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4 Everyday Habits That Wreck Your Health

We all are guilty of skimping on sleep, biting nails, skipping flossing or something similar. However, these seemingly benign things that you do on a regular basis may be anything but. Four women reveal their little indiscretions and share how they made a change for the better.

By Brooke Benjamin

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woman on a yoga ball
Mary Lynn Blasutta
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"I had horrible posture."
—Tracy Higginbotham, Syracuse, New York

Ever since 45-year-old Tracy was a teen, people had been telling her to stand up straighter. When she started exercising to lose weight, improved posture was an unexpected benefit.

The Danger: Your mom told you poor posture projects a lack of confidence, and she was right. But years of slouching can also cause neck and back pain. Plus, you lose strength in your core as muscles become permanently contracted, so it becomes harder to stand up straight.

Tracy's Tips for Standing Tall
Build strength.
"I started a basic upper-body strength-training routine, with biceps and triceps curls and push-ups. After just a few weeks I noticed that my posture was better. My favorite exercise: Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you're pinching a penny between them for about 10 seconds, then release."

Take tech breaks. "When I'm at my computer and my shoulders start to slump, I do 15 to 20 minutes of upper-body exercises or yoga. I love the downward dog pose—it stretches me out and makes me stand tall."

Expert Advice: "It's excellent that Tracy started strength training—a strong core is key for good posture," says Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., a physical activity and nutrition scientist at Tufts University in Boston and co-author of Strong Women, Strong Backs (Penguin Books). She should also swap her desk chair for an exercise ball an hour a day. "It helps your ab and back muscles—you can't slouch," says Nelson.

Surprise Benefit: "Exercise has improved my posture and even my career. When I finish my day with a physical activity, I find myself brainstorming solutions to problems at work," says Tracy.

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