44 Health Mistakes People Make Every Day
Every move you make, every breath you take is an opportunity to live healthier. Avoid these little mistakes—some of them can take years off your life.
Change a few habits
From the way you sit to how you use your phone, there are little things you do each day that can impact your health. You probably don’t give them much thought, but these daily habits can make a big difference in how you feel.
Not taking a stand
Plenty of studies show the health damage that sitting can do to your body. “Sitting all day at your desk or in front of your TV not only ruins your posture but can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Robert Segal, MD, cofounder of LabFinder.com. “A way to prevent this is by simply spending some time active during your day, even if you just go for a short walk during lunch or after work.” In you’re working, you can also take calls standing up. (See the 14 mistakes doctors wish you’d stop making.)
Firing up the grill
Grilling may be a low-cal way to cook your food, but there’s a downside. “Grilling is a wonderful way to add flavor to foods, but the blackened, charred pieces may contain cancer-promoting compounds called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic amines,” says Mary Mosquera Cochran, RD, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. With a few simple tweaks, you can keep carcinogen production to a minimum. Limit grill time by defrosting meat first. Consider making kebabs instead of large pieces of meat to reduce cooking time. Trim away visible fat to prevent fat from dripping onto hot coals and creating smoke. Use a marinade that contains vinegar or lemon juice. And flip grilled meat often to prevent dripping juices. (See other little habits that hurt your health.)
Keeping a full to-do list
“To lead a long and healthy life, you need to give yourself time to de-stress every day,” says Kristin Dean, MD, assistant medical director at Doctor on Demand. “Cortisol levels increase with chronic stress, which can lead to many different health issues, including weight gain, heart disease, anxiety, depression, concentration issues, and digestive problems, just to name a few! Next time you feel like you need a breather, stop and take the time out for both yourself and your loved ones.” (Avoid making these common first-aid mistakes.)
Sipping artificial sweeteners
Diet sodas are under fire, since some studies have linked regular diet-soda drinking to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack, as well as an appetite for sweet things, among other things. Instead, swap out the diet soda with seltzer, water with a twist of lime or berries, or iced tea with a touch of honey.
Binge-watching into the wee hours
Those late nights catching up with your favorite shows can exacerbate insomnia because exposure to the blue light of the screen can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms. Instead, indulge in a few pre-bedtime activities that can help you sleep, such as reading or listening to soothing music. (Find out the 22 ways you’re probably sleeping wrong.)
Brushing right after you eat
Dentists’ advice used to be to brush right after eating to reduce the food acids that could eat away at your tooth enamel. But it turns out, brushing right after you eat could actually damage the protective layer of your teeth—especially if you’ve eaten something acidic like citrus juice or coffee. Instead, rinse with water and wait about 40 minutes. (Check out these healthy habits you may not realize you’re overdoing.)
Turning it up to 11
Blasting your favorite tunes could help you focus—but you could be paying a significant price for logging time with your headphones. Exposure to sounds greater than 90 decibels for more than eight hours a day could result in permanent hearing damage.
Not logging enough sleep time
Everyone knows we should get six to eight hours of sleep every night. But a 2018 study published in the journal Sleep found that nearly a third of Americans sleep fewer than six hours each night. People who regularly skip sleep may have an increased risk of depression, cancer, memory loss, and heart disease. And other studies show that lack of sleep can be a contributing factor in weight gain. Aim to get at least seven to eight hours each night. (Check out these quick tricks for healthier habits.)
Keeping your smartphone by the bed
Getting cozy with your cellphone while you try to snooze could cause serious issues with your sleep patterns. The light from the screen could increase your risk of insomnia (although the jury is still out on whether blue light specifically is to blame), while beeps or vibrations from middle-of-the-night notifications could jar you as you try to fall asleep—or even wake you up in the middle of the night. Consider letting your phone stay outside of your bedroom when you’re resting. (Read more about why you should never use your smartphone in bed.)
Skimping on water
Humans are 60 percent water—and so you need to keep replenishing your supply. “This is a no-brainer,” Dr. Segal says. “Dehydration can result in fatigue, headache, constipation, dizziness, heart palpitations, and the list goes on. This can not only affect your physical health but your mental health as well. Sometimes when you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty—so try to keep a bottle of water you can refill nearby.” (Check out the 16 worst health sins you can commit.)
Wearing your contact lenses when you sleep
“Don’t nap or sleep in contact lenses,” says Stephanie Pisano, OD, clinical assistant professor of optometry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Contact lenses are basically sponges that can hold a lot of bacteria and other debris against the eyes. When you sleep in contact lenses, you’re preventing the movement of tears, which helps eliminate some of the bacteria. Catching a few z’s in your contacts also prevents oxygen from getting to the cornea.”
If you handle stress by sneaking sweets or junk food, you’re not alone—but continually eating high-fat, high-sugar foods can lead to obesity and heart issues. The better choice: Try meditation, exercise, or talking things through with friends to manage stress. (Also try to avoid these 7 icky habits that can put your health at risk.)
Focusing only on cardio
Cardio can help you burn calories and promote heart health, but make sure you leave room for strength training in your workout repertoire, too. Strength training can help you improve your bone health, increase your resting metabolism (so you can burn more calories, even when you’re just chilling on the couch), and boost your energy levels.
Relying on supplements to treat your ailments
There can be a place in your healthy lifestyle for using supplements and natural treatments for illnesses—but be careful not to take it too far. “A common health mistake patients make is taking fish oil dietary supplements instead of a prescription to treat serious medical conditions, such as when they are diagnosed with high triglycerides—an indicator of cardiovascular risk,” says Preston Mason, PhD, a faculty member in the Cardiovascular Division of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston. “I’ve found that fish oil supplements are often rancid and contain other ingredients such as saturated fats, which can raise bad cholesterol (LDL). People may actually be harming themselves when they think they are helping fight heart disease, the number one killer of Americans.”
Not getting enough protein
While high-protein fad diets like keto help boost protein intake for some Americans, many other people aren’t getting enough in their diet. “More than one in three adults over 50 still aren’t getting the protein they need daily, according to new National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from researchers at Abbott and the Ohio State University,” says Abby Sauer, MPH, a registered dietitian at Abbott. “Getting the right amount of protein is critical to help adults maintain their strength and energy.” You can use this calculator to determine what you need.
Being stingy with sunscreen
If you only smear on sun protection when you’re hitting the beach, you’re exposing yourself daily to skin-damaging UVA and UVB rays that could lead to premature aging, wrinkling, and skin cancer. If you’re already applying other products daily, look for combination products that include sunscreen to help protect your skin. Avoid making these 18 sunscreen mistakes.
Going into your workout cold
Skipping your warm-up doesn’t give your muscles and joints time to get ready to work hard. Make sure you add in some dynamic stretches and a little cardio warm-up to reduce the risk of injury and get the most from your workout.
Keeping the saltshaker busy
“We all like a little spice in our life, but too much salt can cause our electrolyte levels to increase an unhealthy amount,” Dr. Segal says. “This can affect the distribution of water throughout your body, cause high blood pressure, increase the risk of [type 2] diabetes, and cause you to eat and sweat excessively. A simple way to test your sodium intake is by getting a sodium (Na+) blood test to check if your levels are too high.” (Know the 15 “healthy” habits that really aren’t good for you.)
That old saying about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is true. It turns out that you might be able to reduce the odds of a heart attack, stroke, and other types of cardiovascular disease simply by enjoying a morning meal, according to the American Heart Association. It also can improve both your physical stamina and your ability to focus and concentrate—so grab a couple of eggs or a yogurt and fruit parfait before you head out the door. Also check out these 17 healthy-breakfast mistakes you’re probably making.
Scrubbing your skin can help remove dead skin cells and dirt that can clog your pores—but going too far with it can cause redness and irritation. So go easy with exfoliation brushes and products, and be cautious when using products that contain nut shells and other abrasive ingredients. Avoid the 10 exfoliating habits that are damaging your skin.
Searching for the best parking spot
“Unless there is major time pressure, park further away to allow more walking and exercise in the everyday things you do,” says Andrew Freeman, MD, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver. As part of your work routine, try to avoid taking the easy way out and look for other ways to move, like walking to a colleague’s office instead of calling or emailing. “Also, consider the stairs instead of the elevators whenever possible,” Dr. Freeman adds.
Going too big when you’re making goals
Whether you’re making a resolution or setting a new goal for your life, it’s better to start small. Break a big goal down into small, doable baby steps that you can change one at a time over a more extended period. You’re far more likely to be successful that way. Learn other everyday mistakes you might be making.
Waiting too long to hit the bathroom
When you’ve got to go—go. “Don’t ignore the urge to go to the bathroom,” says Olivia Vaughn, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Repeatedly postponing bathroom trips can affect a normal nerve reflex that helps you pass stool easily and can lead to constipation problems.” Learn about the 10 toilet mistakes you didn’t even realize you were making.
Sleeping in your makeup
Take the time to wash your face at night. Keeping your makeup on when you go to bed does more than stain your pillowcase—it can prevent dead skin from sloughing off, dulling your complexion, clogging your pores, and causing breakouts. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to keep your face clean, thanks to makeup-removal wipes and other fast-to-use products. So make sure you take all that makeup off before you hit the pillow.
Self-diagnosing with the internet
While it can be helpful to look up your symptoms online—or get more information about a diagnosis—relying on the internet could lead to unnecessary panic (like believing your headache is actually brain cancer). It could also lead you to ignore a potentially serious issue. It’s best to stick with trusted sites associated with authoritative health institutions—or make an appointment with a real-life doctor. (Find out the best ways to give up these 10 bad habits.)
Taking hot showers
Hot showers can help release muscle aches and pains, but they definitely do a number on your skin, robbing you of essential moisture and healthy oils. Especially in the winter months, hot showers can lead to dry and cracked skin and make skin conditions like eczema worse. The solution? Keep your shower water on the lukewarm side.
Staying glued to your smartphone
A serious cell phone addiction could trigger text neck—when you spend too long hunched over your phone—and even raise your risk of serious injury if you text and walk or drive. The simple solution: Put down your phone often. (Make sure you’re not overdoing these 9 healthy habits.)
Hitting the snooze button every morning
If you’re a snooze-button addict, those extra 20 minutes of snooze are fragmenting your sleep. That reduces the quality of your rest and has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and brain fuzziness. Instead, aim for a better night’s sleep overall, and just set your alarm once—for the time you absolutely have to wake up.
Keeping secrets from your doctor
“Many people are worried about telling their doctor that they have stopped taking a medication due to side effects, that they forget to take their medication on a daily basis, or that they just can’t seem to stick to the diet the doctor recommended,” Dr. Dean says. “This leads your doctor to make decisions which are based on the wrong information and can be dangerous to your health. Just remember that your doctor is on your side, and having an open relationship with your doctor will lead to better decisions and better health in the long run.” Learn about the doctor’s appointment mistakes you didn’t realize you were making.
Overdosing on sugar
If you have a sweet tooth, take note. Both the artificial and the natural versions of sweeteners have been linked to serious health repercussions, including a greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Sugar-sweetened drinks, like energy drinks and soda, account for more than a third of the average American’s intake of the sweet stuff, which includes treats like cookies, ice cream, and candy. Try to consume less than the maximum amount of sugar you should eat per day, as recommended by the American Heart Association: nine teaspoons for men, six teaspoons for women. (Here’s what you need to know about the link between sugar and type 2 diabetes.)
Skipping happy hour
Whether it’s chatting on the phone or hanging out in book club, try not to pass up the opportunity to build bonds with friends. People who have strong social ties have a 50 percent higher chance of living longer than those who aren’t as social, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine. And attending social events—even happy hour—doesn’t mean you have to drink alcohol, if that’s not your thing. (Here are 17 tips if you are thinking about cutting back on alcohol.)
Picking at your skin
It can be so tempting to pop pimples, but picking at zits and other blemishes can worsen your complexion. Squeezing pimples can push bacteria and dirt further into your skin and prolong your healing time. Instead, use warm compresses to ease inflammation, and benzoyl peroxide to dry out pimples.
Overdoing the pain relievers
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to pain relievers—taking more than the recommended dose (or taking doses too close together) puts you at risk of complications, including liver damage. Be sure to follow the prescription or over-the-counter drug instructions to the letter. Read about 10 medication mistakes that are hurting your health.
Taking a multivitamin
Multivitamins seem like a good idea—a sort of just-in-case insurance to fill in the gaps when you don’t eat right. But research from Johns Hopkins University indicates that most vitamin supplements offer zero health benefits unless you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant and taking folic acid—which is proven to reduce the risk of birth defects. So save your dough and splurge on healthier foods to serve as an all-natural vitamin supplement.
Skimping on stretching
Flexibility is just as important as strength and stamina when it comes to your physical health—and adding flexibility exercises to your routine can help you reduce the risk of injuries and improve your balance. Add the stretches to the end of your workout routine to help you cool down.
Eating a lot of convenience food
There are plenty of good reasons to cut back on processed foods. Generally, they’re loaded with sodium and sugar and low in nutrients. They’re crafted to entice you to overeat, and they may increase your risk of health issues. So swap them for healthier foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole-grain carbs.
Swapping one vice for another
E-cigarettes may seem like the perfect way to step down from smoking real cigarettes, but experts say they can make it too easy to go back to your old habits. “One of the big mistakes people make is using e-cigs to quit smoking cigarettes,” says Peter Shields, MD, deputy director and thoracic medical oncologist at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Then they go back to cigarettes, rather than long-term e-cig use or ceasing to use all tobacco products.” (Check out 8 underwear mistakes that, yes, can mess with your health.)
Sleeping in on the weekends
After a long week of missing sleep, the weekend seems like a perfect time to catch up. But not so fast. Sleeping in might help you feel a little less drowsy, but it won’t do much in the long term, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Shifting your sleep schedule over the weekend could lead to an increased risk of heart disease, depression, and fatigue.
Being a glass-half-empty kind of person
It pays to try to look on the bright side of life. Accentuating the positive is associated with a lower risk of death from cancer, diabetes, stroke, and other common conditions. Fortunately, you can improve your optimistic outlook by keeping a journal of positivity, looking for ways to bring positive changes to your community, and being kinder to yourself. Check out the 10 things optimistic people do every day.
Microwaving in plastic
Plastics—especially those containing bisphenol A (BPA)—have been shown to leach chemicals into your food, particularly when they’re heated. And a few initial studies have shown links between BPA exposure and higher blood pressure, weight gain, and brain development in infants and children. So look for BPA-free plastics for microwaving, or move your food over to a glass or porcelain microwave-safe dish.
Taking cream in your coffee
Is it time to take your coffee black? According to Dr. Freeman, it’s worth a shot. “Dairy products represent a big source of saturated fat and salt in the American diet, and it starts with a splash of cream in the morning coffee, to cheese on your bread at lunch and multiple other servings per day. Try to eat products with less dairy and saturated fat by being more aware of your everyday choices.” Now try making a habit of these 51 healthy tricks.
- Robert Segal, MD, cofounder of LabFinder.com
- Mary Mosquera Cochran, RD, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- Kristin Dean, MD, assistant medical director at Doctor on Demand
- Consumer Reports: “The Mounting Evidence Against Diet Sodas”
- Harvard Health: “Blue light has a dark side”
- Oral Health Foundation: “Dental erosion”
- Medical Daily: “Earbuds vs. Headphones: Which Will Cause Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?”
- Sleep: “Are U.S. adults reporting less sleep?: Findings from sleep duration trends in the National Health Interview Survey, 2004–2017”
- Harvard Health: “Gum disease and the connection to heart disease”
- National Sleep Foundation: “Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Sleep?”
- Stephanie Pisano, OD, clinical assistant professor of optometry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- Harvard Health: “Why stress causes people to overeat”
- Preston Mason, PhD, a faculty member in the Cardiovascular Division of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston
- Abby Sauer, MPH, a registered dietitian at Abbott
- USDA: “DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals”
- American Cancer Society: “Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation”
- Harvard Health: “The benefits of probiotics bacteria”
- Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology: “Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis”
- Harvard Health: “Exercise 101: Don't skip the warm-up or cool-down”
- American Heart Association: “How to Make Breakfast a Healthy Habit”
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: “How to Safely Exfoliate at Home”
- Andrew Freeman, MD, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health, Denver
- Harvard Health: “Seven steps for making your New Year’s resolutions stick”
- Olivia Vaughn, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- Northwestern Medicine: “Do You Really Need a Skin Care Routine?”
- Consumer Reports: “What doctors wished their patients knew”
- Baylor College of Medicine: “Hot showers can damage skin during winter”
- National Sleep Foundation: “Stop Hitting the Snooze Button Once and For All”
- JAMA Internal Medicine: “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults”
- American Heart Association: “Sugar 101”
- PLoS Medicine: “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review”
- American Academy of Dermatology: “Pimple Popping: Why Only a Dermatologist Should Do It”
- InformedHealth: “Using medication: The safe use of over-the-counter painkillers”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins?”
- Harvard Health: “Benefits of flexibility exercises”
- National Institutes of Health: “Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain”
- Peter Shields, MD, deputy director and thoracic medical oncologist at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center
- National Sleep Foundation: “Is It OK to Sleep In on Weekends?”
- Harvard Health: “Look on the bright side and maybe even live longer”
- Nature Reviews Endocrinology: “Early Life Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Childhood Obesity and Neurodevelopment”
- PNAS: “Bisphenol A delays the perinatal chloride shift in cortical neurons by epigenetic effects on the Kcc2 promoter”
- Harvard Health: “Is plastic a threat to your health?”
- Journal of Experimental Psychology: “Mistakes as stepping stones: Effects of errors on episodic memory among younger and older adults”