15 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Ruining Your Health

Updated: Mar. 16, 2021

You might not realize how bad these seemingly innocent behaviors are for you.

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Holding your nose when you sneeze

It might seem like bad manners to let a huge sneeze go, but consider this case reported in the medical journal The BMJ: A man tore his pharynx (part of his throat) by pinching his nose closed during a sneeze. “If a sneeze is held in, the pressure is still generated but not released,” says Sanchayeeta Mitra, MD, PIH health otolaryngologist, ENT. “When that happens, the pressure can back up, either into the sinuses or the back of the nose, through the mouth and throat or the chest.” As the pressure travels through the nasal passages to the ears, it can lead to eardrum or inner ear damage. “Having the pressure back up can also cause other injuries with ruptured blood vessels in any area such as the chest, throat, eyes, or brain,” she says. “None of these injuries are that common, but generally, it is better to grab a Kleenex or turn your face into your shoulder and just let the sneeze out.”

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Putting your purse on the table

When you come home, you probably plop your purse right down on the kitchen table or counter—but in doing so, you could be spreading germs around your eating and food prep surfaces. “The bottoms of purses are notorious for picking up germs and bacteria from the different places that they are set down,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, family physician and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. One study found that handbags can harbor more bacteria than a toilet seat. “Placing a purse on the table allows for these bacteria to potentially end up there—which might be where you work, eat, or your kids play!” Dr. Caudle says. Here are more icky habits that put your health at risk.

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Keeping your wallet in your back pocket

“Sitting on your wallet causes your buttocks to be uneven, which can trigger low back pain, hip pain, or even pain in the upper back or shoulders,” Dr. Caudle says. “The presence of a wallet in a back pocket could also irritate nerves in the lower back and legs, so take the wallet out of your pocket!” The condition has been called “fat wallet syndrome” and “wallet sciatica.” Instead, carry only the bare essentials. Don’t miss these other everyday habits that are seriously damaging your spine.

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Using a hand dryer

They may be more environmentally-friendly than paper towels, but a new study shows hand dryers in public restrooms actually blow fecal germs back onto your hands. “Many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers,” the study authors wrote. “Within a large building, potentially pathogenic bacteria, including bacterial spores, may travel between rooms, and subsequent bacterial/spore deposition by hand dryers is a possible mechanism for the spread of infectious bacteria.”

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Eating before bedtime

This isn’t about your waistline—eating too close to hitting the sack can give you a bad case of acid reflux and disrupt your slumber. “There are many things that can trigger GERD [gastroesophageal reflux disease] symptoms. One of them is lying down to bed with a full stomach,” Dr. Caudle says. She recommends you avoid eating within three to four hours of bedtime. One Japanese study showed that a shorter dinner-to-bed time was associated with an increased risk of GERD. You can also raise the head of the bed or prop yourself up with pillows if you’re prone to reflux at bedtime. Learn about more innocent habits that are completely ruining your sleep quality.

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Sleeping in contacts

A CDC report found that 33 percent of adults wear their contacts while sleeping, making it one of the most frequently reported risky eye-related habits. “According to American Optometric Association, wearing contact lenses overnight can increase the risk of infection to the cornea, which could permanently affect your vision,” Dr. Caudle says. “Also, wearing contacts at night could lower the amount of oxygen to the eye, which could cause stress to the cornea.” Unless your eye doctor says otherwise, remove your contact lenses before bed.

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Not washing your face before bed or after a workout

One national survey found that up to 80 percent of Americans make at least one common mistake when washing their face, including skipping cleansing altogether. “Washing your face before bed is so important because you literally are washing the ‘day’ off your skin, including makeup, dirt, debris, and pollution,” says dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. “Washing your face after a workout is important because you sweat, you often touch your face with your hands after you have touched equipment, and your skin is often overheated after a workout,” says Dr. Bowe. This can make you more prone to breakouts, rashes, and skin irritation in general, she warns.

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Washing your hands in water that’s too hot

“Washing your hands in extremely hot water, much like taking a very hot shower, strips your skin of its natural oils, drying it out while also potentially causing a breeding ground for unfriendly skin ‘bugs,’ or bacteria, to proliferate,” Dr. Bowe says. You may think the heat offers extra help in removing germs, but it might not be any better than cooler temps, according to research. That scalding water can also damage your skin’s collection of “good bacteria,” its microbiome, which helps fight off infection. “To protect your skin’s natural barrier and to lock in healthy moisture, I recommend using warm water rather than hot when you wash your hands—and face and body!” Dr. Bowe says. She also recommends gentle, pH-balanced cleansers over antibacterial soaps or scrubs to protect your skin from breakouts, rosacea flares, psoriasis, eczema, and even sensitive skin. Take care to avoid these other everyday habits that dry out your skin.

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Applying nail polish without ventilation

Research from Duke University found that applying nail polish can cause certain hormone-disrupting toxins to seep into your body. Plus, studies suggest that inhaling fumes from nail products can be dangerous, too. “Nail polish commonly contains toxic ingredients such as formaldehyde, phthalates, and toluene, which are linked to health effects such as cancer, respiratory issues, and brain and nervous system toxicity,” says environmental toxicity specialist Tonya Harris, MSHN. “These toxicants can be ingested by inhalation, as well as contact with the skin, causing breathing issues and dizziness with immediate exposure.” She suggests using a safer nail polish brand that doesn’t contain those ingredients, and painting nails in a well-ventilated area with windows open or outside—and you may want to avoid salons.

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Eating out a lot

A new study shows that another way to avoid toxic chemicals—this time in food packaging and processing materials—is to avoid eating out. “Studies have found that those who eat fast food more frequently have higher levels of phthalates, which are linked to hormone disruption, reproductive issues, reduced sperm count in males, and lower IQ in children,” Harris says. “Packaging materials such as fast food wrappers and pizza boxes, food processing equipment, and latex gloves used by food workers can all add to the addition of phthalates exposure through food,” she says. “Oily foods and those with a high-fat content can also increase the absorption of these chemicals.” Preparing meals at home with fresh, whole foods is your best option.

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Doing the wrong kind of stretching before exercise

Your pre-workout stretching routine could lead to injury if you’re only doing “static stretches,” or holding a specific muscle in one position. “Static stretching a cold muscle can result in impaired performance, and holding a static stretch before exercise has been associated with reduced muscle performance and stretch,” says fitness expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. Make sure to include “dynamic stretching,” which uses motion to warm up your body, like lunges, arm circles, and torso twists. This “improves circulation, increases the range of motion, and reduces the risk of injury,” Palinski-Wade says. “This will best allow your body to prepare for the workout ahead to maximize results and recovery.”

Raw meat and vegetables on cutting board
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Using the same cutting board for meat and vegetables

Researchers asked volunteers to prepare a meal that included chopping raw meat as well as making a fruit salad. Tests revealed traces of salmonella bacteria in 90 percent of the volunteers’ salads; they had also managed to spread the bacteria around the kitchen. How can you avoid this? Dr. Caudle says first to wash your hands properly and wash surfaces and utensils after using them. In addition, “use separate cutting boards for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs,” she says. This can help reduce germ transfer. Don’t miss these other simple kitchen mistakes that are seriously unsafe.

Frozen chicken on a plate
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Defrosting at room temperature

You probably use a food thermometer to make sure your meat’s done, Dr. Caudle says. But check your defrosting methods as well: “Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter because bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature,” she says. Whenever perishable food begins to thaw and becomes warmer than 40 degrees, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Instead, thaw in the fridge, in the microwave, or in cold water. Here are some more common habits you didn’t realize are actually dangerous for your health.

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Being glued to your phone

If you spend every spare moment on your smartphone, you might be interested in this research from Sweden: The information overload from the Internet and social media can negatively impact your working memory; some UK research even found a link between cell phone use and reduced attention span. Plus, “using the cell phone too much could cause loneliness or isolation; even though we connect with others via phones, it is not the same as human-to-human contact,” Dr. Caudle says. “Others may experience physical effects, such as tendonitis or joint pain from texting or typing too much on phones,” she says. To combat this, try to reduce your phone use throughout the day, or create “cell-free” time when you put the phone aside.

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Holding in farts

Passing gas is one of those gross habits that are really healthy. Anyone who’s ever tried to hold one in knows how uncomfortable it is. There isn’t a lot of research on this phenomenon, according to the University of California Berkeley, but the little there is suggests that repressing farts can cause bloating, indigestion, heartburn—and may even increase blood pressure and heart rate. It’s okay to walk to a secluded place before releasing it, but you should let it out as soon as you can. If you feel you often have a lot of gas, be sure to chew slowly to reduce the air in your stomach, and avoid gas-producing foods such as beans. If your gas seems excessive, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome. Next, check out these bad habits doctors wish you would stop doing ASAP.