You strive to eat healthy and make working out a priority. But achieving a state of wellness is more than just swapping a salad for a cheeseburger and hitting your daily 30 minutes on the elliptical. It’s also about looking at the things that you are doing on a daily basis and evaluating whether or not they are good for you.
Your everyday behaviors may be holding you back and you don’t even know it. Below are some habits that can have a negative impact on your health, plus expert advice on what to do instead:
1. Skipping your daily sunscreen application
Regular use of SPF 15 or a higher sunscreen level can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent. But many Americans don’t make wearing it a priority.
“Make it your goal to never leave the house without sunscreen,” explained Joshua D. Zuckerman, a plastic surgeon in New York City. “A more macabre solution? Looking at skin cancer images also seems to do the trick!”
And don’t just reach for your SPF for a day at the beach. The sun’s rays can still be damaging in winter months, even when the temperatures are not hot. Also altitude matters. The higher you are, the more UV penetrates the delicate epidermal barrier of your skin so don’t forget to lather up while skiing or hiking as well.
“The ultraviolet rays of the sun are everywhere. They penetrate through your car windshield, your home window, through rain or clouds,” said Lily Talakoub, a dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center. “You need protection when skiing, ice skating, hiking in cold climates, sitting under an umbrella, or walking in the woods.”
2. Sitting all day
According to one 2013 survey, 86 percent of Americans spend the majority of their days sitting. Commuting to work, eating meals, being stationed at a desk chair during the workday, and plopping on the couch to watch television at night can add up to around 13 hours of daily inactivity.
“Countless studies have shown that sedentary behavior for extended periods can have significant negative impacts on physical and mental health, including increased risk of cancer, diabetes, blood clots and decreased mental focus and productivity,” said Carrie Schmitz, the senior manager of human factors & ergonomics research at Ergotron.
You don’t have to panic and sign up for a marathon to get active, though. Working small maneuvers into your day, like standing during TV commercial breaks or parking your car far away from an entrance, can make a huge difference in making your lifestyle less sedentary.
3. Skimping on sleep
Insufficient sleep can lead to a variety of ailments such as hypertension, tissue-damaging inflammation, diabetes, depression, heart disease, and obesity. Forgoing an adequate night’s rest can also decrease your brain’s ability to function, thus resulting in poor performance at work and impaired reaction time behind the wheel.
Experts recommend practicing a relaxing bedtime ritual like taking a bath, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime and investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows. Another trick is to stick to a consistent sleep schedule ― even on the weekends.
“Regular sleep cycles establish a routine for your brain and body to recharge and heal,” said Pat Perryman, dean of nursing at Carrington College.
4. Reaching for a mug of coffee first thing in the morning
Studies have shown that caffeine can help to jump-start your metabolism, reduce your risk of developing diabetes and may even ward off early death. But that doesn’t mean that a giant cup of joe should be the first thing that you reach for in the wee hours of the morning.
Eliza Savage, a nutritionist with Middleberg Nutrition, said that when you sleep, you are naturally fasting from food and water. And during this time, you can become dehydrated, especially in the winter months when the heat is cranking and the air is very dry.
“Getting up and reaching for the coffee maker first thing only worsens dehydration,” Savage explained. She recommended kicking off your day with several glasses of water first thing before making your way over to your coffee maker.
“Getting up and reaching for the coffee maker first thing only worsens dehydration.”
5. Overbooking yourself
In today’s productivity-obsessed society, it’s human nature to take on as many tasks as possible. But, according to Brianna Bedigian, a yoga instructor in North Carolina and the author of Healing Footstep to Footstep, continuous responsibility and bouncing from one obligation to the next is a toxic habit that can lead to eventual burnout.
“The state of busyness is an epidemic,” Bedigian said. “If your day-to-day feeling is somewhere between frazzled, busy, overwhelmed, angry, anxious and on edge, you are setting yourself up for chronic stress.”
One way you can begin to stop overbooking yourself is to start politely turning down invitations that you don’t realistically have the time to accept. This means practicing the art of saying, “no.” Bedigian encourages her clients to turn down one request of their time per week and then to build up from there.
6. Paging “Dr. Google”
The internet can be a bad source of information and the catalyst for worry when you use it to diagnose your own medical condition, according to Adam Ramin, medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.
“Because of patients’ increasing reliability on medical websites and web-based forums to diagnose themselves or attempt to confirm what they think they are afflicted with, curable conditions may be missed and treatments delayed,” Ramin explained.
“In addition to the potential physical ramifications, the emotional impact of incorrectly virtually diagnosing oneself can be equally as severe, as patients have a tendency to assume that a minor symptom is associated with the most serious condition,” he added.
7. Not eating mindfully
Cramming in a sandwich while simultaneously drafting up a work email may seem like a win in the multitasking department, however, mindlessly eating can lead to an array of digestive issues.
“You need to be relaxed in order to properly digest your food. If you eat quickly and in a stressed state, it’s likely to negatively impact your digestion,” said Jennie Miremadi, an integrative clinical nutritionist in Los Angeles. She added that munching mindlessly can cause overeating, which can lead to weight gain and digestive stress.
Taking the time to slow down while eating and properly chew your food can have the opposite effect. In recent years, mindful eating has been linked to helping with weight loss, better nutrient absorption, overeating prevention, blood sugar regulation, emotional eating management and overall well-being.
8. Improper texting posture
Who knew that a tiny smartphone could be the source of so much pain?
“Our necks are not designed to be in the forward, head leaning position,” said David Shapiro, chief wellness officer at Complete Spine Solutions. He added that when people text a lot; it stresses the structures in their neck discs, ligaments and bones. It can also cause spinal arthritis and pain.
Neel Anand, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center, recommended keeping your head, neck and shoulders in a neutral position when looking at your devices in order to avoid any issues. Anand also said you can work some neck stretches into your day and try cutting down on your screen time.
“These may seem like small safeguards but they can have huge payoff rewards for your spine in the long run,” Anand said.
“Our necks are not designed to be in the forward, head leaning position.”
9. Your smartphone obsession
Imagine having to lock your cell phone away and being unable to access it for a solid 60 minutes. Does the thought of that make you uneasy?
“I first noticed my own unhealthy relationship with my phone when I was forced to leave it in my locker at Soul Cycle,” said Kim Anenberg Cavallo, a 51-year-old based in California, who used her tech dependency to launch an app called lilspace, which motivates people to put away their phones through charitable incentives.
Social media isn’t helping, either. Research shows that excessive use of applications like Facebook is linked to anxiety and symptoms of depression.
“Being obsessed with social media gives people a distorted view of the world and can have a huge impact on our mental health,” explained Sal Raichbach, an addiction psychiatry doctor at Ambrosia Treatment Center.
“Humans are naturally social creatures so it’s not uncommon or wrong to have that longing for interaction,” he continued. “The problem, however, arises when people rely on it for that interaction or become glued to constantly checking their newsfeed.”
Raichbach recommended deleting social media apps or hiding them within folders on your phone. Cavallo also suggested charging your phone outside of your bedroom and making a point of doing something to ground you in the present moment each day like meditation, a yoga class or a phone-free lunch with a friend.
10. Bad toothbrush hygiene
Your daily dental cleansing tool may be a cesspool of germs, containing an array of harmful bacteria, including fecal matter, according to research. Combine that with the gunk that comes off of your teeth while brushing, and you could be filling your mouth with all sorts of germs.
“One of the major mistakes people make is to leave their toothbrushes out in the open in the bathroom,” he said. “Every toilet flush catapults an aerosol of bacterial unmentionables into the air that wind up on you and your toothbrush.”
Also, don’t share a toothbrush. A variety of germs can be spread via a contaminated toothbrush, including bacteria as well as viruses like herpes simplex type one, according to Sanda Moldovan, a certified nutritionist, periodontist and author of the upcoming book Heal Up!
Other care tips, per the American Dental Association, include replacing your toothbrush at least every three to four months (sooner if the bristles become frayed with use), giving your brush a good rinse every night, and if more than one toothbrush is stored in the same area, keeping them separated to prevent cross-contamination.
11. Unknowingly ingesting added sugars in foods and drinks
The American Heart Association states that the maximum amount of sugar that adult males should consume per day is 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons). For women, that number is 25 grams (6 teaspoons). Yet, many of us are surging past those numbers. The average American ingests 82 grams (19.5 teaspoons) of sugar on a daily basis.
Jeanette Kimszal, a registered dietitian nutritionist, noted that one of the worst health habits you can make is ignoring the sugar content of foods you are eating. Many of the excess sugar grams come from processed foods with added sugars, she said. In fact, Americans reportedly ingest 16 percent of their total daily calorie allotment from added sugar alone.
“I always advise clients to be aware of the amount of added sugar in ‘healthy’ foods like nut butters, granola, yogurt, and trail mix,” Kimszal said, adding that some of these foods can have up to 20 or 40 grams of sugar per serving. And several food items alone, such as a 20oz bottle of a sports drink, contain almost double the amount of added sugar we should be getting daily.
Kimszal recommended reading food labels closely and consuming more whole foods. And if a sweet tooth strikes, reach for plain foods like unsweetened Greek yogurt, and add a tiny bit of honey.
12. Overdoing it at the office
Working yourself into the ground may earn you the corner office but often at the expense of your wellbeing.
“In our workaholic society, working long hours is not only encouraged and applauded, it’s rewarded,” said Nick Hatter, a London-based life coach and self-proclaimed recovering workaholic. “But when you work intensely for too long, your cortisol and adrenaline levels can stay dangerously high, which can lead to hypertension, weight gain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), heart attack, burnout, fatigue, anxiety, depression, a nervous breakdown, decreased libido and decreased fertility.”
Hatter, who once experienced burnout himself, recommended not checking emails first thing in the morning, setting limits on your work time, taking proper lunch breaks and scheduling at least one fun or relaxing activity every week.
“In our workaholic society, working long hours is not only encouraged and applauded, it’s rewarded.”
13. Staring at a screen all day and night
Screens from your iPhone and other devices emit a short wavelength high-energy glow, which can mess with your health in a variety of ways ― particularly your eyes.
Blue light exposure from electronics is one of the major contributing risk factors of macular degeneration, which causes severe vision loss, according to Alan Mendelsohn, an ophthalmologist in Florida. Exposure also causes digital eye strain, a condition that is characterized by eye fatigue, blurred vision, red and or dry eyes, eye discomfort and headaches.
“After focusing on one’s screen and working intently, ideally, you should take a very short break at approximately 20 minute intervals,” Mendelsohn said. “This break can be as short at two to three minutes, however, you should not take this pause and pick up your cell phone or iPad to respond to emails, texts, etc. because you are only replacing work product on digital screens for personal communications on digital screens.”
If you’re looking for ways to give your health a boost, these tiny changes may be just what you need.