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Five Unhealthy Habits You Can Live With

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You started your day looking forward to a couple of cups of coffee and ended it really looking forward to a cocktail or two. You had eggs for breakfast and a steak for lunch, and you spent more hours at work yesterday than you've spent at the gym in the last two months.

You know better, and you really want to do better, but you assume being healthy demands the kind of time and energy you don't have -- and the type of sacrifices you'd rather not make.

Every year it's the same thing: Your doctor lectures you about your cholesterol or your weight, and you leave his office determined to change.

But improving your health doesn't necessarily mean you have to live on bean curd and wheat grass. In fact, some of the indulgences you count among your bad habits -- liquor, caffeine, fatty foods -- may actually help extend your life.

Drink Up; Fight Back on Fat

For example, even though Americans have long been warned against the evils of drink, a growing body of evidence suggests that having a glass of wine with dinner, or an after-work cocktail, may actually make you healthier than the abstainers of the world.

A study published in January 2003 by The New England Journal of Medicine showed moderate drinkers had a 30 percent to 35 percent lower incidence of heart attack than nondrinkers.

In February, researchers at Tulane University's School of Public Health found light drinking can reduce the risk of stroke by 30 percent. (And, no, your odds of reducing the risk of a stroke don't increase if you drink more.)

Similarly, the perils of fat have been blown out of proportion. Unlike mankind, not all fats are created equal. Consumption of unsaturated fats may actually lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Even the dietary guidelines of the American Heart Association recommend that about 30 percent of your calories come from fat -- meaning there's room for the occasional indulgence.

A Little Exercise Won't Hurt You

But it's not just about consumption. Americans not only tend to eat and drink more than most other people, we also tend to exercise less and stress more than those in other cultures.

(Thanks to the global economy, the rest of the world is catching up to us here. The traditional Spanish siesta, for example, is nearly as extinct as the Spanish empire.)

The good news is that you might not be as unhealthy as you think. Not only is a little booze good for the old ticker, but it's much harder to get a compound stress fracture sitting on your couch.

Bear in mind, every year millions of Americans spend millions of dollars visiting emergency rooms because of everything from shin splints to heart attacks in their quest for better health.

So, while many of us would like to shed a few pounds and make our cardiologists smile, it doesn't have to be as grueling as you would imagine. In fact, anything that allows you the occasional martini can't be too bad.

Now, for the Five Unhealthy Habits You Can Live With:

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