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30 Health Mistakes You Don't Know You Are Making

Modify your behavior to be your healthiest self.

Eating fast food, failing to exercise, smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, avoiding the doctor… Everyone knows that certain habits, practices, and lifestyle choices are seriously bad for your health. However, there are many health mistakes you're probably making without even realizing it. The good news is, all of them have an easy fix — and Eat This, Not That! Health will tell you how.


You're Applying Heat to an Injury

Patch and stiff neck

"It might be your first instinct to apply heat to painful areas, but it could actually aggravate your injury," explains Dr. Thanu Jey, Clinic Director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic. "Applying heat to painful areas can actually make things worse," he explains. "If you've suffered a recent injury, inflammation to the damaged tissue is likely to follow. Although heat feels good and loosens up stiff tissues, it actually promotes an increase in inflammation, which can lead to more stiffness, pain, and mobility loss."

The Rx: Instead of heat, Dr. Jey recommends icing injuries immediately and to stop using that area to prevent further damage.


You Assume That "Organic" Or "All Natural" Means It's Good For You

woman checking food

According to the USDA, certified organic foods are "grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives." But it doesn't mean they're healthy. For example, processed foods like macaroni and cheese — or even candy — might be "organic," but most nutritionists would never recommend them.

This can apply to supplements and vitamins too, says Monique May, MD, MHA, Physician in the Kitchen at MDM. "There can be harmful impurities present. They're not regulated by the FDA, since they are not medications. Taken in excess, they can actually be harmful. There can also be interactions with prescription medications you may be taking."

The Rx: Do your nutritional research when it comes to food. As for vitamins and supplements, always check with your doctor before taking anything.


You're Not Wearing Sunscreen Year Round

middle aged woman applying sunscreen lotion on face on the beach

Everyone knows to slather on the sunscreen in summer. But it's not an obvious self-care ritual during the rest of the year. "Sunscreen for your face is a year-round must," says Kathleen Cook Suozzi, MD, a dermatologic surgeon and director of aesthetic dermatology for Yale Medicine. "Patients underestimate how much chronic daily exposure to ultraviolet radiation accumulates and leads to skin aging and risk of skin cancer."

The Rx: "Even in the winter, sunscreen should be applied to your face," says Suozzi. "Don't forget about reflection off snow!"


You're Breathing Through Your Mouth

woman breathing with her mouth open

Mouth breathing — common for people with allergies — isn't as innocent as you would think. "Mouth breathing is conducive to disease," says Maggie Berghoff, MSN, FNP-C, a functional nurse practitioner.

The Rx: Breathe through your nose. If you notice you're mouth breathing because of allergies, talk to your health care practitioner about possible remedies. "Breathing through your nose will help to eliminate symptoms, increase essential nutrients in the body and even keep your gut lining healthier," says Berghoff.


You're Not Brushing Or Flossing Your Teeth Enough

woman cleaning her teeth with dental floss and smiling while standing against a mirror in bathroom

Many people make brushing and flossing a daily ritual. But according to dentist Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, chief clinical officer for SmileDirectClub, they aren't doing it enough. "Skimping on — or skipping — brushing your teeth and flossing two to three times a day can have a long-term negative impact on health," he says. "While most people know that brushing and flossing can keep your teeth clean, they don't know that brushing at least three times a day and flossing once a day can reduce chronic inflammation of the gums and supporting tooth structures." He points to 15 years of studies that show reducing the chronic inflammation of gum disease with good oral hygiene can positively affect diabetes, heart conditions and overall health.

The Rx:Sulitzer recommends a regular brushing and flossing routine, as well as twice-yearly trips to the dentist. "It can do so much for your overall health and well-being," he says.

RELATED: 20 Signs Your Tooth Pain Is Signaling Something More Serious


You're Cleaning Wounds With Hydrogen Peroxide

Female disinfects the wound on his knee pouring with oxygenated water

You get a cut. What's the first thing that most people do? Clean it with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. That's a no-no, says Rachel Shively, MD, an emergency medicine physician and toxicologist practicing in New York. "Using hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean cuts and scrapes can be irritating to skin, delay healing and harm the tissue," she explains.

The Rx: Clean a wound by running it under water for three to five minutes. "The running water is most important for clearing out debris and bacteria," says Shively. Pat it dry, then apply an antibiotic ointment like bacitracin.


You're Not Following the Hydration Equation

Close up focus on female hand holding glass african woman drinking still water

Many health experts recommend drinking eight glasses of fluids eight times a day, also referred to as the 8 x 8 rule. However, several external factors — including exercise, climate, and intake of sodium and other dehydrating foods and beverages — can leave your body needing more hydration. And some people mistakenly believe all fluids count. "Not drinking enough water — and thinking coffee counts toward your fluid intake — is one of the biggest unintentional health mistakes," says Michelle Reed, DO. Coffee is a diuretic, she points out.

The Rx: When determining how much water you should drink daily, consider everything you're eating and drinking, the climate you're in, and how much you're exercising.


You Are Skipping Meals


Eliminating meals to hit your weight loss goal may seem like a good idea. But that could lead to prediabetes, says Reed. A 2015 animal study found that skipping meals alters the metabolic process, leading to insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes. The study also found that mice that skipped meals accumulated more belly fat than mice which were allowed to nibble all day.

The Rx: Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of skipping meals.


You're Exercising Indoors

Woman on exercise bike

Although any amount of exercise is beneficial for your health, doing your workouts al fresco can seriously ramp up the health benefits. "Working out outdoors allows you to knock out a lot of healthy habits at once," says Berghoff. "You're breathing fresh air to increase oxygen and nutrient levels, exposing your skin to the sun to synthesize vitamin D and boost mitochondrial health, and you're viewing nature, which decreases stress and the fat-storing hormone cortisol." Another bonus? You'll improve your circadian rhythm, which helps you sleep well at night, maintain energy during the day and improve your digestion and metabolism.

The Rx: Try swapping out your indoor workout for an outdoor workout a few times a week.


You're Over-Supplementing With Calcium


One of the biggest mistakes women make is to over-supplement with calcium without balancing it with magnesium, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, founder of RNA Reset. "When women consume too much calcium without sufficient magnesium, not only will it create stress within the body, but the excess calcium will not be utilized correctly and may become toxic, because magnesium is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium," she says. Too much calcium and too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and calcification of the arteries, potentially leading to cardiovascular disease.

The Rx: Before you start taking any vitamins or supplements, speak to your physician. Have them recommend a balanced regimen specific to your individual healthcare needs.


You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Man in bed suffering from insomnia

Everyone knows that sleep is crucial for feeling your best, but many people don't realize that not getting enough can seriously impact your overall physical and mental health. "Lack of sleep puts stress on the body and depletes the body of the anti-stress mood mineral — magnesium — as well as other mood-enhancing nutrients such as B1. This may result in mood swings, grumpiness, lack of energy, fatigue, depression and anxiety," says Dean. Serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that's boosted by some medications, depends on magnesium for its production and function. "Lack of sleep will also affect your energy levels, your concentration levels and cognitive function," she says.

The Rx: Dean recommends getting enough sleep. Adults aged 18 to 64 should get between seven and nine hours every night. Those over 65 should get seven to eight.

RELATED: 15 Ways You're Sleeping Wrong After 40


You're Not Making Time For Preventative Care For Back Pain

Physiotherapist doing healing treatment on man's back

Most people don't think about preventative back pain care — they wait until the ache hits to take action. "Preventative care for back pain can help prevent degenerative arthritis," says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center.

The Rx: "Back pain affects millions of people each year, and more people today are looking to alternative methods of preventative healthcare instead of drugs or surgery," says Conrad. He suggests chiropractic care, massage therapy and regular stretching, which can help protect muscles and tendons from injury and prevent spine degeneration.


You're Eating Fruits That Are Too High in Sugar

green grapes bunch in bowl

Not all fruit sugar is created equal. "Eating fruit can be part of a healthy diet, but certain fruits are higher in sugar than others," says Conrad. "Fruits that are higher in the glycemic index are very high in sugar and should be eaten in moderation. For example, grapes have more sugar than chocolate. Making grapes a daily part of your diet, instead of other fruits like apples, could cause weight gain."

The Rx: Consume more fruit that's high in fiber and low in sugar, such as cherries, grapefruit, apples, and pears.


You're Requesting Antibiotics For Viral Infections

woman holds medications

When you're sick, your first instinct may be to medicate. But antibiotics only work on bacteria. "They do nothing for viruses, which are the most common cause of colds and sinus or throat infections," says Shively. "Taking antibiotics when you have a viral infection can cause side effects like diarrhea and breed bacterial resistance." That helps create strains of bacteria too strong for antibiotics.

The Rx: If you have a virus, Shivley recommends that you take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, drink plenty of fluids and rest. "Your immune system will take care of the rest," she says.


You Assume Wheat Is the Healthier Choice

Bread border on dark wood

Wheat products are often considered healthy because of their high fiber and vitamin content. But pay attention to the fine print. "Foods that say 'multi-grain,' 'high fiber' or '100% wheat' may not be a whole-grain product," explains Michalea Gale, RD, LDN, lead clinical dietitian at MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore.

The Rx: "When selecting wheat products, look for the word 'whole' at the beginning of the ingredient list," says Gales. Products that bear the 100% Whole Grain Stamp ensure all grain ingredients are whole.


You're Cleaning Wax From Your Ears With a Q-Tip

Woman is cleaning ear with a cotton swab

Many people rely on Q-tips for keeping their ears clean, but that's another health faux pas, says Shively. "Inserting a Q-tip (or another object) into your ear can actually pack the wax deeper, causing an impaction which can dull your hearing and cause pain," she says. Moreover, pushing objects into your ear can cause eardrum perforation.

The Rx: Instead of using Q-tips, soften wax with debrox drops (carbamide peroxide) and irrigate your ear with warm, clean water using a bulb syringe.


You're Not Drinking Enough Water Before Reaching For Food

Water pitcher

"People often feel hunger and think they need to eat, when in reality they are actually thirsty and need to drink water," says May. "By the time a person feels thirsty, he or she is already dehydrated." Drinking water helps flush impurities from the body. By helping fill up your stomach, it can decrease overeating and snacking, which can lead to weight loss. Being well-hydrated can also prevent headaches, fatigue, kidney stones and constipation.

The Rx: When you get the urge to snack, hydrate first.


You're Avoiding the Flu Shot Because You Think It "Gives You the Flu"

Doctor vaccinating women in hospital

In the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC estimated that about 48.8 million people got sick with influenza, 22.7 million were so sick they went to a health care provider, 959,000 were hospitalized, and 79,400 died. Guess how many of them got the flu from getting a flu shot? According to health experts, zero.

"The flu shot can't give you the flu, because it's made with inactivated virus that can't infect people," says Shively. "If you develop symptoms like body aches and low-grade fever directly after getting the flu vaccine, this is generally because vaccines intentionally rev up your immune system to prevent you from contracting that illness. A revved-up immune system can make you feel ill for a short time, but it's much better than contracting the flu, which can cause respiratory failure and death."

The Rx: Be incredibly careful where you get your health information from. The flu shot isn't a topic that most health experts are divided over. Just get it.


You're Eating "Health Foods" With Added Sugar

Woman picks up yogurt from grocery store shelf

You're eating super-healthy food that has lots of nutrients. But if it contains added sugar, you might end up with a nutritional deficit. "While yogurt is definitely a great source of probiotics, yogurts with added sugar can negate the benefits of the probiotics," says Marc Milstein, Ph.D.

The Rx: Opt for yogurts that have little or no added sugar — they're much better for the gut and brain.


You're Following an Unpersonalized Diet

Woman talking to a nutritionist

Any diet you're on should be personalized to your biochemical uniqueness, says Maggie Berghoff, MSN, FNP-C, a functional nurse practitioner. "Everybody is different, and what may be helpful for one person may be detrimental to another," she explains.

The Rx: Consult a healthcare provider to discuss what you should do to gain optimal health.


You're Still Douching


Douching is a long-practiced ritual that is a total waste of time, says Shively. "The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, keeping itself healthy with secretions, a proper pH balance (slightly acidic) and an army of useful bacteria," she explains. "Douching is unnecessary and disrupts this delicate balance, making you prone to infections like yeast and bacterial vaginosis." If you have a vaginal infection, douching can push the bacteria further inside, putting you at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease.

The Rx: Let your body take care of the cleansing, and resist the urge to buy that Summer's Eve.


You're Taking The Batteries Out of Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Close-up Of Electrician Hands Removing Battery From Smoke Detector

Almost everyone is guilty of taking batteries out of a beeping carbon monoxide detector. After all, it's super annoying. But a beeping detector can indicate it needs new batteries or can signify high carbon monoxide levels, says Shively. "As carbon monoxide is odorless, it's important to have a functioning detector, since high levels can go unnoticed until it is too late," she explains. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches (something you might attribute to the annoyance of the alarm), nausea, dizziness and fainting. It can be fatal.

The Rx: Try changing the batteries in your detector if it keeps going off. Consider investing in a smart home air quality detector that isn't so annoying, like the Airthings Wave Plus. If you suspect your home has a high carbon monoxide level, move yourself to fresh air, call the fire department and see your doctor.

RELATED: 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick


You're Ignoring the Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Health

women therapy

When physical symptoms arise, don't forget about the mind-body connection. "I see so many individuals in my practice that suffer from IBS and other bowel-related disorders," says Theresa M. Peronace-Onorato, MACP, SAC, certified trauma specialist at Anchor Points Counseling. "They enter therapy believing that their stomach issues are completely separate from their mental health issues."

For example, many people don't realize that 95 percent of serotonin, also known as the "happy chemical" responsible for well-being, is found in our gut. "Most people think of serotonin as a neurotransmitter existing solely in the brain," she says. "It's no surprise that when issues of mental health lessen in severity, patients find their stomach issues have as well."

The Rx: When you start popping pills for health ailments, consider speaking with a mental health professional.


You're Not Checking Contraindications of Medication

man with prescription medications

There's a reason why physicians are diligent about recording every medication, supplement and vitamin you're taking. But sometimes something slips through the cracks. "In the world of mental health, it isn't uncommon to see a patient who is prescribed two medications that are harmful when taken together," says Peronace-Onorato. "For example, I've seen quite a few individuals that had been making progress with an antidepressant, only to learn it was causing their blood pressure medication to become less effective, or even completely ineffective." Because antidepressants can be trial-and-error, depending on one's biochemistry, and they can take weeks to work, it can be disheartening for patients to learn the medication that's finally working for them will need to be stopped.

The Rx: When medications are prescribed by different doctors, it's important to check with your pharmacist to ensure there aren't any contraindications. "This can be prevented by making sure to communicate all medications being used to all doctors involved, as well as sticking with one pharmacy when having prescriptions filled," says Peronace-Onorato.


You're Not Keeping an Eye On Your BMI

BMI calculation

According to a study published in The Lancet, 71% of American men and 62% of women are either overweight or obese. "The reason that this is so important is that serious health problems — including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease — are associated with a BMI greater than 23," says John Chuback, MD, board-certified general surgeon and author of Make Your Own Damn Cheese. Even more alarming: In 2013, 13 percent of children in the United States were obese, which corresponds to a BMI of 30 or above. "Considering that sobering statistic, it appears that this is a problem which will plague or nation for generations to come, unless major philosophical and behavioral changes take place."

The Rx: Start paying attention to your BMI. "This process of change begins with each of us as individuals and as family units," says Chuback. Exercise, including strength training, and focusing on nutrition are crucial in keeping obesity at bay.


You Are Not Cleaning Your Water Bottle

Stainless thermos bottle on a wooden table sprayed with water

It's easy to forget to give your water bottle a good wash. Most people tend just to rinse it a couple of times, then refill. This could be dangerous, says Daniel Atkinson, GP clinical lead at "Once you've consumed the water, there are still tiny water particulates in the bottle," he says. "If left uncleaned for more than a couple of days, harmful bacteria can begin to multiply. If the bottle isn't cleaned thoroughly in between use, there is a possibility this harmful bacteria could be present in the water you're consuming."

The Rx: Wash your bottle in between uses. "As a guide: If your bottle is empty, and you don't intend to refill it relatively quickly, this might be ample time to give it a good clean," says Atkinson.


You Think Vaping Is Less Harmful Than Smoking

Man smoking electronic cigarette

The recent outbreak of deaths and illnesses related to vaping should be enough to dissuade people from vaping. "Vaping can produce formaldehyde and other chemicals which are carcinogenic, and some of the flavorings can produce chemicals which damage lung tissue," says Richard Martinello, MD, an infectious disease specialist with Yale Medicine.

The Rx: Don't smoke, don't vape. For tips on how to quit, visit the American Lung Association website.


You Only Wash Your Hands When You Think They're Dirty

The hands of a man who washes his hands with soap dispenser

Many of us wash our hands only when we think they're dirty, which is a huge mistake, according to Martinello. "Our hands pick up germs throughout the day, and some of those germs can make us sick," he says.

The Rx: Always wash your hands before you eat and after using the bathroom. "Soap and water are great to remove dirt from our hands," says Martinello. "Waterless hand sanitizer is highly active against most germs and is especially helpful when our hands are not visibly dirty or we're not near a sink."

RELATED: 20 Facts That Will Change the Way You Wash Your Hands


You Don't Know Stroke Symptoms

Man with chest pain

If you suffer a stroke, getting to the hospital as soon as possible can save your life. "During a stroke, around 1.9 million brain cells die per minute," says neurosurgeon Chris Mansi, MD, CEO of When a patient arrives at the emergency room with symptoms of a stroke, the time-sensitive situation necessitates diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible. "Delays in treatment can increase the patient's risk of a poor outcome such as paralysis or death, regardless of treatment," he says, noting that studies have shown that it can take nearly 30 minutes and sometimes up to 116 to identify a large vessel occlusion on a radiological image.

The Rx: Know the symptoms of a stroke. If you think you may be experiencing one, get to the ER immediately.


You Are Not Eating Enough

Hungry woman

Weight loss seems like a simple equation: consume less energy than you expend. However, according to Gale, some individuals make the mistake of not consuming enough. "Restricting calories too low can lower your metabolic rate and cause your body to store more fat," she says. "When you return to your normal food intake patterns, you may not burn calories at the same rate you did before, causing you to pack on the pounds."

The Rx: Talk to a nutritional expert, and follow an eating plan that provides all the nutrients you need. And live your healthiest life with these 50 Secrets to Live to 100!

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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