We know you’re doing what you can to stay fit and healthy—you wouldn’t bother to be on this site otherwise. Still, we’re here to tell you you’re doing everything wrong. Just kidding, but really—there are probably some things you do all the time that have the potential to do some harm, maybe contributing to sickness or injury in the short-term, or more serious concerns in the long run.
Of course, don’t live your life in fear of taking a step out of line, as most of these things won’t make or break a healthy lifestyle. Instead, just think of these as simple tips to improve your everyday life. We talked with Jim White, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and certified health fitness specialist, for some input.
A nervous tic that a lot of people have, biting your fingernails doesn’t just convey a sense of anxiety and insecurity—it’s also pretty gross. “We carry a lot of [bacteria] underneath the fingertips, whether it’s salmonella, E. coli or even the common cold,” White says. Your fingertips touch a lot of different things, so don’t welcome all that bacteria into your mouth, which could lead to gastrointestinal problems or sickness.
Warming up with a jog
Going on a brisk jog is the classic way to get a workout started, but fitness experts generally agree it’s an ineffective way to get the muscles in motion. “I always recommend dynamic stretches instead,” says White. “A lot of times, people tend to over-pace warmup jogs, so it takes away from their actual workout.” Obviously, jogging isn’t bad for you, but you’ll likely have a more productive, less injury-prone workout if you make sure to warm up the muscles and establish your range of motion first with dynamic stretches.
Holding in farts
It’s not you—blame society for this one. Holding in your farts for long periods of time is definitely bad for you, as you might suspect from how awful it feels to do it. Research has shown that holding them back can cause severe bloating and stomach discomfort. So let ‘em rip, or if you’re at work, release it and try to keep it quiet, while of course, staying as far from your boss’ airspace as possible.
Washing hair too often
If you shave your head, skip to the next entry. But for those with long locks (or short ones), know that many of you are shampooing your hair more than you need to—maybe even more than you should. In general, thicker, curlier hair can benefit from being washed every other day rather than daily. “A lot of times, [shampoo] actually strains natural oils from the hair and causes it to be more brittle,” White says. “So, by not washing it so often, we preserve more natural oils in the hair which, of course, is healthy.”
Stretching before exercise
Much like warming up with a jog, the virtues of the old-fashioned static stretching warmup have also been debunked. “You can actually injure the muscle you’re stretching because it’s not warmed up,” White says. Stretching has also been found to decrease strength during workouts by about 5 percent, according to analysis done in 2013 by the University of Zagreb, which reviewed the findings of over 100 pre-workout static stretching studies.
Eating too much protein
Probably not a problem for most, but if you frequently pair chicken with protein shakes, or have an affinity for Southern barbecue, it might be time to examine your protein intake. White says that overdosing on protein can lead to dehydration and urinary loss of calcium, and it’s also bad for the kidneys. And of course, you can gain weight from it—the body can only use so much.
Consuming too much caffeine
Tons of Americans rely on a caffeine jolt, or two or three, to help them through each day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends no more than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day, and although the FDA claims that the average daily intake is 200 mg, that means there are still plenty of people out there exceeding their recommended dosage. “It can cause elevation of the blood pressure and increase anxiety and stress during the day,” White says. “Long-term, it can boost the risk of heart disease if done in excess.” If a few cups of coffee in the morning and an energy drink in the afternoon is normal for you, it’s time to cut back.
Watching TV right before bed
Falling asleep to late-night shows is an American tradition, but it’s probably best to shut the TV off before you doze off. The artificial, bright lights in TV stimulate the brain and can disrupt your melatonin levels, which are needed for sleep. “Also, anything that is disturbing can cause nightmares… which can wake you up in the middle of the night,” says White, clearly suggesting that you should avoid the news and horror movies in the moments before getting some shut-eye.
Exercising right before bed
TV overstimulates the brain for proper sleep, so naturally, pushing your body to the limit late at night also makes sleep tough to accomplish. For those with crazy work schedules, it may be tough to avoid, but for others, know that it’s tough to bring the body down quickly from getting the heart rate up and muscles fully engaged.
Eating just before exercise
Especially pertinent for runners and/or people who do a lot of quick movement in their workouts, eating big meals up to an hour before a workout can cause discomfort while preventing you from pushing yourself as hard. White recommends avoiding high-fiber and high-fat foods that take time to digest and could lead to cramps and sluggishness. If you’re hungry and you plan on working out soon, grab something small and easier to digest, like a piece of fruit.
Holding in sneezes
Ever held in a sneeze out of politeness, trying to stay quiet? Well, it turns out that’s a pretty bad idea. “Our sneezes move at up to 100 miles per hour, so holding it in, in extreme cases, can cause fractures in nasal cartilage, nose bleeds or even detached retinas,” White says. “So, that’s something you really want to let out.” Next time you feel one coming on at a less-than-perfect moment, just do your best to muffle it in your elbow.
Sitting too much
This is a big one lately—America remains a country of sitters, even though recent studies (from places like the University of California, University of Sydney in Australia and everywhere in between) have linked frequent sitting to increased risk of heart disease, worse mental health, and other issues—even for those who get regular exercise. “They say sitting is the new smoking,” White says, mentioning that standing burns over 20 extra calories per hour compared to sitting. “So, getting up and moving around is obviously important.” It’s a little hard to change your work lifestyle, but try to move around the office whenever possible, and maybe take a walk after your workout to add some time spent on your feet.
Not wearing shoes with proper support
A recent In-Depth Report from The New York Times found that 75 percent of Americans will experience foot pain at some point in their lives, and two of the main causes are ill-fitting shoes and high-impact exercise. Seeing as you’re probably not willing to give up working out to prevent foot pain, getting the right shoes is of great importance, not just in the gym, but also during work and more casual leisure time. Pick out shoes with solid arch support, and if you have flat feet or have already had your share of foot problems, look into getting inserts.
Constantly staring at a screen all day
If your eyes hurt at the end of a long day of work, you’re not alone. Several studies have found that the human eye, for some reason, feels compelled to stare at screens for far longer periods of time than other things, like books or the outside world, hence the often dry, tired feeling you get in your eyes after long periods of time on the computer. To avoid a case of computer vision syndrome (a rare, harsh result of long hours at the computer), or at least to avoid having some particularly fatigued eyes, be sure to keep the screen at a distance and shift your focus every so often.
Not washing hands before meals
It may seem pretty self-explanatory, but it’s not a common practice for many. Even for those that wash their hands every time they finish up in the bathroom, they’re still alright with, say, taking public transit, shaking hands with some friends and sitting down to some sandwiches without washing up. And despite all the studies about keyboards carrying more bacteria than toilet seats, it’s rare for anyone to feel the need to wash up after sending a few work emails. Be careful and don’t get sick.
Excessive contact lens wearing
For those with contact lenses—not the extended wear users—giving your eyes frequent breaks is imperative. Aside from helping you see things, of course, contact lenses block the tissue of your eye from receiving oxygen, which explains why it’s tough to keep them in for a particularly long day, and also why your eyes feel awful after a night of sleeping with them left in by accident. Overuse can cause damage to the corneas, so use your lenses sparingly.