23 Things You Had No Idea Were Bad For Your Health
You may want to cleanse yourself of cleanses.
We all know smoking, binge-drinking, tanning, and eating fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are bad for us. But you probably didn’t realize that some far more innocuous habits (like texting or burning incense) and even others you thought were good for your health (like hitting the street for a run or taking certain supplements) are actually doing damage. To find out if your everyday activities or maybe even an element of your lifestyle is doing your body not-so-good, read on for 23 things you had no idea were bad for your health.
Sitting up too straight
“Your mom wasn’t totally wrong—hunching can certainly be bad for your back,” says Dr. Neel Anand, MD, the director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, California. However, Anand says the opposite is also true: Sitting up straight for long stretches of time can also cause strain.
“If you work in an office setting, make sure your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90-degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor, and you have proper lower back support,” Anand advises. He also recommends standing up, stretching, and taking a quick walk several times a day.
Running on pavement
“Whether it’s concrete or paved asphalt, running on hard ground is incredibly hard on your joints and spine,” says Anand. “Many distance runners say they feel a difference between [the] impact of running on cement sidewalks versus running on concrete roads. But whichever you choose, you’re still running on a very hard surface.”
Anand recommends trying to find a dirt trail to run on, or stepping off the path at the park to run in the grass. He explains that running on softer surfaces won’t jar your spine as much as running strictly on pavement can. “You’ll also benefit from getting stronger legs, as the softer ground gives more and requires more energy, strength, and effort to push forward,” Anand adds.
Burning incense can be soothing to the psyche, but, unfortunately, it’s not quite as kind to your lungs. As one 2009 study published in Cancer revealed, there’s a direct link between incense use and an increased risk of respiratory tract carcinomas. So, if you need a spritz of a fresh smell, go for a natural air freshener instead.
A 2017 study published in Behaviour Research & Therapy found that ruminating—repetitively thinking about a stressor or problem without working towards a solution—can lead to an increase in symptoms of depression. Rather than harping on the past and mulling over things you can’t change, put your energy towards living in the moment and focusing on the future.
Dry cleaning your clothing
Most of us have at least a few items of clothing that require dry cleaning, so it’s important to be aware that the process involves the chemical perchloroethylene (better known as perc). According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, long-term exposure to perc can cause cancer. Other side effects might include mood swings, vision changes, and dips in memory, attention, or reaction time.
Alkaline water is a pricey alternative to regular old water, and has been touted by celebrities as having health benefits because it’s less acidic than tap water. But Dr. Steve Vasilev, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and the medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, says it’s ultimately not doing your health any real favors.
“The answer is not to simply drown yourself with supposedly life-saving—and often very expensive—alkaline water,” he explains. “You can also harm yourself because one area that requires a highly acidic environment to digest food is your stomach. Depending on the type of alkaline water and associated minerals you take in, it is quite possible that you will alkalinize your stomach to a point that leads to bad digestion and disease.”
Instead, just be sure to stay away from processed foods and fast food, and research the acid levels associated with foods you typically eat. “By choosing wisely and to your taste, you can have quite an alkaline diet,” he says.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
“We’ve all battled some sort of backache, headache, or knee pain in our lives and most of us simply pop a few over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to ease the discomfort we’re feeling,” says Dr. Vernon Williams, MD, a sports neurologist and the director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in L.A.
Taking OTC pain relievers seems harmless—they’re sold at your local pharmacy, after all—but Williams says he’s observed a concerning trend among people who think that taking a variety of OTC pain relievers is a safe, effective way to quickly alleviate what ails them. He emphasizes the importance of reading the full Drug Facts label on an OTC pain medicine before taking it, consulting with your doctor if you’re regularly taking OTCs, educating yourself about the risks of mixing OTC pain medicines, and recognizing the symptoms of an OTC overdose.
Supplements and herbal medicines
“Many everyday supplements and herbal medicines don’t have to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before putting their products on the market,” says Dr. LaTasha Perkins, MD, a family physician in Washington, D.C. Perkins explains that it’s important to speak with your physician about potential benefits and side effects of supplements and herbal medicines—especially if you regularly take other medications, have any chronic health issues, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Detoxing and cleansing
Detoxes and cleanses are often promoted as a quick way to lose weight or rid your body of toxins. But, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there’s no evidence that such programs improve your health. In fact, there are serious risks associated with them. For example, the FDA has put a bunch of companies on blast because their detox and cleansing products contain ingredients that aren’t safe or even legal. Besides, even if all the ingredients are kosher, many detox products contain laxatives, which, according to experts at Cornell University, can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills
“Over-the-counter sleeping pills that have the word ‘PM’ in [them] often contain diphenhydramine, which can hurt your memory, and has been linked to dementia risk,” says Dr. Amarish Davé, DO, a board-certified neurologist. If insomnia is a problem, it’s best to consult with your physician in order to come up with a healthy, safe solution.
“One thing most people do every day that’s bad for their health is texting,” says Dr. Roberto Contreras II, MD, an internist in San Bernardino, California. See, texting is a repetitive motion that can cause an overuse injury with your thumbs or neck (since “the constant bending of the neck while you text to look at your screen is stress on the neck,” he says). As result, texting can then lead to osteoarthritis. But that’s not the only reason staring at that screen is harming your health…
Using devices while laying on your side
Prolonged screen time can cause digital eye strain, which results in headaches, double or blurred vision, and dry eyes. But Dr. Shauna Jain, MD, FRCP, a pediatrician in Ontario, Canada, warns that looking at a smartphone in the dark while laying on your side can do worse: cause temporary blindness.
“This side position allows only one eye to view the screen. The ‘watching eye’ adapts to the light from the screen, and the covered eye adapts to the dark. The intensity of light from the screen bleaches the watching eye’s photopigments,” she explains. “So, in the morning, when the eyes are exposed to natural light, the watching eye is ‘blinded’ by the light, resulting in temporary blindness in that eye.”
The phenomenon is called “transient smartphone blindness (TSB)” and, though the effect only lasts about 15 minutes, a 2017 study published in the journal Cureus notes that it could potentially have long-term consequences.
Relying on digital devices
The blue light emitted from phones, tablets, and computer screens “is a type of light not typically present in our natural environment,” explains Dr. Sheri Rowen, MD, a prominent eye surgeon and member of the Eyesafe VisionHealth Advisory Board. In fact, one 2016 study in Molecular Vision linked exposure to HEV blue light to photoreceptor damage and possible damage to overall ocular health. That’s one reason why, Rowen says, “We recommend that patients who use electronic devices on a daily basis opt for products with built-in blue light filtration technologies to stop the most dangerous portions of the light spectrum from entering their eyes.”
Working the night shift
Research shows that working the night shift for years at a time is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. According to a 2013 study in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, though researchers initially believed this risk only applied to healthcare workers, it applies to a “diverse mix of occupations.” What’s more, according to the National Sleep Foundation, working the night shift is also linked to “metabolic problems, heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and obesity.” It may be good for your wallet, but it’s certainly not helping your health.
Sleeping with the TV on
The background noise of the TV may help lull you to sleep, but the overnight exposure to blue—or artificial—light may increase the risk of cancer. According to a 2010 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, artificial light especially increases the risk of cancers that require hormones to grow, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Or sleeping too much
You already know that one of the worst things you can do for health is get too little sleep, but did you know sleeping too many hours per night is also unhealthy? According to John Hopkins Medicine, oversleeping is associated with a number of medical problems, including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, obesity, and recurrent headaches. In some cases, you may be sleeping too much because you already have a medical condition you’re not aware of, so it’s important to be evaluated by your doctor if you consistently require more than eight or nine hours of sleep in order to feel well-rested.
Spending all day inside
“Research has demonstrated that spending time outdoors provides a wide range of mental and physical benefits,” says Dr. Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. He notes that nearly half of Americans are vitamin D deficient, which is largely due to our modern, indoor lifestyles. “This can lead to a whole host of medical issues, including heart disease and fragility fractures,” he says.
To combat this, simply try to find time to get outdoors in order to reduce stress and improve mental health. Even just 30 minutes a day will do wonders for your psyche.
Neglecting to develop relationships
“Humans are wired to connect with other humans,” says Kouri. “Research has demonstrated that with increasing age, people with strong social connections live longer [than those who don’t].”
Whether it’s bonding with romantic partners, friends, or family members, these relationships provide value and meaning to the human existence. “When we have these [connections], we live longer, healthier lives,” Kouri notes.
Using the first sunscreen you find
With melanoma and other types of skin cancer on the rise, Vasilev says it’s important to protect your body from sun overexposure—but this doesn’t mean grabbing the first sunscreen you spot on the shelf of the grocery store or pharmacy. “If you pick up most sunscreens, you’ll find a lot of chemical names. Most have been associated with toxic effects, including cancer, in the long run,” he explains.
Just two stand out as being safe: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. “If you find a sunscreen with these ingredients, plus supportive skin-friendly materials like aloe and vitamin E, you’ve found a winner,” he says.
Next time you sit down for a marathon gaming session, be sure to take a quick fiver every half hour or so. That’s because, according to Dr. Brian Lee, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California, says too much time playing video games can result in repetitive stress injuries. “Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are really just a reference term for any type of condition that is caused by too much stress or strain placed on a joint, ligament, or muscle,” Lee explains.
RSIs vary widely in type and severity, but any time your body is mechanically going through the same motions over and over again for extended periods of time, the risk for an RSI increases. So, if you’re “playing video games for hours on end with minimal recovery time for the hands, wrists, and arms, RSIs can happen,” says Lee.
Yes, it really is the most important meal of the day. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, skipping breakfast is linked to elevated blood pressure, higher levels of total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol), and an increased risk of heart disease.
Consuming too much caffeine
Dr. Rena D. Malik, MD, the director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, explains that “caffeine found in coffee is a known bladder irritant and diuretic.” She notes that research has shown caffeine can cause significantly worse urinary urgency and frequency in healthy individuals. “[This] can worsen your quality of life,” she says. “Consider reducing your daily intake or limit your intake when you are going to be in a situation where you can’t have easy access to a bathroom.”
Letting your dog kiss you
Sadly, kissing your canine pal may not be the healthiest way to show your affection. “Sometimes this tongue bath to your nose and face can have unforeseen consequences,” says Dr. Sue Lewis, MD, a physician at AFC Urgent Care Portland. “In one woman’s case, the sloppy smooches from her pooch caused her to develop a severe bacterial infection.”
After the woman fell ill and lab tests showed that her kidneys were failing, blood tests revealed that she’d been infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria found in the mouths of dogs and cats. Although scratches and bites from pets can also transmit the infection, Lewis says it’s recommended that pet owners (especially older adults with weak immune systems) avoid slobbery displays of affection. And if you’d rather see the upside to your furry friends, check out 30 Mind-Blowing Health Benefits of Pets.
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