The Worst Things You Can Do for Your Health This Fall, According to Doctors
Fall can still be fun, but avoid these things in order to stay healthy all season long.
All in all, there's a lot to love about fall: It's the time of the year when you can slow things down, cozy up, and relax. Not to mention revisit your impressive sweater collection. But don't get too comfy—not yet, anyway. While apple-picking is always a doctor-approved habit, there are also some things experts say to avoid. From overdoing it on added sugar (hello, pumpkin spice lattes!) to skipping your workouts, these are the worst things you can do for your health this fall. And for what you should be doing, check out The Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Health Right Now.
Ignore your stress.
In the summer months, you may combat stress through workouts and time spent reading on the beach. Just make sure you still find ways to deal with it during the colder fall months, too. According to Jessica Peatross, MD, a hospitalist and functional medicine doctor in Monterey Park, California, severe acute stress or chronic long-term stress can have an impact on how well your immune system functions.
"When you're stressed, there's an uptick in the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol. If cortisol remains high chronically, research shows this can increase inflammation, which can confuse the body's defenses," says Peatross. "A type of our white blood cells, lymphocytes, also have a more difficult time responding to foreign invaders when you're stressed." And for all the ways being at your wit's end impacts your well-being, check out 18 Subtle Signs Your Stress Levels Are Harming Your Health.
Eat too much sugar.
There are so many downsides to going crazy on added or processed sugar, and that's exactly why doctors recommend keeping your intake to a minimum.
"In the short-term, added or processed sugar has been shown to cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, leading to increased secretion of insulin and then glucose crash. These fluctuations in blood sugar levels can negatively impact your energy levels," says Emmanuel Asare, MD, a New York-based internal medicine specialist and the founder of MiraBurst. "In the long-term, research shows that added sugar is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, increased risk of heart disease, development of some types of cancers, and other health issues."
Not get your flu shot
Remember the flu? Even though it's been out of many people's minds with everything else happening in the world, now's the time to start making sure you're doing whatever you can to prevent all sicknesses. "With the winter months approaching and COVID-19 still lurking, it's more important than ever before to get vaccinated," says Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City. "The country will likely have a convergence of both flu and coronavirus this fall and winter, so getting the flu shot is extremely crucial this year (and every year)." And for more on the influenza virus, check out Everything You Need to Know About Flu Season This Year.
Have more than two drinks a day.
It's tempting to cozy up to one too many bottles of wine come fall, but Sunitha D. Posina, MD, a board-certified internist and locum hospitalist in New York, says to make sure to keep those glasses to a minimum in order to keep your health in check.
"While consuming alcohol can lower the chances of heart disease and improve blood pressure, regularly drinking more than two drinks a day can have many consequences on the rest of the body," she says. "At minimum, allow yourself two alcohol-free days a week to avoid developing liver problems and gaining weight. The CDC defines one drink per day for women and two for men as moderate drinking, which is associated in alcohol studies with the lowest mortality rates."
Skip your workouts.
Just because it's sweater season doesn't mean you should stop eating healthy and working out. "With cooler weather, folks tend to spend more time indoors and be less active. Just because you're not wearing a swimsuit doesn't mean you should stop exercising," says Carmen Teague, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Atrium Health Mecklenburg Medical Group in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Commit to finding indoor opportunities to stay fit and active once it gets cold."
Not eat enough fruits and vegetables
Once it gets cold outside, it's tempting to eat more warm and cozy comfort foods. But be sure you're still getting in at least five servings of fruit and veggies a day while doing so.
"Research has shown that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce a person's risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and some types of cancers," Asare says. "Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a wide range of health boosting antioxidants, including polyphenols. These plant-based nutrients help us lead a healthier, longer life by helping us reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases."
Not get enough sleep
Yeah, yeah—it's hard to sleep when you're so excited about making your pumpkin spice latte in the morning. But Sonpal says ensuring you're getting sufficient sleep every night (he recommends aiming for 7 to 8 hours) is important in maintaining good health, as well as a strong immune system.
"When the body is asleep, there's an increase in the release of T cells and cytokines in the bloodstream, which are vital parts of the immune system. Less sleep means fewer immune cells are being produced, therefore increasing the risk of infection," he says. "Not to mention, sleep deprivation can worsen or make it harder to manage stress. Stress alone weakens your immunity, leaving you vulnerable to getting sick." And to see where people are getting the least amount of shut-eye, check out This Is the Most Sleep-Deprived State in the U.S.
Go crazy on Halloween candy.
Having sweets in moderation is healthy. What's not good for your body, however, is eating your child's entire supply of Halloween candy. "The holidays, starting with Halloween, tend to afford many opportunities for sweets and dietary indiscretion," Teague says. "Be mindful of what you're eating, or sampling. It's okay to eat your Aunt Trilla's pumpkin pie, but you probably shouldn't devour the whole thing."
Not stay up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 symptoms
There's still so much to learn about COVID-19, and that's why it's important to stay informed on all the latest symptoms and news. "Come fall and wintertime, coronavirus infections will overlap with cases of the common cold and seasonal flu. Given that all three of these conditions can result in a cough, the symptoms may be difficult to distinguish," Posina says. "That's why it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 news in your city or neighborhood, and know what to look out for when it comes to showing symptoms."
Use weight loss pills.
If you're trying to shed some pounds before the holidays, this is not the way to go about it. According to Asare, there are many different side effects of weight loss pills depending on the type you take, ranging from insomnia and increased blood pressure to headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
"Besides the potential side effects of diet pills, it's also important to know that most people will regain some or all of the weight they lost when they stop using weight loss pills," he says. "In effect, the only safe, effective, and permanent way to lose weight is through lifestyle modification, which consists of increased physical activity and the adoption of healthy eating habits." And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Eat too many sour foods.
What's the problem with sour foods, you ask? According to Asare, they're not great for your stomach when you overdo it. "Most healthy fruits tend to be a little sour, and therefore sour foods are okay to consume in moderation," he says. "However, if too many sour foods are consumed improperly, it can lead to gastric upset. That is why it's important that certain sour foods—such as lemons—are combined with other foods and drinks that aren't sour." And for more things you need to know about your midsection, check out This Is Everything Your Stomach Is Trying to Tell You About Your Health.
You might be tempted to skip breakfast in order to cut down on your daily calories, but Asare says eating something healthy can keep you feeling your best. "If you start your day with a healthy breakfast, it will 'wake up' your digestive system and jump start your metabolism," he says. "This will regulate your bowel movements and help your blood sugar levels to stay stable throughout the day."
Use too much added sweetener.
It's the season of baked goods, and that means sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Dr. Asare says to be aware of how much added sugar is going into what you eat and drink. While he says natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit are generally safe for the body, he's not a fan of artificial options.
"Artificial sweeteners may have long-term health issues and therefore need more research to establish long-term safety," he says. "A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2017 revealed that artificial sweeteners may be associated with long-term weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease."