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These are the 5 Unhealthiest Habits in America

Doctors say these are the absolute worst things you can do if you want a happier, healthier life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has done a number on Americans' health, in a variety of ways: We're more stressed, we're exercising less, we've postponed doctor's visits, and too many of us have seen more pounds creep onto the scale than we'd like. But there's no time like the present to turn things around and shed those habits that could be unwittingly taking years off your life. But where to start? With these—which experts say are five of the unhealthiest habits in America right now. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Drinking Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Say no to drinking soda stop drinking sugar

Consuming too much added sugar—through sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas and juices, baked goods and simple carbs—is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Added sugar increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain; weakens the immune system; increases inflammation; and even ages your skin. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day and women no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams). The average American has about 15 teaspoons' worth every day. 

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Do we still need to point this out? Apparently so: Last year, cigarette sales increased for the first time in 20 years. Taking up smoking remains a bad move for whole pack of reasons: Tobacco use increases your risk of several cancers, heart disease, dementia, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, gum disease — the list goes on. Overall, cigarette smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death in America. 

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Not Getting Enough Sleep

woman sleeps peacefully in plush gray bedding

When work or family obligations start to stack up, sleep is the first thing we sacrifice. When it comes to your health, getting enough quality sleep is really not optional. Poor sleep has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, among other serious conditions. Experts such as the National Sleep Foundation recommend that every adult get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.

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Being Sedentary

Obese woman laying on sofa with smartphone eating chips

"Sitting is the new smoking" is a pretty dramatic phrase, but the numbers back it up: Experts estimate that every year, 145,000 American deaths are attributable to inadequate physical activity. Even before the pandemic, only 20 percent of Americans were getting what the American Heart Association says is enough exercise to prevent heart disease: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) per week. There's no part of your body that doesn't benefit from exercise: It reduces your risk of cancer, diabetes, dementia, fatty liver, and kidney disease, to name a few. 

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Stressing Out


Like poor sleep, chronic stress is something we underestimate. Stress also might play a role in the development of heart disease by worsening high blood pressure and encouraging unhealthy behaviors like overeating or drinking too much alcohol. (A new Cleveland Clinic report found that 65% of people say they're more stressed because of the COVID pandemic. But 33% didn't know stress could increase the risk of heart disease.) Stress inhibits the immune system, increasing susceptibility to a variety of diseases, including obesity. Finding healthy ways to mitigate stress is crucial: Working out, doing things you enjoy, or practicing relaxation exercises can help. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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