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9 Everyday Habits You Don’t Realize Could Shorten Your Life

When you eat, how you watch TV, and a number of hygiene habits may be seemingly harmless, but in reality, they could be shaving years off of your life.

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Midnight snacking

That sweet or salty late night treat that you just can’t resist may increase your risk of heart disease or diabetes, according to research out of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. “This habit increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes because in time you will not only have high triglycerides levels after your night meal [but permanently],” says study author Ruud Buijs, Ph.D. Triglycerides are dangerous blood fats that accumulate in fatty tissue (mostly around the belly) and you can’t get rid of them so easily, he explains. “The best thing to do would be to eat as little as possible at night and keep about 11 to 12 hours between your evening meal and the next meal (breakfast).” Here are 15 more everyday habits that are secretly ruining your health.

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Binge-watching

We agree, Stranger Things is strangely addictive, but staying up late to binge on this or any other compelling series on Netflix or anywhere else can rob you of precious sleep. In a new study, young adults who copped to binge-watching reported more fatigue, more symptoms of insomnia, poorer sleep quality, and greater alertness before going to sleep. In fact, binge-watchers had a 98 percent higher likelihood of poor sleep quality compared to their counterparts who did not binge-watch, the study showed. “Even one night of sleep loss can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, which makes you much more likely to be involved in a deadly motor vehicle crash or workplace accident,” says Ilene M. Rosen, MD, MSCE, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and professor of clinical medicine at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Even one night of sleep loss is dangerous, she says. How dangerous? “Performance after sleep deprivation, even for one night, is similar to the performance of individuals who are intoxicated, so encouraging binge-watching over sleeping is like encouraging drunk driving.” The risk of one night of sleep loss is made worse because most people are already chronically sleep deprived, she adds. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults sleep seven hours or more on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

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Your taste for salt

If you salt everything you eat, you may be jeopardizing your health; too much salty food caused 9.5 percent of the total diet-related deaths, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Too much salt can damage the heart or kidneys. The study found that 45.4 percent of all deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are associated with eating either too much or too little of just 10 food groups. Too much salt can damage the heart or kidneys and it’s the leading cause of diet-related deaths. Ditch these 13 healthy food habits that do more harm than good.

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Halfhearted hand washing

Improper hand washing can leave you susceptible to germs. Not only are many foodborne illnesses spread by unwashed hands, but washing hands with soap and water could cut diarrheal disease-associated deaths in half, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Remember the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003? Proper hand washing could have staved off many of the cases of this dangerous respiratory illness. Find out which “healthy” hygiene habits are actually bad for you!

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Skipping the floss

This much we know: Gum disease can increase the risk of dying, but regular flossing can add up to six years of life expectancy in otherwise healthy people, says Saul Pressner, DMD, a dentist in New York City. “It is hypothesized that by flossing one reduces the amount of microorganisms in the mouth, therefore reducing oral inflammation,” he says. “Less inflamed gums are less likely to bleed and therefore fewer bacteria and viruses will enter the bloodstream from a healthy mouth.”

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Poor planning in the bedroom

The one “down there” habit that can kill you—or at least seriously compromise your health—is practicing unsafe sex, says Donnica L. Moore, MD, President, Sapphire Women’s Health Group. “While HIV/AIDs is no longer considered a ‘death sentence,’ and it is treatable in many cases, it still causes a great risk to your health and projected lifespan,” she says. “Other STD’s can be life-threatening as well, particularly hepatitis.” Use condoms unless you are in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, she says.

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Nail biting

Think your nail-biting is just an annoying little tic? Think again. Nail biting can introduce both oral bacteria, such as eikenella corrodens, or skin bacteria, commonly streptococcus or staphylococcus, into the skin where they don’t belong, explains Adam Friedman, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Hospital in Washington DC. “Here they can proliferate causing a tender, swollen paronychia (infection around the nail fold), a felon (strep infection of the finger pad—super painful), or even deeper infections involving the deeper finger structures,” he says. In the right setting, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and may ultimately cause sepsis, a potentially life-threatening blood infection, he says. Make sure you know these 10 habits aren’t as bad for you as you thought.

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Pimple popping

Everyone loves to pop pimples whether they admit it or not, but this penchant for popping can be hazardous to your health—seriously. “Picking, scratching, squeezing… pick your poison, all have the potential to disrupt an already damaged skin barrier in acne and allow aggressive and possibly invasive bacteria entry,” Dr. Friedman says. With acne, the populations of bacteria on the skin are altered. “Many know that P. acnes, a gram-positive bacteria that loves to live in our hair follicles, is increased in acne but so is our good friend staph who just loves himself some skin.” In fact, community-acquired Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus (MRSA) has a real penchant for skin infections such as abscesses, furuncles (abscess of the hair follicle), and even carbuncles (nasty red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils). “Popping pimples is game time for MRSA as skin invasion can easily allow for an entry point to the rich blood vessel network, eyes, and even central nervous system. Not good.”

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Blowing off breakfast

It really is the most important meal of the day, says Boston-based nutritionist Dana Greene, RD. “Breakfast regulates your appetite for the whole day so skipping it makes you eat more later in the day—setting you up for weight gain. And you know that being overweight or obese increases risk for heart disease and death.” Next, check out these icky, bad habits that put your health at risk.

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.