7 "Healthy" Habits That Are Actually Bad For You, According to Doctors
Some things that seem like they should be good for you actually aren't.
If you want to live a long, happy life, then taking the best possible care of your health is a no-brainer. The problem is, sometimes it's hard to know what's good for you and what isn't. Study findings often conflict (is an occasional glass of wine good for you, or not so much?) and different doctors often give different advice—just one reason many people choose to get a second opinion when making major medical decisions. Are some of the things you're incorporating into your routine not as good for you as you thought? Read on for seven so-called "healthy" habits that may, in fact, not be so healthy after all.
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Exercising every day.
Let's get one thing straight: No one is questioning the importance of regular exercise. Moving your body can boost your heart health, help keep you at a healthy weight, improve your mood, and give you more energy, according to the Mayo Clinic—and those are just a few of the benefits exercise offers. But if you're going hard and working up a sweat every day, experts say it's important to cut yourself a break.
"Exercise is absolutely great and healthy for your body—but there is absolutely such thing as too much of a good thing," board-certified family physician Laura Purdy, MD, tells Best Life. "Overuse and overtraining injuries are very common. Things like tendinitis, muscle strains, stress fractures, and even just fatigue and exhaustion can happen when we push our bodies too far, or farther than they want to go. So it is very important that we exercise in moderation, and only when we have been cleared by our doctor and know that activities are safe for us to engage in."
Sleeping in on the weekends.
The Sleep Foundation says most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. But if you fall short of that amount, you may not be able to make up for it by sleeping more on your days off. In fact, a 2017 study found that women who slept two or more extra hours on weekends in order to "catch up" on sleep were more likely to have poor heart health than those who didn't catch more zzz's on the weekend.
"It is actually better and healthier for our bodies to have a consistent schedule," Purdy explains. "It is important that we strive as much as possible to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Our brains, our bodies, our systems, and our hormones function best when we give them a very predictable cycle of the right amount of wake and sleep time. If you have a particularly exhausting week, are ill, or are traveling, it may be necessary to sleep in from time to time. But making a habit of having an irregular sleep schedule can actually lead to more harm than good when it comes to sleep hygiene and getting the rest you need at night."
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Having a cup of herbal tea before bed.
Sipping a warm mug of herbal tea may seem like just the ticket to prepare your mind and body for sleep each night, but that calming brew may not have exactly the effect you're hoping. For one thing, you need to make sure you're really drinking caffeine-free tea. Ashley Haywood, founder and CEO of artisan tea company Embrew, points out that just because a tea is marketed as "herbal," that doesn't mean it won't keep you awake.
"There is a misnomer that all herbal teas are caffeine-free," she tells Best Life. "But if a tea is marketed as herbal, that simply means it's not from the camellia sinensis plant," she says, noting that herbs like ginseng, ginko, and guarana are actually energizing. "It's best to avoid those if you're trying to settle in for the night."
Unwinding with a glass of red wine.
Another popular way to relax—drinking a glass of red wine—might not be the heart-healthy sip you hope it is (and that previous studies have touted it to be). A Nov. 2022 study published in JAMA Network Open found that drinking any amount of alcohol is detrimental to your health.
"Alcohol is harmful to the health starting at very low levels," Tim Naimi, MD, MPH, told The New York Times. "Risk starts to go up well below levels where people would think, 'Oh, that person has an alcohol problem.'"
Marissa Esser, PhD, lead author of the study, told the outlet that even if you're following federal guidelines for safe alcohol consumption, "there are risks even within these levels, especially for certain types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease."
Getting a tan.
While we're probably all well aware of the link between sun exposure and skin cancer, some of us still harbor a lingering belief that getting a little bit of color from time spent in the sun is healthy, and may associate pale skin with being sickly. Purdy, however, emphatically disputes that notion.
"Definitely do not get a tan! Always, always, always wear sunscreen on any exposed skin, and if you need to have a tan, please use sunless tanning products," Purdy says. "Sun rays, while yes, they do boost vitamin D, also age your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. I don't know that there's necessarily any healthy or good or desirable amount of UVA and UVB exposure that I can recommend. You can also get vitamin D from foods or dietary supplement if that is something that you feel like you need more of in your life and diet. But I would never recommend using sun exposure or tanning bed exposure as a means to tan your skin."
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Cutting out all sugar.
A pile of evidence shows how bad sugar is for us—especially the refined sugars you'll find in many processed foods, baked goods, and other treats. "Refined sugar intake is linked to conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease," says Healthline.
But moderation is the key to all things, including sugar consumption. A study published in the May 2014 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that added sugar consumption was not linked to an increased risk for death, after following more than 350,000 adults for more than 10 years. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends "limiting added sugars to no more than 6 percent of calories each day," adding that, for the majority of women in the U.S., "that's no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it's 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons."
An interesting note: The AHA doesn't distinguish between types of sugar, so while you may think that so-called "natural" sugars are better, that may not matter so much. "Your body has no idea if [the sugar in your diet] came from table sugar, honey, or agave nectar. It simply sees monosaccharide sugar molecules," Amy Goodson, MS, RD, told Healthline.
While it's not necessary to cut out all sugar, it's still a good idea to keep your consumption in check—but sometimes it's harder than you think. Plenty of people are guzzling kombucha these days in an attempt to improve their gut health. But the fizzy brew may be adding unnecessary—and empty—calories to your daily diet.
"Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) or sugary drinks are leading sources of added sugars in the American diet," the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns—and that includes store-bought kombucha, which contains an average of 20-24 grams of sugar per bottle. "Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis."