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The #1 Worst Thing That's Shortening Your Life

Experts reveal habits that can take years off your life. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

We all have bad behaviors that we can't kick, some are actually more harmful than you think! While we all know smoking, excessive drinking, substance abuse and consuming too many calories is dangerously unhealthy, there's other risky habits that can be equally damaging healthwise. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who reveal things that can shorten your life and bad behaviors to stop now. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Not Washing Your Hands

Hand washing for 20s, the first step to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 COVID-19 and other viruses
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Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience says. "While it may seem more apparent now, many people still take shortcuts when washing their hands, even after years of living in a pandemic. However, COVID-19 isn't the only thing that handwashing prevents. Good hand hygiene is crucial because it limits the volume of bacteria and viruses that can reach sensitive routes into your body, such as through the eyes, nose and mouth. Handwashing prevents salmonella and other diseases caused by raw ingredients while cooking, and it can prevent the transmission of our germs to people that may be immunocompromised. For at least 20 seconds, washing your hands regularly with soap and water is proven to prevent a litany of communicable diseases. Such diseases could debilitate you permanently or significantly shorten your lifespan." 

2

Inhaling Fumes and Particles

chemical plant near water
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Marchese explains, "Most people know that smoking leads to cancer, is generally bad for your overall health, and can shorten your lifespan. However, many people don't take the precautions they need around certain harmful activities, such as soldering, painting, sanding and other everyday building activities. Many toxic fumes and microscopic particles can linger in your system for years, eventually leading to cancer or organ damage. Whether an N95 respirator, skin protection or goggles, wearing the proper protective gear for your activity can help prolong your life." 

3

Consuming Too Much Sugar

Woman eating sugary junk food
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According to Marchese, "A common mistake many people make is underestimating the amount of sugar they eat. From pasta sauces to snacks advertised as "healthy," daily sugar amounts are often over the daily limit for most people. Excess sugar in the blood can lead to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. After a time, diabetes can damage sensitive tissues such as the kidneys and blood vessels in your eyes. Reading nutrition labels and seeing how much sugar you're taking in throughout the day could add years to your life and prevent some potentially terrible disabilities." 

4

Ignoring Your Potential Risk for a Heart Attack

"One of the easiest – and deadliest – habits that can shorten your life is simple: Ignore your potential risk for a heart attack.," according to Dr. Yale R. Smith MD of the Center for Antiaging, Aesthetic and Rejuvenation Medicine. "About 700,000 Americans die annually from heart attacks, making it the number one killer in the U.S.," he explained. Dr. Smith, who holds three board certifications, practiced cardiac anesthesiology for nearly four decades before turning to functional medicine adds, "More than 50 percent of patients with substantial heart disease experience no symptoms before a devastating cardiac event occurs. That's why early detection and treatment, coupled with a heart-healthy lifestyle, could save your life." He notes that "the average age for a sudden, fatal heart attack is only 50, and most of those are asymptomatic. New non-invasive tests that use artificial intelligence software to measure arterial plaque are now available and are among the latest early-detection tools that can predict the likelihood of a heart attack. Heart disease occurs when arterial plaque, which is made of fat, cholesterol and other materials, forms in the arterial wall. These lesions become dangerous as they build up over time in the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries). This build-up of plaque eventually ruptures like a blister – sending plaque into that vessel and causing a heart attack or myocardial Infarction, which can then cause damage to the heart or sudden death." Dr. Smith advises everyone to be alert to heart disease, but those most at risk for a sudden, deadly heart attack include people with:

  •       A family history of heart disease
  •       Diabetes
  •       Obesity
  •       Inflammatory disease

 "Especially if you fall into one of these risk categories, ignore the possibility of heart disease at your own peril," Dr. Smith states.

5

Poor Sleeping Habits

Woman awakened lying in bed with her eyes open.
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"One of the worst habits you can do for your health is to practice poor sleep hygiene," says Dr. Smith. "Stay up all night binge-watching videos or playing online games, scroll through your tablet before bed, maintain erratic bedtimes and get up at odd hours, enjoy a cup of coffee or a couple of cocktails before hitting the hay. These habits will lead to poor health. Good quality, adequate and restful sleep is one of our most basic biological needs. Poor sleep habits can wreak havoc on our bodies. A disruption to our biological clocks can increase cortisol and lower melatonin, causing or exacerbating many health problems, including increased stress, inflammation, diabetes, obesity, depression and heart disease. Poor quality sleep habits can even trigger cancer cells and lead to cancer." 

6

Ignoring Family History

Family reunion
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Lana Castellucci, M.D., FRCPC, MSc, assistant professor of medicine at University of Ottawa, associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and Scientific Steering Committee Member for World Thrombosis Day says, "One key resource to preventing medical ailments that could prematurely end your life is knowing your family medical history. Going without knowing your genetic risk factors can pose a significant risk to your lifespan, leaving you unaware of conditions you could be prone to developing."

7

Remaining Sedentary

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood
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Dr. Castellucci reminds us, "With so many people working from home, it can be easy to find yourself seated for the full eight-hour workday without giving yourself a break to stretch, walk around and increase your blood flow. Remaining sedentary for too long can have adverse effects on your health, including a heightened risk of developing high blood pressure, obesity, blood clots, and more. Taking short walks frequently throughout the day and counting your steps is a great way to get in the habit of breaking a sedentary lifestyle." 

8

Smoking

Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor
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Dr. Castellucci says, "Smoking is known to cause many life-threatening health conditions that can drastically shorten your life. From lung cancer to an increased risk of developing a blood clot, if you are a smoker, this is the number one unhealthy habit to focus on breaking." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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