November 2, 2009

Break Your Bad Habits

By Kelley Luckstein

A Quick Drag Every Now and Then

A friend offers you a smoke while you're tailgating at the game. You have one every now and then, and you're not hooked, so sure, thanks. Besides, it does look good with your drink.

This, my friend, is your brain battling a bad habit—and losing. As we continually perform a behavior—smoking socially, say, or texting while driving—neural pathways in our brains form new patterns, according to a recent MIT review. Once the prompt arrives, your brain shifts into autopilot.


Why it’s bad: Lighting up even a few times a week is still poisoning yourself. "There's no lower limit of exposure to tobacco smoke that is safe. Period," says Richard D. Hurt, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center. In fact, a single cigarette can almost instantly injure the inner walls of your blood vessels. That damage can lead to heart disease and blood clots. Looming in the background, of course, is also the risk of developing a full-blown addiction. Some research suggests that about a quarter of "occasional" smokers go full-time.

Break the habit: When you can't steer clear of the smokestacks, benign substitutes can work wonders, Dr. Hurt says. For instance, grab a drink stirrer and hold it between your fingers like a cigarette. Set it between your lips while you take out your wallet or phone. This keeps your mouth and hands busy.

Men's Health by Heather Loeb, 10/2009

Tags: cigarettes, Nicotine Dependence Center, smoking

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