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50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet

Doctors say these are the absolute worst things you can do if you want a happier, healthier life.
50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet

Your body doesn't like it when you do something unhealthy. Smoke a cigarette and you'll cough up a lung. Drink too much and you'll toss your cookies. Overeat and the pounds come on.

You may not want to stop. But the bag of flesh and bones you live in does. So be nice to it. Give up a few of your unhealthiest habits. And start by identifying what they are.

We rounded up what health experts consider the absolute worst things you can do for your health, along with quick and easy recommendations for what you should do instead, based on the latest science.

Read them all, and then choose 5, 10 or 20 to give up, and take back control of your health.


You're Not Laughing Enough

Happy couple smiling lauging together

Seriously. Life can be tough, but it's important to maintain a sense of humor. Research has shown that laughing regularly has several health benefits. It "enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain," says the Mayo Clinic. "Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress." Laughter has also been shown to strengthen your immune system, relieve pain and improve your mood.

Recommendation: Besides employing gallows humor when reading the news, cueing up a comedy online could be one of the best—and easiest—things you do for your health today. Our latest faves: I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, the final season of Veep or PEN15.


You're Self-Diagnosing on the Internet

Man working

This is a top gripe of many doctors and health experts, who say you might be second-guessing yourself out of good care. "Letting the Internet guide your decisions may delay a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment," says cardiologist Robert Rosenson, MD, director of the cardiometabolics unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "Engaging your physician is essential to an accurate diagnosis that may be life saving."

Recommendation: Do your research, but leave the diagnosing to the experts.


You're Accepting Sleep Problems As "Just Part Of Getting Older"

Sad depressed woman suffering from insomnia, she is sitting in bed and touching her forehead, sleep disorder and stress concept

"It's a misconception that as we get older, our sleep needs decline," says the National Sleep Foundation. It might be harder to get to sleep and stay asleep as we age—some people experience a shift in natural circadian rhythms—but that doesn't mean it's healthy. Without adequate sleep, your body can't adequately repair and recharge. That increases your risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Recommendation: If you're having chronic trouble getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night, talk to your doctor. He or she might advise cutting back on caffeine, limiting naps, getting more exercise or addressing anxiety or depression. In some cases, a sleep medicine specialist can be helpful.


You're Skipping Sunscreen

woman smears face sunscreen at the beach for protection

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy—according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. each year than all other cancers combined. One in five of us will get such a diagnosis by the time we're 70. The easiest ways to prevent it? Avoid tanning beds, stay covered up in the sun, and apply sunscreen daily.

Recommendation: The Skin Care Foundation recommends applying sunscreen that's at least 15 SPF, which will protect you against potentially cancer-causing UVB rays.


You're Not Treating Acid Reflux

Woman Suffering From Acid Reflux Or Heartburn

Heartburn, or acid reflux—in which stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing burning or pain the chest or throat—has a starring role in a number of commercials for over-the-counter medications. But if you experience heartburn regularly, it's not a good idea to keep popping antacids. It could be a medical condition that needs a doctor's attention. Over time, stomach acid can damage the sensitive tissue of the esophagus, leading to a precancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus. That could develop into esophageal cancer, a particularly deadly form of the disease.

Recommendation: If you suffer from regular heartburn, talk to your doctor about it. He or she might recommend a prescription, lifestyle changes or further testing.


You're Skipping An Annual Eye Exam

male doctor examining patient

If—knock wood—your vision is good, or you already have an eyeglass prescription, it might not occur to you to get an annual eye exam. You still should. Your eyes can harbor signs of various chronic diseases, which a trained eye doctor can spot, enabling you to get early treatment. "There are certain eye conditions like glaucoma which are considered to be 'silent killers' of vision," says Dr. Mesheca C. Bunyon, an optometrist in Camp Springs, Maryland. "Additionally, an eye care provider can detect bleeding and swelling of the retina, the lining inside of the eye, as it relates to diabetes, hypertension and other systemic diseases."

Recommendation: Book an annual eye exam with a licensed optometrist once a year.


You're Not Getting Annual Skin Cancer Checks

Dermatology exam with Woman patient

Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, is relatively rare—it amounts to only about 1 percent of all cancers—but the number of cases has been rising for the last 30 years. When melanoma is caught early, the five-year survival rate is high, but that drops off dramatically once it spreads. Additionally, melanoma can form on parts of the body that are out of your line of sight, like on your back or scalp. That's why it's important to get a periodic skin cancer exam.

Recommendation: Talk to your primary-care doctor, who may provide a referral to a dermatologist for an all-over check. You should get one annually.


You Don't Know Your Blood Pressure

Measuring blood pressure at home with portable device, health check

Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range is one of the most important things you can do to stay in good health. Blood pressure that's too high (a.k.a. hypertension) can weaken the walls of blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke, heart attack and dementia. In 2018, the American Heart Association lowered the guidelines for healthy blood pressure from 140/90 (and 150/80 for those older than 65) to 130/80 for all adults. According to Harvard Medical School, that means 70 to 79 percent of men over 55 technically have hypertension.

Recommendation: Experts say you should get your blood pressure checked annually. Follow a heart-healthy diet (including these foods), lose weight and stay active.


You're Not Drinking Enough Water

middle aged woman sitting on metallic stairs relaxing before running outdoors holding a water bottle

It's an easy habit to make fun of—we're thinking about that joke in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt about people who bring a bottle of water so they can hydrate on the way to the water store‚ but these are the facts: Our bodies need water so our organs and body processes can function optimally. And as we get older, it gets easier to slip into dehydration.

Recommendation: Experts recommend drinking 1.7 liters (or 7 cups) of water every 24 hours.


You're Avoiding Sex

Young Attractive Couple Having Problem in Bed. Frustrated Man and Woman Not Talking Feeling Offended or Stubborn. Concept of Impotence. Man Have Problems.

Research has found that engaging in regular sexual activity has a ton of physical and mental health benefits. Chief among them: It's good for your heart. "Studies suggest that men who have sex at least twice a week and women who report having satisfying sex lives are less likely to have a heart attack," says the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Sex is a form of exercise and helps strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and improve sleep. In addition, intimacy in a relationship can increase bonding."

Recommendation: Consider sexual activity as important to your health as exercise or diet.


You're Not Doing Kegel Exercises

Sporty girl doing floor hip raise or butt lift exercise lying on floor

This is a different kind of workout you should be getting in regularly. "Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, especially for women," says Jennifer Lane, a registered nurse and aromatherapist in California. "These muscles support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. The pelvic floor muscles can be weakened from pregnancy, childbirth, being overweight, aging, or even straining from constipation."

When these muscles are weak, incontinence and erectile difficulties can occur. "Both men and women can benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises daily," says Lane. "They will help improve bladder control and possibly improve sexual performance. Kegels can also help you avoid embarrassing accidents."

Recommendation: Do at least one set of 10 Kegels per day. Here's information about how to perform them.


You're Working a Desk Job

Woman working at desk

Studies show that sedentary lifestyles have become a major health risk: Only about 5 percent of American adults get 30 minutes of exercise each day. You might have heard the expression "sitting is the new smoking"? The jury is still out on that, but the science is clear that sitting is not a health regimen: A 2017 study at the University of Warwick found that workers with desk jobs had bigger waists and a higher risk of heart disease than those with more active jobs. What's more, workers' bad (LDL) cholesterol increased and good (HDL) cholesterol decreased with each hour beyond five hours of sitting a day.

Recommendation: If you don't have a physically active job, stand and move around as much as possible during the day.


You're Eating "Ultra-Processed" Food

Sausage links

One key to good health is to eat more whole foods and less processed junk. But experts have pinpointed a new enemy: "Ultra-processed food." Two new studies published in the journal BMJ link highly processed food consumption with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of early death. It's been correlated to higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol—all risk factors for a heart attack and other health problems.

What counts as "ultra-processed"? The researchers listed "sausages, mayonnaise, potato chips, pizza, cookies, chocolates and candies, artificially sweetened beverages and whisky, gin and rum," among other things.

Recommendation: Limit the proportion of processed food in your diet. Ground your diet in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and good fats.


You're Eating Too Much Salt

Salting food

You probably consider fat and sugar Public Health Enemies No. 1 and 2, but are you keeping an eye on salt? Chances are, probably not: Studies show that most Americans consume about 3,400mg of sodium daily — way over the recommended 2,300mg (which amounts to about one teaspoon of salt). High sodium intake is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, which raises your chance of having a heart attack.

Recommendation: Don't add salt to your meals. Limit your consumption of fast food and processed foods, which tend to come loaded with sodium. Look at nutrition facts labels: One can of a popular tomato juice brand packs almost 1,000 mg! Opt for lower-sodium version when possible.


You're Skipping An Annual Mammogram After Age 45

Woman undergoing medical mammography scan

There's a lot of dialogue and confusion about preventative testing and self-examinations, particularly when it comes to breast health. The facts: The risk of developing breast cancer increases as women age. By age 40, that risk is 3.5 times higher than it was at age 30.

Recommendation: The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 to 44 get annual breast cancer screening if they choose. From age 45 to 54, women should get an annual mammogram. After age 55, women can switch to mammograms every two years or can continue with annual screening if they wish.


You're Dismissing Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Woman with endometriosis abdominal pain

Ovarian cancer is known as a silent killer: A reliable routine screening test doesn't exist, so the disease is harder to catch in its early stages, when it's most curable. Initial symptoms might be mild and vague, so it's important to stay attuned to what they might be. According to the American Cancer Society, most ovarian cancers develop after menopause, more than half in women over age 63.

Recommendation: If you experience bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, or feel full quickly when eating, consult your doctor. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, tell your doctor about it. He or she might recommend additional regular testing.


You're Ignoring Your Family History

girl with grandmother visiting doctor

If your parents had a particular illness, there's no guarantee you'll get it too. But there is a genetic component to certain conditions like heart disease, particular cancers and conditions like diabetes. In some cases, predisposition can be quite high: According to research published in the journal Circulation, men with a family history of heart disease had nearly a 50 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Recommendation: Make sure your doctor knows about your family history of serious illness, and ask if any screening tests are warranted.


You're Not Taking Steps to Prevent A Stroke

Female middle aged doctor discussing with her senior stroke patient ct-scan images of her brain

No doubt about it, a stroke can be a cataclysmic event. But according to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of them are preventable. That's because the processes that lead to stroke—in which a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts, leading to neurological damage or paralysis—are heavily influenced by lifestyle choices like diet and smoking.

Recommendation: Keep your blood pressure and weight in a healthy range. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes or AFib, get them treated—all are risk factors for stroke. Don't smoke, and limit your alcohol intake to less than two drinks a day.


You're Looking at Screens Before Bed

playing with phone in bed

Close those screens well before bedtime to ensure you get enough shut-eye. The blue light emitted by computers, smartphones and TVs disturbs your natural circadian rhythm, which can lead to insomnia. Poor sleep has been correlated with serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Recommendation: Turn off TV, phones, computers and tablets at least 60 minutes before lights-out. "For the best night's sleep, consider pretending that you live in an earlier time," advises the National Sleep Foundation. "Wind down by reading a (paper) book, writing in a journal, or chatting with your partner."


You Don't Know Your Cholesterol Levels

High cholesterol

Good habits like a healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial for keeping your blood-cholesterol level low. But some of the process may be beyond your control. Genetics can play a role in cholesterol level, and so does aging: Our bodies produce more of the artery-clogging stuff as we mature. Your total cholesterol level should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), with an LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL and an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or higher.

Recommendation: Experts recommend getting a cholesterol check every five years; older adults may need it done more frequently. To keep your "bad" cholesterol level down, eat a diet low in saturated fat, avoid trans fats, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.


You're Drinking Too Much

Alcohol wine glasses
Kelsey Chance/Unsplash

Americans love social drinking, but these are pretty scary morning-after statistics: About 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes each year, making booze the third most preventable cause of death in the U.S. How much is too much? It may be more than you think: Experts say women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, and men should limit themselves to two. Any more than that, and you're putting yourself at risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and more than a dozen forms of cancer.

Recommendation: If you're drinking more than that on a regular basis, talk to your doctor.


You're Not Treating Signs of Depression

Depressed woman

For generations, Americans viewed mental health as somewhat of a bonus—something to be concerned about only after all other aspects of your life were attended to. Today, we know that's wrongheaded: Many studies have shown that mental health has a direct correlation to serious physical illness. If you find yourself with a persistent low mood, frequent feelings of hopelessness, or a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, you could be suffering from depression. Untreated, it could raise your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Recommendation: Talk to your doctor. Many treatments are available.


You're Not Getting Tested for STIs

lood sample for STI (sexually transmitted infection) test -

Sexually transmitted infections are skyrocketing among people over 50, particularly among seniors. If you're sexually active and nonmonogamous, routine screening should be part of your health care strategy. "Many STIs are silent, and without screening you may be causing permanent damage to your body," says Shannon Brown Dowler, MD, a family medicine physician in Asheville, North Carolina. "Even if you get checked every now and then, are you getting all the right parts checked? Screening is recommended for extra-genital sites where exposure has occurred, because the infections can be very subtle in these places."

Recommendation: Talk to your doctor about your sexual health, safer-sex practices, and STI testing.


You're Not Following Colon Cancer Screening Recommendations

Probe colonoscope. Doctor gastroenterologist with probe to perform gastroscopy and colonoscopy

What's the primary risk factor for colon cancer? It's not diet or exercise, although those play a serious role. It's simply age: Your risk of the disease rises significantly after age 50. When detected early (as localized polyps), colon cancer is one of the easiest forms of cancer to cure. How to do that? The American Cancer Society recommends that you get your first colonoscopy at age 45, and repeat it every 10 years. Your doctor may have different recommendations based on your family background and personal medical history.

Recommendation: Get that first colonoscopy, if you haven't already, and follow your doctor's advice for follow-up procedures.


You're Smoking

Business man in glasses and warm clothes smoking cigarette on the street

You know it's a major contributor to lung cancer—so much so, it's responsible for up to 80 percent of deaths from that disease. Additionally, smoking raises your risk for strokes and heart attacks—the toxins in cigarette smoke damage and weaken blood vessels, which can cause them to burst or accumulate sticky plaque that can lead to a heart attack. That's why cigarette smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death.

Recommendation: Quit smoking ASAP. See your doctor for help. It's never too late: Even people who quit smoking between the ages of 65 to 69 can add one to four years to their lives.


You're Not Getting An Annual Diabetes Test

Doctor and patient discussing something while sitting at the table

The American Diabetes Association recommends regular diabetes screening for all adults over 45. Why? Type 2 diabetes can strike at any age, but your risk increases significantly after age 40. Left untreated, the condition—in which sugars aren't adequately cleared from the blood, damaging blood vessels throughout the body—can lead to severe complications, including heart disease and blindness.

Recommendation: Book an annual physical with your primary care doctor, who will run basic blood tests to detect signs of diabetes. He or she will also check your blood pressure; the American Heart Association recommends you do that annually


You're Avoiding Twice-Annual Dental Checkups

Chances are, as kids, we dreaded a visit to the dentist. After age 40, it's time to stop worrying and learn to love him or her. Why? Regular dental visits can prevent the huge costs — both physical and financial—that accompany tooth loss. As we age, regular wear-and-tear can lead to cracking, cavities, plaque buildup and receding gums, which can set us on the path to dentures or implants. That's what your dentist is there to prevent.

Recommendation: Get twice-annual dental checkups, and practice good oral hygiene daily. Use a fluoride rinse twice a day, to help reinforce teeth and keep gums healthy.


You're Not Getting Enough Exercise

women working out in gym together

This is probably not a news flash: Most of us need to do a better job at getting regular exercise. In fact, only about 20 percent of American adults get enough. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise—or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise—each week.

Recommendation: Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise are brisk walking, dancing or gardening; vigorous exercise includes running, hiking or swimming. If the time commitment seems daunting, start by walking around the block. Any amount of physical activity is better for you than none.


You're Not Drinking Coffee

Coffee date

The days when coffee was considered a vice are long gone. In fact, drinking coffee is one of the most virtuous things you can do for your health. Java is packed with antioxidants, which protect your heart and liver and guard against diabetes and cancer. "Moderate coffee consumption (three to four cups per day) has been linked with longer lifespan," says Robert H. Shmerling, MD, faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing. "In fact, a November 2015 study in Circulation found that coffee consumption was associated with an 8% to 15% reduction in the risk of death, with larger reductions among those with higher coffee consumption."

Recommendation: Enjoy coffee in moderation without guilt. (But if you don't care for it, or you've been advised to avoid caffeine, don't force yourself; you can get antioxidants by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.)


You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Exhausted sleepy young woman sitting in bed with messy hair, feeling drowsy after wake up too early in morning, sleepless night. Tired female teenager suffering of insomnia, lack of sleep or toothache - Image

In recent years, science has learned more and more about how essential sleep is to good health and a longer life. Poor sleep has been connected to an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression—even dementia. That's because the body repairs itself during sleep, everything from repairing cellular damage to sweeping toxins out of the brain to ensuring our metabolism stays on track. When you don't get enough, all kinds of processes suffer.

Recommendation: Experts including the National Sleep Foundation say that adults of every age need seven to nine hours of sleep a night—no more, no less.


You're Snoring

Man sleeping in his bed and snoring loudly

Snoring isn't just an efficient way to get kicked out of bed in the middle of the night; it could be sending you down the path to heart disease. Frequent snoring could be the sign of a dangerous condition called sleep apnea, in which the airway behind the tongue collapses when you breathe in, reducing or even stopping your airflow for up to a minute. Sleep apnea has been associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Researchers think that's because the condition causes repeated oxygen deprivation that stresses the blood vessels and heart.

Recommendation: If your partner has told you that you snore, ask your doctor about it. They may refer you to a sleep medicine specialist.


You're Eating Too Much Saturated Fat

Woman eating burger

You know that a high blood cholesterol level can contribute to heart disease, but what's a prime driver of blood cholesterol? Consuming too much saturated fat—the "bad" fat found in red meat, cheese, baked goods and fried foods—boosts the amount of cholesterol in your blood, which puts you at increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Recommendation: Eat no more than three moderate servings of red meat each week. The American Heart Association recommends that you get no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.


You're Oversleeping

Woman sleeping

When it comes to sleep, as with everything else, moderation is crucial. Studies show that getting more than nine hours per night may increase your risk of heart disease and dementia.

Recommendation: The latest recommendation from sleep experts, including the National Sleep Foundation, is that adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.


You're Socially Isolated

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

Loneliness and social isolation can increase a person's risk of having a heart attack, according to a study published in the journal Heart. People who reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent higher risk of coronary disease, and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, than those with robust friendships. Why? Researchers believe loneliness increases chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease.

Recommendation: Hit the gym, develop hobbies, take classes, volunteer. Take time to call or text with friends or family. If you're feeling socially isolated or depressed, talk to your doctor about the best course of action.


You're Drinking Sugary Beverages

woman drinking ice cola in the glass

Empty calories are very bad for your waistline and heart, and sugar-sweetened beverages like soda contain some of the emptiest calories of all. A March 2019 study published in the journal Circulation found that people who drank the most sugary drinks had the highest risk of death. Each additional daily 12-ounce serving of sugary drinks was associated with a 7 percent increased risk for death from any cause, a 5 percent increased risk for cancer death, and a 10 percent higher risk for death from cardiovascular disease. "The optimal intake of these drinks is zero," said the study's lead author, Vasanti S. Malik, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "They have no health benefits."

Recommendation: Hydrate with classic H20, seltzers — without artificial sweeteners or flavorings — or homemade spa water.


You're Drinking Diet Soda

Woman drinking diet coke
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Diet soda is no healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks. Multiple studies show that people who drink diet sodas and artificially sweetened beverages have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome — in which the body can't process insulin, leading to diabetes — weight gain, osteoporosis and a decline in kidney function.

Recommendation: Switch out that soda for water or seltzer without artificial sweeteners.


You're Eating Too Much Added Sugar

Man pouring added sugar packet into drink

Consuming too much added sugar—the sugar that manufacturers add to foods to sweeten them or extend their shelf life—is a major risk factor for heart disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, adult men consume 24 teaspoons of sugar a day, the equivalent of 384 calories! "The effects of added sugar intake—higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease—are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Recommendation: The American Heart Association advises that adults consume no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams) of added sugar daily. That's about the amount in one 12-ounce can of soda.


You're Overweight

Young overweight caucasian adventurous teenage girl with blonde hair looking out at the ocean, while leaning on the wooden railing along the beach

Slimming down can really beef up your lifespan. Carrying extra pounds contributes to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Studies show that overweight people who lose even a little weight (such as 5 to 10 percent of their total body weight) reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Recommendation: Know your healthy weight range. Eat a plant-heavy diet, reduce your consumption of empty calories and processed foods and get regular exercise.


You're Stressing Out

Woman is stressed tired and cant focus on her work

Excessive fretting and fuming can cause serious wear and tear on your body and put your health in jeopardy. "Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes," says the Mayo Clinic.

Recommendation: Relieve stress by getting regular physical activity, socializing, keeping a sense of humor and engaging in relaxation techniques such as mindfulness. If your stress has become unmanageable, talk to your doctor.


You're Buying Low-Fat Food

Woman shopping for groceries and picking a product off the shelf

The low-fat craze of the 1980s has yet to fully abate, even after "low-fat" processed foods were revealed to the ultimate dietary Trojan horse: When manufacturers took out the fat, they often replaced it with added sugar and carbs that fail to fill you up, making you ultimately consume more calories.

Recommendation: Fat, consumed in proper amounts, doesn't make you fat. Too many calories make you fat, and low-fat foods may just leave you hungry. Come home from your next shopping trip with satiating "good" fats, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts and avocados.


You're Not Getting An Annual Flu Shot

woman being vaccinated

The flu carries serious risks as we get older. Adults over 65 are more likely to experience fatal flu complications, including heart attacks. "Many individuals are unaware that their risk of a heart attack increases by up to 10 times in the days and weeks after an acute flu infection," says Allen J. Taylor, MD, Chair of Cardiology at the MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute. "The flu shot reduces heart attack risk." One 2018 study found a flu shot can cut that risk by up to 20 percent, and offer similar protection against a stroke.

Recommendation: Get a flu shot each year at the very beginning of flu season. The vaccine can take a few weeks after injection to become effective against the virus.


You're Not Eating Enough Omega-3s

Omega 3 fatty acids foods

If you're not eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, you're depriving your body of one of nature's most potent nutritional bodyguards. Multiple studies show that omega-3s—which are found in fish like salmon, leafy green vegetables, nuts and flaxseeds—have been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, support eye and brain health, improve mood and ease arthritis. Researchers believe omega-3s work to quell inflammation throughout the body.

Recommendation: Eat fish like salmon once or twice a week, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health advises. Choose wild-caught fish, not farmed. Grill, pan-roast or steam it; don't fry or sauté. Pile on the leafy green vegetables, and snack on nuts. (Just don't take a shortcut by popping a supplement; research suggests they may not be effective.)


You're Not Treating Diabetes

Glucose meter with medical stethoscope, fruits and dumbbells for using in fitness, concept of diabetes, healthy lifestyles and nutrition

Left untreated, diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. Over time, that damages arteries, greatly raising your risk of heart disease, stroke, vision loss and circulation problems that could lead to amputation.

Recommendation: If you're on medication for your diabetes, stay compliant. Follow any recommendations for diet and exercise


You're Taking Sleeping Pills

woman next to sleeping pills

You shouldn't need to rely on meds to get to sleep, even over-the-counter drugs. Some studies have linked the use of hypnotic (sleep-inducing) drugs with an increased risk of cancer and death. Researchers aren't sure why that may be, but why risk it?

Recommendation: There are many strategies you can follow before requesting a prescription, including meditation, relaxation and avoiding screens. Talk to your doctor.


You're Lying to Your Doctor

female holding fingers crossed behind her back

A whole lot of us gloss over symptoms or fib about our lifestyle habits in the doctor's office: According to a survey conducted by ZocDoc, almost one-quarter of people lie to their doctors. The most common reasons? Embarrassment and fear of being judged.

Recommendation: Always be candid. "Sugar-coating bad habits or nagging symptoms does not help," advises David Longworth, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. "Your doctors are confidential partners in your care. They need all the information available to help you make smart decisions. That includes everything from your habits to every medication you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, vitamins and supplements. If you aren't consistently taking medication, talk to your doctor about why — including if you can't afford them."


You're Drinking Sports Drinks

african american woman in sportswear with energy drink in gym

Sports drinks are not health food. Brands like Gatorade and Powerade contain the equivalent of 8 teaspoons of added sugar, along with sodium. Too much of either in your diet can cause high blood pressure, says Morton Tavel, MD, clinical professor emeritus at the Indiana University School of Medicine and author of Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician's Advice. "Unless someone is exercising or competing in a sporting event for longer than 90 minutes, there is no reason to drink something with excess sugar and electrolytes," he adds.

Recommendation: "Even if you are an athlete and regularly exercise, I would not recommend sports drinks at any time other than when you are actually in the middle of exercising," says Tavel. "Go for just water and maybe a quick, bite-sized snack like fruit or nuts."


You're Ordering ED Drugs From Online Pharmacies

Woman buying medicines online

It might seem daunting to talk with your doctor about erectile dysfunction, but ordering ED drugs like Viagra from sketchy online overseas pharmacies is never a good idea. "The risk that these imported drugs are counterfeit, contaminated, or subpotent is high; and quality assurance is a major concern," says the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Recommendation: Substitute shame for your health and happiness. Talk openly to your doctor. (And know that some online pharmacies and ED-med services are legit; the database at can tell you which.)


You're Chasing Fads

hungry woman

The latest trendy diet won't trump time-honored principles for good nutrition and health. "Trying a new health fad every time one comes out leads to inconsistent self-care," says Rachel Franklin, MD, a family medicine physician at OU Medicine in Oklahoma City.

Recommendation "You need good sleep, good food (but not too much), and regular exercise, in that order," adds Franklin. "Repeat daily."


You're Eating Restaurant Food or Takeout Too Often

Chinese takeout with chopsticks

Why does restaurant food taste so great? It's not just because you didn't have to make it: To add flavor, restaurant chefs often pile on the fat, butter, oil and salt. According to a study at the University of Illinois, the offerings at sit-down restaurants frequently have worse nutrition profiles than fast food.

Recommendation: Eat out as an occasional treat, but cook at home the rest of the time: That way, you know exactly how much fat and salt is going into your meal.


You're Eating Too Many Canned Foods

Food stored in aluminum cans can have a nasty stowaway: BPA. The chemical used in aluminum can linings has been shown to disrupt thyroid function, says Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine.

Recommendation: Your best bet is to cook with whole foods — such as organic fruits and vegetables — whenever possible, and limit your consumption of aluminum-canned goods. And to learn more about how you can better know yourself—and your body—don't miss 21 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Health.

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