Trying to develop healthy habits is hard enough as it is, what with all the salads and getting enough sleep and all the other things that cut into time that could be spent having fun. Adding an extra layer of difficulty is all the conventional wisdom out there that, whoops, turns out to be false.
The result is that common "healthy" habits can sometimes lead to problems, backfiring on the very benefits they intend to provide. Here are seven to reconsider, or at least learn a little more about before committing to them wholeheartedly:
Drinking lots of water
Adequate water intake prevents kidney disease, keeps the digestive system healthy, improves moods, and keeps skin moist. But if you’re chugging from plastic vessels, you may be unknowingly consuming chemicals that could make you sick. Some plastic bottles contain BPA (bisphenol A), a chemical compound akin to estrogen -- known as an endocrine disruptor for the havoc it wreaks on your hormones.
Even though the FDA insists consumption of small levels of BPA is safe, it banned the chemical from use in baby bottles in 2012. Furthermore, there are a lot of good reasons to believe there's a connection between BPA consumption and health issues like cancer, hyperactivity, obesity, and reproductive impairment. To limit your BPA intake, avoid plastic water bottles labeled with #7 for recycling purposes (these are made with BPA). Better yet, stick with glass.
Eating salads with low-fat dressing
You chop up a fresh green salad, toss on your favorite low-fat dressing, and dig in guilt-free -- after all, it’s a low-calorie meal with tons of nutrients, right? Well, yes and no. Eating tons of fresh produce certainly does the body good, but your body actually needs some good fat to help you absorb vegetables’ healthy carotenoids and phytochemicals.
Choose dressings made with monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, which promotes absorption of these important antioxidants. Not only will your salad be healthier, but it’ll taste so much better.
Making your bed every morning
Tidying up promotes good mental health and an overall sense of peace at home, and making the bed is a pretty low-effort way to make your room look a little neater. Unfortunately, it also traps heat and moisture on the bed, creating an environment for dust mites to thrive. In other words, making your bed means your bedroom is crawling with tiny bugs.
While these microscopic creatures might not seem like they could do much damage, they may play a role in asthma and allergies. You can let some of the 1.5 million dust mites already infesting the average bed dehydrate and die by removing the covers to let the air cool for a few minutes before making the bed. Or just scratch that chore off the list entirely and let your covers crumple without concern.
Drinking diet soda
OK, so no one is drinking soda for its nutritional value. But when you scan the label on diet soda, it doesn’t look so bad: no calories, carbs, fat, or sugar -- great, just like water!
Not quite. Soda, an acid, actually erodes teeth, even if it’s sugar-free, and there's some evidence that sugar substitutes could actually lead to weight gain. If you need a pick-me-up, unsweetened iced tea is probably a wiser choice.
Being too cautious about the sun
The risks of skin cancer, premature skin aging, and burns are all good reasons to avoid rubbing tanning oil all over yourself before hitting the beach. However, the sun’s bad reputation fails to paint a complete picture, often lacking reference to its essential role in human health as a vitamin D booster.
This essential vitamin fosters calcium absorption, aids bone strength, and reduces depression, among other health benefits, and it’s produced right in the body when bare skin is exposed to the sunlight’s UVB rays. Sunscreen may block this reaction, so it’s important to get at least a short amount of unprotected exposure each day. Keep it to around 10 minutes during the summer (you can go longer in the winter), and your body will thank you.
Taking the USDA eating guidelines literally
The recent updates to the USDA dietary guidelines were applauded for reducing recommended sodium- and sugar-consumption levels. That's good! Ultimately, though, the guidelines are still heavily influenced by the agriculture industry, which is good for lobbyists' wallets, but maybe not so great for your health if you find yourself struggling to figure out what exactly to do when the government tells you that cholesterol in food doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels, but you should still avoid cholesterol. (Hint: it means eat fewer hot dogs.)
Catching up on sleep
It seems like a simple-enough math problem. The sluggish effects of skimming an hour or two of sleep off each night to binge-watch Making a Murderer or have that extra drink at the bar can be mitigated by "catching up on sleep" over the weekend, right?
Well, the snoozefest will certainly help you feel better in the following days, but it won’t cancel out a sleep debt (tally of the hours you’ve been missing from your regular schedule) in the long run, and chronic sleep deprivation leads to serious health problems down the road. Recovery sleep is best achieved by adding an hour or two each night for a few weeks to a few months, then letting your body return to a more natural rhythm. Finding a schedule and sticking to it is the best way to maximize the health benefits from sleep.