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Health Habits You Should Stop Doing Now, Say Experts

Be healthier with this essential advice.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

After the last 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might feel overwhelmed by, and unsure about, health advice. The science around the coronavirus continues to emerge, but one of the important reminders it's given us is that staying healthy is a holistic pursuit—the things we do every day affect our heart, weight, brain, and immune system, and it's in our best interest to keep those vital systems in top shape, ready to face whatever life throws at us. These are five health habits you should stop doing now to lower your risk of chronic disease, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

1

Being Socially Isolated

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We call loneliness "feeling blue," but social isolation actually puts the body on red alert. Experts say being lonely causes an inflammatory stress response throughout the body that wears down the immune system, ruining your defenses against chronic disease. According to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, this long-term inflammation can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.

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2

Not Prioritizing Quality Sleep

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Sleep is when a variety of major body systems refresh and reset themselves, including the heart, brain, and immune system. Skimp on sleep, and you may cheat your body out of the chance to repair itself: A growing body of research has linked poor-quality sleep to a wide range of serious illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and dementia. For optimal all-around health, experts such as the National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.

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3

Drinking Your Calories

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Consuming too much added sugar is one of the worst things you can do to your body: It increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain, and it weakens the immune system by stoking inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day and that women have no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams). The average American consumes about 15 teaspoons every day. The worst offenders: sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas and juice, baked goods and snack foods.

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4

Eating Too Much Sodium

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What experts call the Standard American Diet (with its apt acronym, SAD) is loaded with processed food, which is full of body-wrecking additives such as sodium, a.k.a. salt. Check out the Nutrition Facts labels on your favorite canned or jarred goods and frozen meals—the amount of sodium they contain may shock you. Experts recommend consuming only 2,300 mg of sodium daily; most Americans eat about 3,400. High salt intake is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. To protect your heart and brain, buy products with as little sodium as possible. 

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5

Stressing Out

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A 2020 study published in the journal BMJ Open found that chronic heavy stress—which the researchers described as "feeling life almost unbearable"—can shave years off your life: 2.8 years for men and 2.3 years for women, to be specific. Stress seems to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which may increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia: A 2018 study published in the journal Neurology found that people who lead high-stress lives may experience brain shrinkage and memory loss before they even turn 50. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.