Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Ruining Your Health
So you've quit smoking and you've bought a standing desk, or at least resolved to walk an extra block for lunch... you must be well on your way to perfect health. You're going to live forever!
Not so fast: there are plenty of things you do every day that are secretly ruining your health. Here are seven habits to break before your next physical:
Eating late at night
Did you really need to scarf down that extra slice of pizza at midnight? Probably not -- and it's doing more harm to your body than it would have a few hours earlier. "Today, many people, especially urbanites, eat later and later than ever. This is the number-one cause of acid reflux with all of its associated diseases and complications," says Dr. Jamie Koufman, author of Dr. Koufman's Acid Reflux Diet.
Compounding the problem of the midnight snack is the beer that washed it down. "You add alcohol, then 'silent' nighttime reflux is almost certain," Dr. Koufman says. "What are the consequences of reflux at night? Hoarseness, snoring, sleep apnea, sinus disease, esophageal cancer, and respiratory problems, including asthma and chronic bronchitis. The evening meal should not be the big meal of the day and for good health, the kitchen should close at 8pm."
Googling your medical symptoms
How many times has WebMD diagnosed your mild headache as a brain tumor? Consulting with Google can actually wreak havoc on your health, especially if you follow the treatment advice for a problem that hasn't been diagnosed by a doctor.
"When I think about all my patients who use Dr. Google to diagnose, and sometimes treat, their symptoms, they often go down the path of disastrous thoughts that lead to a misdiagnoses," laments Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center. "Patients buy unnecessary over-the-counter medications that can mask or make their symptoms worse. I encourage [patients] to save time, money and, most importantly, stress and anxiety, by calling their health care provider to give them accurate guidance and treatment recommendations."
Ignoring your teeth
When's the last time you had a dental cleaning? If it was more than six months ago, you're overdue, and the lack of professional oral attention could be more of a health issue than cavities and bad breath.
"It may seem like no big deal, but skipping your regular dental check-up and slacking off on brushing and flossing can actually lead to some pretty serious and costly health problems," Dr. Robert Mogyoros, an oral surgeon at By Design Dental Implant Center, warns. "Gum disease affects up to half of all adults over 30 and has been linked to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and premature births or low-birth-weight babies in different studies. Hit-and-miss oral hygiene can also cause tooth decay and abscesses that can lead to infections, which may lead to tooth loss." At the very least, pick up a new toothbrush and start flossing.
If you're stomping around town in your flip-flops, you're doing more harm than grossing people out with your hairy toes. "Many people now cruise the city or take hikes in flip-flops. This is a big no-no," says Dr. Andrew Shapiro, president of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association. "Flip-flops offer little support, and this predisposes one to injuries, [such as] sprains and fractures of the foot or other parts of the body. They also offer little protection from the elements. We often see severe sunburns, cuts, bruises, and insect bites from such use."
Keeping your wallet in your pocket
Stowing a thick wallet in your back pocket is a magnet for both pick-pockets and nerve damage. Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician at Delaware Back Pain and Sports Rehabilitation Center, claims that keeping a wallet in your back pocket "causes an unnatural tilting of the pelvis, causing strain and stretching of the ligaments, muscles to compensate and pain in the pelvis and back. The pressure from the wallet can cause irritation of the underlying sciatic nerve, commonly known as piriformis syndrome." Limit the impact by using a money clip in a jacket pocket and removing credit cards you don't need on a daily basis.
Overusing your smartphone
Chances are high that you're hunched over your iPhone, scrolling and tapping away right now. Optometrists, like Dr. Steven A. Loomis, president of the American Optometric Association, warn that staring at screens is damaging your eyes, sleep patterns, and posture. "This prolonged exposure to blue light, which comes from high energy visible light that beams off of digital devices, not only harms the quality of sleep, but also leads to digital eye strain, headaches, dry eye, and neck and shoulder pain."
Of course, you're not going to throw away your phone or anything crazy, but you can take measures to reduce its impact on your health. "Doctors of optometry recommend powering down digital devices at least one hour before bed, adjusting device settings to filter out some of the blue light and visiting a doctor for a comprehensive eye exam to detect and address vision problems."
Sleeping in contacts
After a long night, the last thing you feel like doing is removing and cleaning your contact lenses. But this bad habit seriously increases your risk of infection and other issues that will make you think twice about hitting the hay without removing your contacts.
"Studies show that people who sleep with their contacts are almost 20 times more likely to develop eye infections, sometimes leading to permanent corneal scarring and loss of vision. The odds of of an infection increases with each consecutive night worn," said Dr. Gary Tracy, a New York City optometrist. Seriously -- take the extra two minutes and remove your contacts.
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Joni Sweet is a writer who would rather go barefoot than hit the streets of New York in flip-flops. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @JoniSweet.