These simple everyday habits could ruin your health

By Liz Meszaros
Published February 25, 2020

Key Takeaways

The list of bad habits we can pick up seems to be never-ending: smoking, drinking to excess, not eating right, not getting enough exercise, not wearing our seatbelts, and so on and on. And the advice to quit these bad habits also seems to be never-ending as well—usually coming from all sides: recommendations from updated clinical guidelines, new evidence-based research, your physician partner, a member of your staff, or even your spouse. You get the picture.

But, did you know that there are even more bad habits that could be bad for your health? And these are everyday, seemingly benign, trivial habits that we probably never even thought about as being unhealthy. Here is a list of six such habits that could be harmful to your health.

Holding sneezes in. Sure, you may just be trying to be polite and do some damage control by holding in a sneeze—but that might not be such a good idea. In fact, in a case report published in The BMJ, researchers documented the case of a man who suffered spontaneous perforation of his pharynx by pinching his nose closed during a sneeze. Think of it this way: When you hold in a sneeze, you’re not allowing the pressure from the sneeze to be released. It can back up and lead to all sorts of damage, like ruptured blood vessels in the chest, throat, eyes, or brain. Although these injuries are not common, you might want to rethink this approach. Next time, just turn away and let it out. Better yet, grab a Kleenex, if you can. Or sneeze into your elbow. No need for any more internal pressure!

Keeping your wallet in your back pocket. Believe it or not, putting your wallet in your back pocket and sitting on it can cause your buttocks to be uneven. This chronic habit can lead to a lot of complications down the road, including low back pain, hip pain, or even pain in the upper back or shoulders. This denizen of your back pocket can also irritate the nerves in your lower back and legs, resulting in a condition that has been dubbed “fat wallet syndrome” and “wallet sciatica.” Consider carrying only the bare essentials in your wallet to avoid all of these problems, or better yet, take it out before sitting.

Using a hand dryer. Although they’ve been touted as being more eco-friendly than paper towels, hand dryers in public restrooms actually can blow fecal germs onto your hands. In one study, researchers confirmed that many kinds of bacteria, including pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers. What’s more, they can also blow pathogenic bacteria between rooms, spreading infection. Bad news all around! Using these blowers means that you washed your hands for nothing! If you have a hand dryer in your office, consider switching to paper towels.

Eating before bedtime. What is it about bedtime that makes you hungry for that one last snack? Eating too close to bedtime can cause acid reflux and disrupt your sleep. Lying in bed with a full stomach is not good for you—at least according to one study in which researchers found that a shorter dinner-to-bed timeframe was associated with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Recommendations are to avoid eating anything within 3 or 4 hours of sleeping. And if you’re prone to reflux, try propping yourself up with a few pillows. Doing so will help prevent reflux—or minimize it—thanks to gravity.

Wearing your contacts to bed. Sleeping without removing your contact lenses is a risky habit that 33% of contact lens-wearing US adults are guilty of, according to the CDC. And, according to the American Optometric Association, this dangerous habit can increase your risk of corneal infections. Specifically, it stresses your corneas by reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the eye. No matter how tired you are, always remove your contact lenses before you turn in for the night.

Taking your smartphone to bed with you. It seems silly to think that your smartphone could be hurting your health, but researchers have shown that it is. Blue light from your phone throws off your circadian rhythms and keeps you from falling asleep and/or getting restful sleep. This blue light can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the master controlling hormone of your sleep-wake cycle. Insufficient melatonin can cause insomnia, irritability, and daytime sleepiness. In addition, did you know that checking your smartphone before you go to sleep actually stimulates your brain and can keep your mind psychologically engaged? Try cutting off screen time at least 1 hour before you turn in for the night. Even 30 minutes will help. And this warning extends to tablets and TVs, too, which can emit blue light as well.

Be cognizant of these everyday habits and the surprising ways they can affect your health. As physicians, you know that lifestyle changes—even small ones—can be the most difficult to make. But, when you look at the research, you can see why breaking these small, everyday bad habits could really make a big difference in your health. Good luck and good health!

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