Surprising Habits That Are Ruining Your Health, Says Science
Turns out, the big little lies you need to know about have nothing to do with Sunday night TV. It's easy to tell ourselves fibs and make excuses about our health—this condition isn't that bad, I don't need this exam this year, there's nothing I can do about that—but that can lead to major problems down the line, or needlessly make life less enjoyable.
These are some of the most common lies doctors and health experts say we tell ourselves—and our's recommendations for how to stop fooling yourself out of your best health ever. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID And it's Still Messing With You.
"I've just been feeling a little down, that's all."
"Everyone feels down from time to time. Ups and downs are a normal part of the human condition," says Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, therapist and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. "But sometimes we find ourselves feeling that way for an extended period of time, and we shrug it off and plow ahead without paying it much attention. Depression is a mental health condition that is beyond the normal ups and downs, and it can become debilitating if it's not dealt with."
Recommendation: "Feeling sad for long periods on end isn't something that should be ignored; it should be checked out with a doctor promptly," says Bilek.
"My blood pressure really isn't that high."
"A huge lie I hear all the time is, 'My blood pressure is elevated because I ran here to catch the bus,' or 'because I drank coffee,'" says Elizabeth A. Jacobs, MD, chief of primary care and a professor at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. "The lie is that they don't have high blood pressure that needs to be treated or needs more treatment."
Recommendation: Get your blood pressure checked regularly—experts recommend once a year. If it's high, don't try to explain it away. Follow through with your doctor's recommendations, including any lifestyle changes or medication.
"I can exercise my way to weight loss."
It's true: Abs really are made in the kitchen. "My clients constantly think that if they up the intensity, duration, or frequency of their workouts, they can kick-start their weight loss without changing their dietary habits," says Amanda Dale, ACE, AFAA, certified personal trainer and nutritionist. "The reality is that when creating a calorie deficit (the only proven strategy that works for sustained weight loss), reducing food intake is a far more effective method than increasing exercise. Trying to 'out-train' a poor diet can lead to fatigue and injury—plus, you never actually learn how to properly control your intake and eat healthfully."
Recommendation: The most effective strategy for sustained weight loss is to create a moderate deficit of about 500 calories per day, by moving a little more and eating a little less, says Dale.
"If I eat less and less, I'll lose weight faster and faster."
A starvation diet is an oxymoron—and counterproductive. "A common myth is that by keeping calories restricted as low as possible, one can 'speed up' their weight loss," says Dale. "However, dropping your food intake below your resting metabolic rate (RMR—the bare minimum amount of calories your body needs to function) can result in lasting damage to your calorie-burning metabolism, which means you'll struggle to lose weight in the future."
Recommendation: "Focus on balancing your food intake with your RMR and daily activity level to create that daily deficit of around 500 calories," says Dale. "This will give you a weight loss of about a pound per week, which is a steady and sustainable loss." An app like LoseIt can help.
"I don't need a colonoscopy! I eat healthy enough."
It can be easy to convince yourself that because you eat healthy and exercise, you're not at risk for colon cancer and can skip that routine colonoscopy. (No one is lining up for one because they want to.) In reality, colon cancer has a number of risk factors and shows up in the young and otherwise healthy.
Recommendation: Follow the American Cancer Society's guidelines for colonoscopy: Get the first one at age 45, and repeat procedures every 10 years. If you have a family history, you may need to start earlier. When caught early (as precancerous polyps), colon cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure.
"These old shoes can last another year."
"One lie that I often hear my patients tell themselves is that it doesn't matter what type of shoes they wear," says physical therapist Lisa Alemi. "In reality, the type of shoe you wear can cause you a number of problems, including increased risk for falls, lower extremity weakness, muscle atrophy of the foot, angel sprains, and more."
Recommendation: "It's important that shoes fit correctly, and promote normal mechanics to allow the body to move most optimally," says Alemi.
"My hearing is good enough"
As we age, it's easy to lapse into denial when our hearing isn't as good as it used to be. "The most common lies I hear from patients are 'I can hear fine—people mumble,' 'I can hear enough to get by,' and 'I can hear, it's just that restaurants are noisier than they used to be,'" says Meryl Miller, an audiologist with Audiological Consultants of Atlanta. "The problem is, you're not hearing enough to have a successful career or fulfilling relationships—restaurants aren't noisier than they used to be. These reports are symptoms of hearing loss, specifically in the pitches responsible for clarity of voices, rather than volume. Maintaining volume and losing clarity is the most common type of hearing loss. This change in hearing can be misleading since sounds and voices are loud enough, but not clear enough to understand consistently."
Recommendation: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you shouldn't wait for signs of hearing loss. Have your hearing examined by your doctor during your regular checkup; he or she may refer you to a specialist for treatment. "It's important to address these concerns sooner than later, as early detection and treatment of hearing loss is important for hearing improvement, and for reducing secondary health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline," says Miller.
"My parents had this disease, so I'll get it too."
The truth is, most diseases develop through a complicated set of circumstances, including genetics, environment, diet and lifestyle choices. Just because your parents had an illness is not a guarantee you'll carry on the family tradition.
Recommendation: A family history isn't an excuse for complacency or denial. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and risk factors. Some conditions and cancers do have a genetic component, so ask if screening is appropriate.
"I need to do a cleanse."
Over the past decade, a huge industry has sprung up dedicated to detoxing the body from everyday wear-and-tear. Diets, drinks, recipes, supplements and other regimens: Most experts say they're a waste of money. Why? Our bodies are meant to detox themselves. "Our digestive tract, liver, kidneys and skin are responsible for breaking down toxins for elimination through urine, stool or sweat," says the Cleveland Clinic.
Recommendation: Eat a balanced diet of whole foods, with plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean protein. Limit alcohol. Cleanses may do more harm than good—at least to your wallet.
"I don't need sleep."
"Often when our lives get busy, sleep is the first casualty," says Colleen M. Wallace, MD, associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Lying to ourselves about how much sleep we need can lead to multiple health effects. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and decreased immune system function. It impairs your thinking, memory formation and attention span. It can lead to depression. It not only causes disease but can significantly decrease the quality of your life."
Recommendation: "Instead of lying to yourself about how little sleep you need, create a life that allows for you to get the recommended amount of sleep of six to eight hours per night," says Wallace. "First, set a bedtime. Then develop some strategies in the hour before bedtime that help you to relax. This could be putting your phone out of sight, listening to calming music, reading, meditating, or taking a long shower. These are all primers that are suggesting to your brain that it's almost time for bed."
"My snoring isn't a big deal."
Snoring doesn't just disturb the sleep of your bedmate. It could be a sign you have sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops and the brain has to wake up to get your lungs moving again. It's exhausting—even though you likely don't remember waking up—and correlated to a variety of serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.
Recommendation: If you've been told you snore, talk to your doctor about it.
"I don't need a physical."
As it turns out, no news could turn out to be the opposite of good news. A physical is an easy thing to justify skipping, but you could also be forgoing tests that could extend your life (and ease your mind).
Recommendation: The American Heart Association recommends getting your blood pressure checked every year. According to Mount Sinai Medical Center, x, and women should talk to their doctors about screening for breast cancer. The annual physical becomes even more important after age 50. Talk to your primary care doctor about what's right for you.
"I don't need an eye exam that often."
Your eyes aren't just the window to your soul—they give a doctor a snapshot of your health. Besides diagnosing vision problems, a doctor can spot several other illnesses via the condition of your eyes, including thyroid disease and glaucoma, which can be an indicator of diabetes.
Recommendation: The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults have an eye exam every two to four years from ages 40 to 54, and every one to three years from ages 55 to 64. Your doctor may recommend you have them more frequently if you have vision problems or glaucoma. If you have diabetes, you should have an eye exam at least every year.
"I don't have time to exercise."
"The top lie people tell themselves is that they will become healthier or more fit in the future," says Alex Robles, MD, a New York-based OB-GYN and founder of WhiteCoatTrainer.com. "They say things like, 'Once I have more time, I will definitely start going to the gym' or 'If I weren't so busy, I'd be able to lose weight and get in better shape.' The truth is, your life won't get any easier or any less busy. Don't find time to exercise—make the time. The older you get, the harder it'll be to start taking care of your health."
Recommendation: Experts like the American Heart Association recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, per week (or 75 minute of vigorous exercise, like jogging). If that seems like too much of a time commitment, "Start light. Start slow. Something is always better than nothing," says Robles.
"I'm overweight because it runs in my family."
Just as your parents' health histories don't guarantee you'll inherit their illnesses, your parents' weight doesn't dictate your own. "The lies I have heard all circle around our own unwillingness to be responsible for our lives," says Donna Matthezing, a registered nurse for three decades. "You can't drink soda every day, eat candy and eat at fast food restaurants and then be shocked you have diabetes. Be responsible for your well being. It's not your parents' fault because of your genetics. It's your fault once you are the age that you are responsible."
Recommendation: Your weight is truly something you can't blame on your parents. Know your healthy weight range. If you need to lose a few, talk to your doctor about the most effective way to go about it. Don't starve yourself or turn to fad diets; you'll set yourself up for failure.
"Because I'm older, I need less sleep at night."
This is one of the most common lies we tell ourselves about our health as we age. Your parents or grandparents may have reported needing less sleep in their golden years—but weren't they kind of cranky?
Recommendation: Experts like the National Sleep Foundation say adults of every age need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you're having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep medicine specialist.
"It's too late"
No matter how old you are, it's never too late to make changes that can improve your health. For example: Scientists have found that people who quit smoking from age 60 to 64 can add one to three years to their lives.
Recommendation: Don't sell yourself short. Time and again, researchers have found that making healthy changes like improving your diet, stubbing out cigarettes and engaging in physical activity can slow down the physiological effects of aging.
"I'm not drinking too much."
You might be! Our culture is in a dysfunctional love affair with social drinking, and some of us have lost perspective. The harsh-your-buzz reality: Recommended limits for safe consumption of alcohol are much lower than most of us realize.
Recommendation: Experts advise that women should have no more than one drink a day, and men should stop at two. Any more than that, and you're putting yourself at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and more than a dozen forms of cancer.
"You're supposed to gain weight as you age."
Sorry. Although the metabolism slows down and it's easier to gain weight after age 40, that doesn't mean accepting the process is good for your health. According to a study published in JAMA, researchers found that people who gained even a moderate amount of weight—from about 5 pounds to 22—since high school were much more likely to experience chronic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Recommendation: You don't have to try and reclaim your youthful figure, but know your healthy weight range, and work on staying there. What can help: Metabolism slows because the body tends to lose fat-burning lean muscle, while preserving fat itself, with age. Experts recommend performing strengthening exercises twice a week.
"I ate a salad for lunch, so I must be healthy."
"Many people don't realize that they aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables," says Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, a Texas-based registered dietitian nutritionist. "A salad for lunch and a side of green beans with dinner is not enough. This is a particularly problematic lie told by vegetarians and vegans, who nowadays have full access to junk food that fits within that diet's parameters. Only about 10 percent of Americans are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables—it's a pretty safe bet you're not getting enough."
Recommendation: "Aim for 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, depending on your size, to really see your health improve," says Hanes.
"I just can't"
"The biggest lie is telling yourself 'I can't do it'," says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "No, it's not easy getting your health in check. Eating right, exercising and getting in shape requires incredible personal accountability, dedication and resilience. Results don't manifest over the course of days. There will be setbacks and mistakes, but working through them and getting back on the proverbial horse is key."
The Rx: Setting sky-high goals and expecting immediate results can set yourself up for failure. Work on healthy progress, not perfection. Your health professionals—and Eat This, Not That! Health—are here to help. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.