From raw foodies to gym rats, there are a lot of health conscious folks out there. But for some, even the most basic of concepts fall by the wayside. While you may consider yourself a tried and true health nut, neglecting seemingly small, everyday habits can often be all too easy. The truth is, though, some of those habits come with long-term consequences. If you really want to be in tip-top shape, watch out for these 15 common mistakes.
1. Keeping your windows down on the way to work
Now of course, everyone’s commute is different. If you live in the mountains and your commute involves winding back roads, this likely doesn’t apply to you. If you’re a city dweller, though, listen up. While it’s tempting to rock out with the windows down on your way to and from work, your highway commute may be one of the less healthy things you’re doing on a daily basis, or at least five days a week.
Environmental health researcher Scott Fruin tells Men’s Health air pollution can be up to 10 times more concentrated on highways than it is in the suburbs. More importantly, the publication says, “Diesel fumes may contribute to headaches, cancer, and heart disease.” Instead, hit the AC and use your car’s recirculate feature.
2. Brushing right after eating
Regularly brushing your teeth is the best way to keep cavities and gum disease at bay, but don’t get too carried away. As The New York Times explains, brushing right after eating can actually encourage acid erosion, which destroys the protective layer on your teeth. This is especially problematic at breakfast, given most people’s coffee addictions because, as it turns out, your typical dark brew is surprisingly acidic.
To avoid acid erosion, wait at least 30 minutes before grabbing the toothpaste. You might even consider keeping a toothbrush at work. Letting acid hang out on your chompers for too long can also be bad news for your enamel, so swish around a little bit of water if you don’t have access to a toothbrush.
3. Microwaving your lunch in (certain) plastic containers
Most people know it’s better to buy a BPA-free water bottle than not. Yet still, certain containers just aren’t good for heating up your leftovers. It’s great your office has a microwave, but it’s important to choose your vessel wisely. Luckily, the FDA recognized long ago the dangers of plastic leaking into foods, which is why products must undergo testing before they can carry the label “microwave safe” — or something to that effect.
In fact, Harvard Health Publications says, “For microwave approval, the agency estimates the ratio of plastic surface area to food, how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from the container, and how hot the food can be expected to get during microwaving.” Blatantly misusing the container isn’t doing your body much good. If you’re going to nuke your meal, just make sure you’re using an FDA-approved vessel.
4. Sneezing or coughing into your hands
This one isn’t so much about you as it is those you encounter throughout the day. We often greet people with a handshake, so hacking into your bear mitts throughout the day is a nearly guaranteed way to pass along your germs and potential illnesses. It’s just common courtesy to use a tissue if you have one, otherwise aim for the crook of your elbow. And don’t even think about trying to curtail a sneeze. According to Philly.com, doing so can damage your diaphragm, break a blood vessel in your eye, or rupture an eardrum.
5. Ignoring nature’s call
It’s easy to get wrapped up in a project before realizing you should have hit the restroom long ago. Apart from the obvious discomfort, holding off on bathroom breaks can negatively impact your health. According to The Huffington Post Canada, resisting the urge to urinate can cause your bladder to stretch out and encourage bacteria to grow. If things get too bad, these bacteria can cause a kidney infection.
Not surprisingly, holding in #2 is equally as bad. DNews explains allowing excrement to build up in your system leads to constipation and could even affect your ability to go in the future. There’s a reason we call it waste, so get it out of your system.
6. Slacking on sleep
With busy lives and overloaded work schedules, plenty of folks don’t get enough sleep. The solution? Downing a few extra cups of coffee. Though caffeine can certainly give you a little boost, it’s no substitute for the real thing. Those who regularly find themselves running on little sleep may have an increased risk of depression, cancer, memory loss, and heart disease.
Aim to get an absolute minimum of six hours every night; eight hours is even better. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is the best way to ensure you’re getting the quality sleep you need. And that goes for weekends, too. A little sleeping in is fine, but don’t go overboard.
7. Hitting the snooze button
This one’s so common it deserves a spot of its own. Lots of people are guilty of hitting that all-too-convenient snooze button, but try, just try to resist the urge. Turns out, it’s not doing you much good at all. According to weather.com, “When you rely on your snooze button, you’re doing more harm than good to your sleep cycle because you’re fragmenting what’s left of your sleep and starting a new sleep cycle — without giving your body time to finish.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news on this one.
8. Skimping on water
Being in a constant state of dehydration can negatively affect your mood, energy, and even your heart. Because the body’s signals for thirst and hunger are so similar, many confuse one for the other, SparkPeople says it can also lead to weight gain. You could be eating hundreds of calories your body doesn’t need simply because you haven’t been downing enough H2O.
If you find yourself in this category, don’t worry, there’s an easy fix: Get yourself a water bottle, and bring it everywhere you go. If you find yourself skimping on the water due to its lack of taste, try adding a few slices of citrus fruit or cucumber.
9. Using your phone all day
You may have heard that using electronic devices close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there for smartphones.
Even if you’ve managed to kick your nighttime habit of checking emails, the same act of scrolling through your phone during the day can also do some serious damage to your body. According to CBS News, it can contribute to poor posture. While going cold turkey on your phone usage isn’t too practical, it’s important to be mindful of your posture when checking your texts.
10. Snacking too much
Just the thought of the long stretch from breakfast to lunch or from lunch to dinner is enough to leave your stomach rumbling. Snacking can be a good strategy for keeping hunger at bay, but only if you manage to stick to the proper foods and portions. The problem is many find it easy to keep nibbling long after they’re satisfied. According to The Huffington Post, this type of snacking can encourage your body to store fat and end in weight gain.
If cutting out your afternoon nibble isn’t doable, make sure you’re choosing smart snacks, like one of these healthy options. You also might want to consider giving your breakfast and lunch a bit of a makeover to ensure you’re getting enough protein and fiber, which will both help you feel satisfied.
11. Cranking up the volume
Whether you’re at the gym or stuck in the office all day, you probably reach for your headphones to listen to your favorite tunes. While it’s courteous of you to only blast tunes using headphones, you could be doing real damage to your ears. According to MedlinePlus, the tiny nerve endings in our ears are easily damaged by loud noises. You may suspect frequent concert-goers are the only ones who encounter this issue, but earbuds in particular can lead to hearing loss.
If you have a family history of hearing loss, you should pay particular attention to the volume. Not surprisingly, the closer the music is to your ears, the more likely you are to experience nerve damage. Headphones that go over the ears are typically a better option than earbuds for this reason.
12. Foregoing sunscreen
If you find you’re only applying sunscreen when you’re at the beach, you need to remember the sun can do real damage to your skin in the fall, winter, and spring, too. Everyone knows sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer, but those who aren’t prone to burning are also at risk from the sun’s rays. Cleveland Clinic explains everyone should wear sunblock with at least SPF 30. Even if it’s not summer, be sure you’re still applying some to exposed skin before heading outdoors. Remember: Repeated exposure to the sun without protection can cause damage over time, even if you can’t see it.
Everyone slouches from time to time, but if you allow your poor posture to continue, it can have real consequences. Livestrong.com explains slouching can lead to sore muscles, as keeping your back in a rounded position doesn’t offer support for your spine. That makes your muscles work harder, which can then cause tension and even lead to chronic issues with neck or lower back pain.
Slouching can also cause your spine to curve, which can cause a pinched nerve. Do yourself a favor and sit up straight.
14. Carrying a bag that’s too heavy
While we’re on the subject of back issues, let’s talk about another: heavy bags. Schlepping your stuff around is just a part of life. From the on-the-go consultant commuting with a laptop to the busy parent running around town with everything but the kitchen sink, most individuals have some sort of bag — be it messenger, diaper, or gym — in tow. But the fact of the matter is, lugging too heavy of a load puts unnecessary strain on your neck and back. One review found both heavy weight and awkward positioning can contribute to back pain.
15. Trading your doctor for the internet
Ever since the inception of WebMD and the like, people have been making themselves sick with online research. Suddenly, you know more than your doctor, and down time at the office has turned into a self-diagnosing therapy session. While it’s important to be your own health advocate, you don’t want to get carried away.
As Consumer Reports warns, researching online is OK, so long as you’re doing it carefully. Stick to trusted websites, and if you think you recognize symptoms that alarm you, book an appointment with your doctor ASAP. You don’t want to miss something that’s actually cause for concern.