cancer Council Queensland’s tobacco program, it’s never too late to give up smoking.

The good news: “Some of the benefits are almost immediate,” Dalglish says. Within 24 hours you have more oxygen and less carbon monoxide in your bloodstream; after a year your risk of dying of heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker; and in ten years your risk of lung cancer is halved. After 15 years your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as a non-smoker.

What you can do: “Make a plan and use a method of quitting that’s safe and effective for you,” advises Dalglish. “It’s always best to speak to a health professional or call the Quitline on 131 848 for advice regarding medication, nicotine replacement and other things that can help you quit.” For more information on how to quit smoking, see your GP or visit www.quitnow.info.au.

Binge Drinking

If you regularly drink to get drunk, you are risking your health and increasing your chances of brain, heart, digestive and liver diseases. The short-term effects of an excessive drinking session include impaired judgement, increased likelihood of accidental injury (other than car accident) increased blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and fatty liver, says DrinkWise spokesman Dr Andrew Rochford.

The good news: “Your liver is an amazing organ and, if you take action soon enough to reduce your alcohol intake, it will repair itself,” says Dr Rochford, who adds that you don’t have to quit drinking altogether. “Alcohol in low doses, especially red wine, has some proven health benefits for your heart and the social aspect of responsible drinking can also be good for your health.”

What you can do: The new Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommend both males and females drink a maximum of 2 regular drinks each day over their lifetime, and no more than four standard drinks on a single social occasion. See your GP for advice on how best to cut down or quit. Visit www.drinkwise.com.au or www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au

Yo-yo Dieting

If you’ve lost weight only to put it back on, you’re certainly not alone. Extreme or fad diets which allow you to shed kilos quickly can be very seductive, says Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA) spokeswoman Tania Ferraretto. But, they don’t work and they can damage your health, increasing your risk of obesity and all its associated health risks, such as heart disease and diabetes.

The good news: Even if your weight has fluctuated your entire life, it’s never too late to change your body for the better and for the long term. “The trick is to eat a diet sufficiently low in kilojoules to encourage slow weight loss as well as one that meets your nutritional needs. Aim to lose no more than 1kg a week,” Ferraretto says. “In a couple of days, you’ll begin to feel the benefits.”

What you can do: “Instead of thinking about how much weight you want to lose by next month or next week, think about how you would like to look and feel by next summer or this time next year,” Ferraretto advises. “Make changes you can sustain in the long term and keep working at it, even if it all appears to be moving too slowly.”