27 Mistakes Healthy People Make
Smart people, not-so-smart moves
You pick healthy food, work out (when you can), and watch your waistline. That means you're healthy right?
Not so fast—many people who are in tip-top shape (for now) have habits orbeliefs that can put them at risk for illness or injury down the road.
Read on to learn about these common mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
You always buy organic
Buying organic is wise for certain foods, such as beef orstrawberries, but it doesn't make much difference for others, likeavocados or eggs.
And don't assume that all organic foods are healthier than non-organicoptions, or that organic equals healthy. Organic choices are usuallypricier, for one thing. And organic high-calorie, high-fat granola barsand sugary cereals are just as bad for you as the non-organic version.
You don't socialize enough
While you may feel virtuous on your long solo runs, don't forget to checkin with your pals once in a while. Studies suggest that social networks are good for your health too.
Try to schedule regular meet-ups with friends, whether it's a book club orpoker—it doesn't matter. (No need to make it exercise-based, althoughthat's nice too.)
connecting with other people, and maintaining those social networksas you age, is good for your health.
You skimp on sleep
Think it's a good idea to get up at 5 a.m. and hit the gym? Not if youshould be sleeping instead, says Gary Rogg, MD, a primary care physicianand assistant professor at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.Studies have consistently shown that people need at least seven hours ofsleep a night for optimal health, and short sleep has been associated witha host of health problems, including high blood pressure, depression,diabetes, and a reduced immune response to vaccines.
You lack supplement savvy
More is not better when it comes to vitamins and supplements, and too muchof a good thing can actually be harmful.
In 2011, an analysis of data on nearly 40,000 women found that those who took dietary supplements—especially iron—were actually at
slightly higher risk of dying, although the investigators weren't sure why. "There's no really long-term studies that show unequivocal benefits of taking vitamin and mineral supplements," says Dr. Rogg. "If you're going to take supplements, take them in moderation, and stick to the recommended daily doses."
You get unnecessary tests
As with vitamins and minerals, more does not always mean better when itcomes to medical tests. Especially tests marketed directly to consumers,like the cardiac calcium-scoring test. While this test—a CT scan thatidentifies calcium deposits in the heart arteries—is useful for a select group of at-risk people, it isn't for everyone, says Dr. Rogg. It also exposesyou to a whopping amount of radiation—the equivalent of 25 to 50 chest X-rays.
Several US medical specialty groups have launched an initiative,
ChoosingWisely, to draw attention to overuse of 45 medical tests, and encourage physicians to avoid tests and procedures of questionable benefit.
You beg for antibiotics
Many people ask their doctor for a prescription for antibiotics or antivirals for symptoms that probably would resolve on their own, or justbecause they fear getting sick.
And some doctors may oblige. But these drugs also carry risks, fromcontributing to the huge problem of drug resistance to killing off thegood bacteria in your body. Let your doctor decide if your symptoms warrant medication, and skip the high-pressure tactics.
You're a germaphobe
We all know people who never leave the house without their handsanitizer—you may even be that person. And yes, you should wash your hands with soap and water to kill germs that can make you sick.
But evidence also suggests that some germ exposure could steer the immunesystem away from allergies, and that an overly sterileenvironment might be bad. (It's called the hygiene hypothesis.)Good bacteria are also key for staying healthy, particularly for the skin, digestive tract, and vagina. So "fear of germs" does not equal "goodhealth."
You over- or underdo alternative remedies
Once upon a time, it was hard to get the medical establishment torecognize that acupuncture, herbal remedies, or biofeedback could sometimes heal people as well as big-name drugs.
Now we know that if you dismiss acupuncture as “quackery,” you may bemissing out on your best therapy yet. At the same time, if you over-relyon alternative medicine—opting for a herbal remedies instead ofchemotherapy, for instance—you may also be missing out on the best cureyet.
Try to keep an open mind and consult the experts to make informed choices.
You delay medical care
You’re healthy, so that crushing chest pain has to be heartburn, right? Orweakness and confusion can't be a stroke, right?
Wrong. All too often, people stall or explain away
serious symptoms, whenin fact, rapid treatment can help prevent permanent heart or brain damage.
Doctors say "time is tissue," meaning the faster you get treatment for astroke or heart attack the less heart or brain tissue you lose. So don'tdelay if you have
You use exercise alone to shed pounds
Regular exercise is crucial for health and maintaining a healthy weight,but it won't help you lose weight unless you cut down your calorie intake.
"Patients exercise themselves until they're blue in the face, they'refrustrated, they're sort of at a loss as to why they haven't had success,"says Shantanu Nundy, MD, a primary care physician at the University ofChicago. But the truth is that exercise—maybe because it whets theappetite, maybe because we decide it's OK to reward ourselves with a treatafter that workout, maybe both—often makes people eat more, which meansyou'll make up for the calories you just burned, and then some.
You ignore sodium
You watch your calories. You avoid meals dripping with saturated fat. But sodium? All too often that's the ingredient that gets ignored when weighing healthy options.
High sodium intake has been firmly tied to an increased risk of high blood pressure, and the average American eats well over the recommended amount. Most of the excess sodium we consume comes from
packaged and preparedfoods, from spaghetti sauce to frozen dinners. Always check nutrition labels for sodium content; the Institute of Medicine recommends peoplelimit their intake to below 2,300 milligrams per day, and 1,500 mg for people 51 and older, African Americans, and anyone with high blood pressure or diabetes.
You guzzle calorie-free soda
Artificially sweetened beverages may free of calories, but it doesn't meanthey're all that great for your health.
A couple of studies released at the 2011 American DiabetesAssociation's annual meeting suggest just the opposite. One found thatolder people who drank lots of diet soda saw their waistlines expand fivetimes more over a decade than their peers who didn't drink diet soda atall, while another showed that mice fed the artificial sweetener aspartamehad higher blood-sugar levels.
You drink too much water
Dehydration is bad. So more water is good, right? That's true, to a point.
But particularly if you're running your first marathon or some otherphysically taxing, long event it's important to avoid drinking too much water, which could lead to water intoxication (also known ashyponatremia).
You lie to your doctor
Many of us don't tell our doc everything—say, wesmoke cigarettes or drink more than we should. Or we may take thatprescription with no intention of ever filling it. Harvard Medical Schoolresearchers found that more than one in five first-time prescriptionsnever got filled (this was especially true for chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, high bloodpressure, and diabetes).
But you're better off being straight with your doctor, who can help youfind ways to
You think you know more than your doc
With the Internet at our fingertips, we all feel smarter than we did in the past. And well-moderated online forums can be a great resource for helping people with certain health concerns get support and stay informed.
But they are no substitute for a doctor’s advice.
“I think a common mistake is to sort of put more faith in those resources than health care professionals,” says Dr. Nundy, the author of Stay Healthy at Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know.
You think healthy packaging equals healthy food
Food or cosmetics products that boast of being all natural may soundappealing and wholesome, but in fact, the US Food and Drug Administrationhas a pretty loose definition of just what that word means.
The FDA is OK with any product claiming to be natural, as long as itdoesn't contain added color, artificial flavor, or synthetic substances.
Low fat is another tricky claim. The FDA does have clear guidelines onwhen a product can claim to be low- or reduced-fat, but these products maystill be high in sugar, sodium, or calories—or all of the above.
You exercise too much
Pushing yourself is usually a good thing when it comes to physicalactivity. But your body needs rest, too, especially after an extra-hardworkout. Signs that you are working out too hard can be mental andphysical, and include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, decreased immunity,muscle soreness, and injury. To keep your workout fresh—and avoid overuseinjuries—it's a good idea to vary your routine, and give yourself a dayoff now and then. "Sometimes, just sitting back and relaxing is better foryour body than going to the gym for that hour," says Dr. Rogg.
You still don't eat your fruits and veggies
By now, pretty much everyone knows they should be eating at least fiveservings of fruit and vegetables per day. Eating plenty of produce helpsreduce your risk of heart disease and several types of cancer, and canhelp you manage your weight too. But a state-by-state survey by theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2009, justone-third of adults reported eating at least two servings of fruit a day,and only about one-quarter ate three or more servings of veggies daily.
You obsess over the details
Health shouldn't be seen as something to strive for, but as a way of life,Dr. Rogg says. "When you focus on keeping healthy as an endpoint, asopposed to a healthy lifestyle, you may tend to sort of miss the wholepicture."
Too often, Dr. Rogg says, people who want to be healthy focus on avoiding"bad" foods and obsess about numbers, like their body mass index. "Thefocus that people have to make is on being happy and on things that willmake them happy, and enjoy themselves."
You skip vaccines
Grown ups need shots, too, but many of us don't get them—raising our riskof contracting a host of unpleasant, deadly—and preventable—illnesses, from the flu to cervical cancer to shingles. Just one in five at-risk adults under 65 received the pneumococcal vaccine, for example.
Recommendations for adult vaccine coverage vary based on age, health,where you travel and what you're exposed to, but the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention recommends an annual flu shot for everyone, and adiphtheria-tetanus-pertussis booster every 10 years for adults. Check outthe
You don't have healthy friends
Good health habits are contagious, and bad health habits are, too. Severalrecent studies have shown that obesity, cigarette smoking—evenhappiness—spread through social networks.
Try to forge friendships with people whose health habits you'd like to emulate and encouraging your friends to join you in healthy pursuits.
You avoid doctors in general
You know you should eat better, exercise, lose weight, quit smoking—whatmore can a doctor do to help? A lot, says Dr. Nundy. Studies have shownpeople have a better chance of trying to quit smoking, and succeeding,when a doctor advises them to do so. Doctors can also prescribemedications that can greatly increase quitting success. And while there'sunfortunately no safe pill to help people lose weight, a doctor's advicecan give you a better chance of succeeding in trimming down as well, Dr.Nundy says.
You don't read nutrition labels
A nutrition label—which contains information on a food's calories, sugar, fat, and sodium content—will tell you the real story about whether those "natural" or "low-fat" foods are actually good for you.
"Just because something is turkey or chicken doesn't necessarily mean it'slow-fat or low-salt," says Dr. Rogg. Be sure to pay attention to theportion size listed on the label, too.
You think high-tech health care is enough
While invasive treatments, like stents to prop open cloggedheart arteries, may sound pretty cool, says Dr. Nundy, "you would have been much better off had you not had a blockage in the first place."
So don't think the gee-whiz medical techniques of the future are going to cure you down the road, but do take a day off to get a good old-fashioned checkup."There's no substitute for prevention," he says. "We have lots of poundsof cures, but they're not perfect."
You don't have a primary care doctor
"A lot of people don't really have a relationship with a primary carephysician or a health care facility," says Dr. Nundy. "I think that's a hugemistake."
Finding a physician who you like and trust, and building a partnership with him or her over time, is one of the best things you can do for your health, according to Dr. Nundy.
Similarly, many people may not bother to go for well visits, but just goto see a doctor when they're sick or in pain.
This can mean missing important screening tests, which can catch problems early when they are much more treatable—and also missing a chance to get to know your doctor.
You're clueless about health records
Moving, switching insurance plans and changing doctors can leave yourmedical records scattered to the winds. You don't need to have a filingcabinet stuffed with the results of every medical test you've ever taken,but keeping track of a few key pieces of health information can go a longway toward making sure you get the health care you need, Dr. Nundyadvises. At minimum, you should keep track of which vaccines you'vereceived and when, as well as the dates and results of your most recentscreening tests.