11 Not-So-Healthy Habits That May Cause Serious Issues
No one follows the rules for healthy living all the time. So how much of a problem can those little slipups be? We find out and guide you through damage control.
Bad Health Habit 1: Hitting the Snooze Button Over and Over
"If you need time in the morning to get going and you stay awake before the alarm goes off again, that's OK," says Raman Malhotra, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Washington University Sleep Medicine Center in St. Louis. If you're hitting snooze and going back to sleep, you could feel groggy or out of it for up to an hour or so after you do get up. "The alarm signals the brain to wake up. Repeatedly going back to sleep when the alarm goes off confuses it," Malhotra says. Set the alarm for a time you know you'll be able to get up. And keep it consistent day to day (even on weekends), which will make it easier to wake up.
Editor's Tip: Set your alarm for the latest time you can afford to get up.
Bad Health Habit 2: Holding Your Pee for a While
You won't stretch your bladder or weaken your pelvic floor. But you could up your risk for developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). "As urine sits in your bladder, it creates a welcoming environment for bacteria," says Donnica Moore, M.D., host of the podcast "In the Ladies' Room with Dr. Donnica." Women are at a much higher risk for UTIs than men. The most important time to go is after sex because that's when bacteria can migrate from your vagina to the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. Peeing flushes everything out.
Bad Health Habit 3: Wearing Your Daily Contacts for a Week
Even if you take out the contacts at night, wearing them for more than one day means you lose the benefits of single-use lenses, says Susan Resnick, O.D., a contact lens specialist in NYC. "Daily disposables reduce the buildup of oils and proteins, so you can see more clearly." Single-use lenses can also significantly reduce allergy symptoms. Wearing single-use lenses for more than a day also raises your risk for an eye infection. In fact, extending the wear of lenses is one of the main causes of the nearly 1 million eye infections Americans get treated for every year.
Not-So-Fun Fact: 55 percent of contact lens wearers admit to not using fresh disinfecting solution daily.
Bad Health Habit 4: Sitting Around in a Wet Swimsuit or Sweaty Clothes
When you don't shed your workout clothes or suit soon after you exert yourself, the combo of moisture and bacteria can lead to a rash, infected hair follicles, or possibly even a vaginal infection, Moore says. There's no rule about how soon to change. (If you're sitting in the sun, a wet suit may dry quickly.) But generally, aim to change out of anything wet as soon as is realistic.
Bad Health Habit 5: Drinking Alcohol Outdoors on a Hot, Sunny Day
Several things can happen when you consume alcohol in the heat. For starters, you're more prone to sunburn. Your body metabolizes alcohol into a compound that causes the skin to be more sun-sensitive. And when you're drinking, you tend to be less vigilant about reapplying sunscreen. You'll also become impaired much faster than usual because alcohol's effects, including dehydration and overheating, are heightened by hot temperatures. Moore recommends drinking 8 ounces of water with every alcoholic beverage.
Bad Health Habit 6: Brushing Your Teeth Only Once a Day
When you skip twice-daily brushings, you increase your risk of developing tooth decay by 33 percent. Skipping a session also allows bacteria that cause gum disease to flourish, says Pamela L. Hunte, D.D.S., a dentist in NYC. If you're in a pinch and have to choose once a day, brush before bed, Hunte says. "That way, the debris from the day won't linger for eight hours."
Bad Health Habit 7: Taking a Week or Two Off From Exercise
Use it or lose it is real, says Matthew Kohn, an exercise physiologist in New York City. After a week of dialing down your exercise routine, your metabolism can slow slightly, and your speed and endurance can decrease up to 30 percent. The amount of oxygen your muscles use also drops. But one to two weeks back at your routine reverses any losses. And the results from strength training lingers longer than speed or endurance.
Bad Health Habit 8: Sweating and Not Drinking Enough Water
"When you lose more fluid than you take in, you can get dehydrated. That can lead to fatigue, dizziness, weakness, muscle cramps, constipation," Moore says. If you're thirsty, that means you're already slightly dehydrated. Another sign of dehydration is not sweating, which means your body doesn't have enough water to produce sweat.
Aim for 11 cups of water daily (men need 16), which includes foods high in H2O. (A small apple has 5 1/2 ounces, a cup of watermelon 5 ounces.) Also keep an eye on the color of your urine. If it's pale yellow or lighter, you're good. The more dehydrated you are, the darker your urine will be.
Bad Health Habit 9: Following the Five-Second Rule
Research shows that in some cases bacteria clings to food dropped on the floor or in the sink instantaneously. Surprisingly, one study found that carpet has low transfer rates compared to tile and stainless steel. The type of food matters more: "Bacteria move with the moisture, so the wetter the food, the higher the risk of transfer," says Donald W. Schaffner, Ph.D., professor in the food science department at Rutgers University and coauthor of the study. Let what you know about the cleanliness of the surface and the moisture level in the food decide for you.
Bad Health Habit 10: Not Covering Your Mouth When You Sneeze
If you're not covering your moth when sneezing, prepare to spread germs far and wide. The droplets can travel up to 26 feet from a sneeze and 19 1/2 feet from a cough. And they stay suspended for up to 10 minutes. Experts believe viruses spread mainly by droplets released when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk (a good reason to back away from close-talkers). And remember, you don't always know exactly when you're infected. Try to catch coughs and sneezes in the crook of your elbow instead of your hand so you don't spread germs when you touch something. Then use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Bad Health Habit 11: Scratching an Itch
Attacking your itching spot with your nails will give brief relief, but the itch will come back fiercely. Scratching triggers a small amount of pain that numbs the itch but causes the release of serotonin, which also carries the “I’m itchy” signal to the brain. So as the pain fades, the itch returns even stronger. Not only will the itching sensation become even more intense, you risk opening up the skin and exposing yourself to infection. Try rubbing the area with your palm instead.