6 So-Called Healthy Habits That Could Be Making You Sick
We're all generally aware of the habits we may have that are really unhealthy: drinking to excess, eating poorly, persisting in smoking even though there are about 400 reasons to quit. But some habits that are damaging to your health can appear harmless, or even helpful, on the surface. The issue is often moderation, as most things can be aggravating to your system in excess, even if they're generally considered to be healthy. Other habits may give you a healthy look (like tanning), but are actually just plain bad for you.
The psychology of breaking bad habits is actually pretty complex. Advice abounds, with experts recommending everything from logging results every day to make sure you do it properly to fixing your environment so you won't get tempted. In the case of the six habits listed below, though, much of the work is about awareness. You may not know that these particular bugbears are causing you harm. While in some cases you may need the help of an expert or doctor to know your own particular limits, knowledge that this is a habit that you have to get a handle on is the important first step. If you hear anybody touting the benefits of any of these habits, make sure they do their research too.
So here are six habits that definitely need to be kicked to the curb, or at least done far less frequently or more intelligently. Otherwise, they're going to cause you a massive pain in the neck. Or stomach. Or skin. Or mouth.
Congratulations to you for adoring the gym (though I personally have no idea what you're on about). But beware that overdoing exercise isn't always better than not exercising at all — it has the potential to cause serious risks to the body. Your body needs sufficient time to recover after heavy workouts, so that it can repair any damage done to your muscles; a workout schedule without recovery time raises the risk of serious injury.
And over-exercising can be hard on more than just your muscles. Aerobic exercise is also difficult on the joints and cartilage, and too much exercise over too long a period has actually been linked to osteoporosis, or fragile bones, as well as long-term knee problems, arthritis, the potential to develop arrhythmia. The risks of serious over-exercise are real. Don't just keep pushing through the pain; always remember to schedule in rest days, and pay attention to injuries and setbacks.
2. Skipping Breakfast
Perhaps you think skipping breakfast makes you more focused, or that by skipping, you're avoiding unhealthy breakfast foods in favor of a healthier lunch. Bad news: Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day, but it's certainly a bad idea to skip it. Breakfast is a signal for your metabolism to start working at a higher level, so it can help with your energy. But the impacts of skipping the meal go deeper. A study of 27,000 men by Harvard scientists back in 2013 found that those who skipped breakfast regularly were 27 percent more likely to have a heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease. The men at risk, it seems, weren't being given the metabolic signals that breakfast creates; instead, their bodies continued in "fasting" mode, putting significant stress on their hearts, which came back to bite them later. Skipping breakfast has also been linked to higher cholesterol levels and a higher likelihood of diabetes, so get yourself some bran flakes.
OK, in this day and age, you probably know that tanning isn't good for your health. But perhaps you think it's harmless. And hey, it makes you look healthy, right? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a "safe" base tan. Any act of sunbathing or burning creates active damage to skin cells, and will place you in danger of developing skin cancer in the future. Skin cancer can happen to anyone, and is especially dangerous to people who lived or have lived in sunny places. Australian Hugh Jackman had five basal cell carcinomas in 18 months.
And if you were thinking that a quick appointment on a tanning bed might be OK, think again. The Melanoma Research Foundation reports that tanning beds and lamps have the highest level of carcinogenic risk to humans, alongside plutonium. Yep. You're slightly more susceptible to skin cancer if you come from a particularly sunny place, have a history of sunburn, or have Celtic ancestry, but it can genuinely happen to anybody, so don't put yourself at risk.
4. Taking Too Many Painkillers
You may think that taking painkillers is a good way to take care of yourself. Maybe you think it helps you stay active and healthy, even if you have a headache. But if you've been popping painkillers for every minor ache and pain, that's a bad habit, and you need to break it — especially because it might be making your pain worse. One estimate by a neurologist in the U.K. reports that between 5 and 10 percent of all persistent headaches are actually caused by the overuse of painkillers. The "painkiller headache" or "medication-overuse headache" is a real thing, and it's particularly prevalent in people with chronic pain or migraines. (In those cases, breaking the habit and going off the medication will need to be medically supervised and monitored.)
But it's easy to be trapped in a cycle of headache, medication, more headache, more medication if you don't realize that the overuse is actually the cause of the pain. If you think you may be in this cycle, do some research and talk to to a doctor; it's thought to be entirely preventable and easy to fix.
5. Drinking Too Much Water
This is one of those things that won't actually be a problem unless you really overdo it, but it's also something to keep in mind. Too much water can indeed be bad for you. The condition hyponatremia occurs when someone drinks too much water, causing a huge drop in sodium levels in the blood. This is most common in endurance athletes who seriously over-hydrate, though it's very rare.
And while we're talking water: The whole eight-glasses-of-water-a-day thing is actually a myth. It likely comes from a 1945 recommendation from the U.S. Food & Nutrition Board that was misinterpreted, since most of your needs for water every day are filled by your food consumption. Too much water is more of a risk for you if you have a congenital heart condition or diabetes, but the next time you're running a marathon, don't overdo it on the water tables.
6. Over-Brushing Your Teeth
Yes, you're very good and really get into the crevices of your mouth when you get a toothbrush in your hand, but you may be doing more harm than good and putting your gums at risk. It turns out that over-brushing is a Genuine Real Problem. Going at your mouth intensely with your toothbrush may cause toothbrush abrasion, or a wearing down of the surface of the teeth and gums. You may wear back the gum to expose the sensitive root of the tooth, and also potentially brush through enamel to the nerve. Use a soft toothbrush, go gently twice a day, and see a dentist if you have unexplained tooth pain.
It's easy to avoid most of these problems. But they're an important reminder that you really can have too much of a good thing.