The 5 worst habits from your youth

We all did questionable stuff when we were younger. Find out how bad habits from your youth may affect your health in later years

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bad habits shy woman

Were you a naughty child?

As it turns out, some sins of our past are easily forgiven, while others have a longer-term health impact. The good news: Our bodies have a wonderful capacity for righting wrongs. But a few old habits do have lingering effects. Here are five common indiscretions of youth, and how reversible the damage is:

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couple in bed

1. Having many sexual partners

Frequent sex, whether with a few partners or a large number of them, doesn’t damage your body, assuming you’re not doing anything too “out there.” The only physical health issue is sexually transmitted diseases. And if you didn’t catch one, you’re lucky. But you may not have completely gotten away with it: The more sexual partners a woman has had, the higher her odds of getting HPV (human papillomavirus), which could lead to cervical cancer.


The good news: HPV is preventable. If you’re single and sexually active, ask your gynecologist about getting the HPV vaccine (and be sure to get a Pap smear every three years). Fortunately, too, HPV does not increase your risk of being infertile.

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quit smoking

2. Smoking pot or cigarettes frequently

Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke, and high levels of an enzyme that converts certain smoke components into their most cancer-causing forms. Plus, pot smokers hold smoke in their lungs longer, so they could be especially vulnerable to lung cancer-though that’s just conjecture; there are no formal studies on how a previous marijuana infatuation might affect future health. As for cigarettes, tobacco kills 45,000 Canadians a year, and the list of diseases that smokers are at risk for is very long indeed.


The good news: While damaged lung tissue won’t regrow on its own, we were born with lots of lung tissue. Within a year of quitting cigarettes, your risk of a smoking-related heart attack is halved, and within 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is also cut in half.

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3. Living in a heavily polluted area

You can’t help where you lived as a child, but it’s worth knowing if it has affected your health. Children’s lungs are much more prone to damage from air pollution and high levels of ozone than adults’. Prolonged exposure is a grave risk for lung-related disease at a younger age. One study shows that exposure to pollution for several years can raise your lung cancer risk by some 25 percent, and breathing in too much pollution can be as harmful as second-hand tobacco smoke.


The good news: Again, damaged lung tissue won’t regrow on its own. But by leading a healthier lifestyle now-avoiding dirty air, exercising, eating right and not smoking-you can definitely help ward off disease.

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4. Getting frequent sunburns

Who’d have thought the effects of this youthful mistake are the longest lasting? Nearly 80 percent of lifetime sun damage occurs before age 18. The more sun exposure you had, the more likely you are to have wrinkles, freckles, splotches and skin discolorations later in life. Even more troubling is your heightened risk for skin cancer in later decades. Plus, your risk of melanoma goes up by 75 percent if you used tanning beds before you were 35.


The good news: While the damage can’t be reversed, being smarter from this point on-covering up when outdoors, and using sunscreen-reduces odds of skin cancer and limits further wrinkling and discoloration.

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drinking wine alcohol

5. Getting drunk a lot

Even if your youthful drinking days-say, during university-are long behind you, alcohol’s effects on your health could linger. In a study of 3,803 adults, former heavy drinkers reported more depression, heart problems, chronic bronchitis, and diabetes after age 40 than did current social drinkers. Even one session of binge drinking escalates heart disease risk substantially over time.


The good news: Healthy living absolutely helps repair the damage. For example, in one study, former heavy drinkers saw their risk for cancer of the esophagus drop to normal after a decade.

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