A habit is a behaviour which we do automatically without thinking. All of us grow with certain habits which we regard as being harmless but are they really? Perhaps, as summer draws to a close, it is a good time to look into some of them.
Brush your Teeth
From childhood most of us have been exhorted to brush our teeth vigorously after meals. We are warned about the evils of tooth decay and the need for oral hygiene. However, recently there has been concern from dentists that over brushing can damage the protective enamel. Also, brushing immediately after eating may mean that particles of food are being brushed against the surface, again causing damage to the precious enamel. The British Dental Health Foundation recommends brushing with a fluoride paste twice a day, once in the morning before eating and once before bed, allowing at least an hour after taking food. The night time brush is especially important as we produce less saliva at night which normally helps clean teeth.
Do we need to shower every day?
This is relatively recent behaviour – a bath once or twice a week was considered sufficient in the middle of the twentieth century. As it became more common to have hot water available whenever required, people bathed more often. It is generally thought that keeping clean is keeping healthy with sayings like ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ in everyday use. However, dermatologists are concerned that too much bathing disturbs the outer layers of skin. These outer layers consist of dead cells which protect the newly evolving under layers. Washing, particularly using hot water and scrubbing with loofahs, followed by a vigorous towel dry, removes these protective layers and can leave skin dry, cracked and sore. While hygiene is obviously important, in order to protect your skin use warm rather than hot water, a gentle soap and a soft towel to pat yourself dry. Moisturise afterwards. In this way this particular habit can do little harm.
Flip flops are associated with summer. On the first warm day, the formal constricting socks and shoes are abandoned, flip flops put on and our toes wriggle with delight to be free. It ‘feels’ healthy to allow our feet to ‘breathe’ and to dry out from the sweat they have been bathed in for the last six months. But are these perceived health benefits real or just in our minds? Some people argue that the healthiest state for our feet is with no shoes on them but this leaves our soles vulnerable to injury if we tread on anything sharp. Flip flops protect the soles while keeping feet in as near a barefoot state as possible. However, some orthopaedic doctors believe that these simple shoes can be damaging to knees, legs, hips and lower backs as they cause an alteration in gait. Furthermore the thin soles have no shock absorption properties. Cheap flip flops have no arch support and prolonged wear can lead to aching legs and feet. They also present a hazard as, having no way of being held on to the feet other than by curling toes, they are easily dislodged resulting in trips and accidents. They are not suitable for driving in. The latest thinking is that flip flops which have arch supports and moulded thicker soles including hollows for heels are fairly healthy for feet, but the cheap thin ones should be worn for short periods only.
Recently there have been discussions in the news about whether the habit of always applying sun cream when outside is as good as once thought. Years ago many of us applied oil to our tender skin when the sun made its appearance in the UK and we fried and burnt. Then the connection was made with sun burn and skin cancer and those of us with fair skin applied factor 50 sunscreen and covered up. Gradually this behaviour became the new habit and some young people have never exposed their skin to the sun. However, in Australia, where there has been a very active campaign to get people to cover up and apply cream, there have been concerns that people are not generating sufficient Vitamin D and even that the incidence of skin melanomas has increased. Recently the Australian doctors have modified their advice to recommending that people expose their legs and arms to at least fifteen minutes a day of sunshine before applying the protection. This is another habit which needs to be modified.
As we rush through our busy lives many of us have got into the habit of carrying around a bottle of water and sipping from it frequently. Not so long ago people would have a glass of water poured from the tap and usually drunk over a short period time. Then the ‘health’ message spread by some ‘experts’ was that bottled water is pure and that we should all be drinking two litres a day. However, the Drinking Water Inspectorate of the UK claims that the drinking water from the taps all over the country is of a very high standard. Furthermore in any big business, as bottled water has undoubtedly become, there is opportunity for deceit and some bottled waters have been found to have been filled with tap water. Whilst this habit is unlikely to cause harm it is an expensive habit. Using a refillable bottle and tap water would make you no less healthy and, over time, a great deal richer!