Everyone has a vice, whether it’s a mild Starbucks addiction or a weakness for online shopping. But there are a number of seemingly innocuous habits that are doing more damage than you realize—constantly playing Angry Birds on your phone, for example, or repeatedly teetering around on six-inch stilettos. As we begin a New Year, we reveal 11 habits that could be secretly sabotaging your health.
Nixing the floss. If flossing is usually an afterthought, something you do maybe once a week, you need to step up your oral hygiene game, pronto. Despite the nagging from dentists, half of Americans admit to skipping the dental floss. Unfortunately, brushing alone won’t cut it. Not flossing allows plague to build up between teeth, leading to gum disease and tooth decay. Periodontitisis is the chronic, advanced form of gum disease, and it ain’t pretty. Plus, it may be linked to a greater risk of heart attack or stroke. So this year, do your smile (and your dentist!) a favor by resolving to make flossing a part of your daily routine.
Using your phone too much. Many of us are slaves to our Smartphones, but constantly texting during dinner isn’t just rude—it could also be compromising your spinal health. Researchers have identified a relatively new phenomenon called “text neck,” whereby repeated texting and cell phone use can wreak havoc on the health of your spine and neck. According to research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine, craning your head to glance down at a phone places a tremendous load on the cervical spine—often as much as 60 pounds! Over time, this poor posture, which researchers have coined “text neck,” can lead to spinal stress, degeneration and even surgery. Consider that your cue to put down your Smartphone.
Hitting the snooze button. 6:00 am always seems to come too quickly, amiright? But rather than hitting the snooze button repeatedly in the hopes of stealing ten more minutes of rest, your best bet is to simply get out of bed as soon as your alarm rings. Why? When you hit the snooze button and go back to sleep for a few minutes, your body begins to resume its natural sleep cycle. Then, when your alarm goes off again, you’re likely in a deep part of your sleep cycle, which leaves you feel even groggier than you did the first time around.
Drinking diet soda. It has zero calories—so it can’t be bad for me, right? Wrong. Although it seems like a sensible choice at face value, diet soda carries some unsavory health risks—from weight gain to tooth erosion to weakened bones. Try replacing your daily can of diet soda with flavored sparkling water (such as La Croix)—you’ll get your fizzy fix without all of the chemicals and artificial sweeteners.
Walking around in heels every day. You may be obsessed with those darling Kate Spade pumps you got for Christmas, but do yourself a favor and save them for special occasions only. Prolonged wearing of high heels is one of the largest causes of foot problems in women. According to the American Osteopathic Association, heels cause the foot to bend in an unnatural position, leading to ailments such as bunions, plantar facilities, ingrown toenails, and back pain. Furthermore, perennial high heel wearing has been blamed for shortening Achilles tendon in women, which can create chronic pain and stiffness. Does this mean you need to disavow pumps forever? No, as long as you take care to limit your heel use and wear them only on days with limited standing or movement.
Smoking “socially.” Every now and then, if you’ve had a few beers, you’ll light up. True, it’s better than if you were smoking a pack a day, but even occasional cigarettes can damage your heart and lungs. Intermittent or “social” smokers face the same health risks as heavy smokers, including premature death from cardiovascular risk, increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory tract infections. Bottom line, no amount of smoking is safe.
Sleeping in your contacts. Oops—you were tired last night and fell asleep wearing your contacts. No biggie, right? We hate to break it to you, but unless you have extended wear contacts, this is a habit you need to stop. Sleeping in contacts that are meant for daily wear can lead to infections such as pink eye (yuck!), corneal ulcers, and other health problems that can cause permanent vision loss.
Not wearing SPF every day. Your dermatologist isn’t being anal retentive when she tells you to lather on the sunscreen daily—she’s right. Even when it’s cloudy or rainy outside, UV rays can still penetrate your skin, leading to cellular damage and premature aging. Apply a 30+ SPF every morning fresh out of the shower; in no time, it will become a part of your morning routine.
Nursing grudges. Your coworker said that one thing that one time that really, really pissed you off, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get over it. Well, it’s time to just shrug it off. Harboring hostile feelings can have a negative bearing on your health, a number of studies suggest. For example, a 2010 study published in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that those who admitted to holding grudges also reported higher rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest, elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain than those who didn’t share this tendency.
Skipping lunch. Some dieters think that skipping meals is a shortcut to weight loss. But repeat after me: Skipping meals is bad. Very bad. Not only will your energy levels tank, leaving you cranky and irritable, but also your metabolism will nosedive and you’ll be more likely to overeat later on. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that individuals who nixed breakfast were 4.5 times more likely to be obese. Four and a half! If you don’t have time to consume breakfast or lunch, opting for a healthy on-the-go option, like nuts and a piece of string cheese, is better than nothing.
Drinking more than three cups of coffee a day. We’ve seen that coffee, in moderation, packs some surprising health benefits. But that’s the key axiom—“moderation.” A 2013 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings links excessive coffee consumption (defined as more than 28 eight-ounce cups per week) with had a 56 percent increased risk of death from all causes. Although the findings should be taken with a grain of salt (correlation does not prove causation, after all), the study does hone in on an important teaching: Too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety and sleeplessness, so you’re better off sticking to one or two cups of Joe.