You may not know it, but you could be sabotaging your well-being. Healthy-looking fruits and vegetables may harbor pesticides, negative vibes from people around you could be hurting more than your feelings, and late nights staying up online can affect your actions at work and at home.
The things you do every day matter to the health of your body, mind, emotions and even longevity. These seven common stumbles offer no health benefit or worse: negative health consequences. If one or more is part of your daily life, check out solutions to clear your path to wellness.
Stumble #1: Sleep debt
Solution: solve snooze time
Getting good sleep is the most vital thing you can do for your health, says Rockland Hinkle, a sleep technician at Boulder Community Sleep Diagnostics in Colorado. Sleep aids normal blood pressure, healing, growth and development. Adults generally need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while children and teens need nine to ten hours. Babies and toddlers need even more, Hinkle says.
It’s common for people to accumulate “sleep debt” by cutting short those hours each night, but you can easily resolve this with a 20-minute daily nap (the ideal length, according to the National Sleep Foundation). “[Other] people try to make up their debt by sleeping in on the weekends,” Hinkle says, but research debunks that strategy’s effectiveness because it throws off your internal body clock.
It’s imperative that sleep remain uninterrupted, Hinkle says. If the cat routinely bats your head at 3 a.m., that’s not good. Or you may be waking up because of an undiagnosed disorder, such as sleep apnea, where you repeatedly stop breathing. “You’ll know you have [some type of] problem if you can’t make it through your day without fighting the urge to sleep.” Conversely, poor sleep in teens presents itself as hyperactivity, Hinkle says.
Treatments for sleep disorders include wearing a sleep mask that pumps pressurized air to open the airways. For teens, sleep apnea could be caused by enlarged tonsils and resolved with surgery.
“Personally, I recommend that everyone get a sleep study done at a sleep lab twice in their life,” Hinkle says, especially if you always have trouble snoozing or your sleep patterns have changed. To find a local accredited lab, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine at aasm.org and search for “State Sleep Societies.”
If you don’t have a serious disorder but still have trouble getting to sleep, consult your doctor about a natural sleep aid such as melatonin. Or try tart cherry juice without added sugar. In one study, participants who drank two cups of tart cherry juice daily showed “significant reductions in insomnia severity” compared with those who drank a placebo.
Stumble #2: Nature blindness
Solution: engage your senses
Maybe you do get outdoors, but if you have a cellphone attached to your ear or you’re working hard to capture a Pokemon Go Magikarp, you need to rethink your choices for restorative adventures. New research shows measurable physical benefits from fully engaging your senses in the great outdoors: Forest dirt microbes are linked to healthy immune systems, inhaled cypress tree compounds reduce stress hormones and blood pressure and birdsong supports brain neuron health.
To achieve wellness, drop the phone, play in the dirt, breathe in the scents and listen to the birds, says Florence Williams, a journalist who describes this research in her new book, The Nature Fix (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017).
“I crumble leaves in my hand when I walk, even in the city, and take in the scents,” Williams says. “After writing this book, I understand better the power of these substances in the trees. I think one day we will come to appreciate time in nature as an essential part of our health.”
Stumble #3: Exercise overload
Solution: get checked
Sometimes too much of a good thing can hurt your health, especially if you ignore warning symptoms.
A 2017 study by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation shows that it’s not unheard of for endurance athletes of all levels to push their limits too far.
The study looked at 9 million triathletes, from beginners to seasoned competitors, over three decades and found 135 cases of sudden death or cardiac arrest. The majority, 85 percent, were male, average age 47. Nearly half of 61 autopsies revealed heart abnormalities, including cardiovascular disease.
“Exercise enthusiasts may downplay heart symptoms and feel invulnerable,” says Peter Buttrick, MD, cardiology division head of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. But if you experience heart health symptoms—shortened breath, chest pain, unexpected decreased endurance—during exertion, make an appointment with your doctor, he says.
Stumble #4: Negative friends and family
Solution: seek what restores you
The people you spend time with at home, at work and in social circles contribute to your emotional and physical health, experts say. That’s no idle gossip: A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology links high levels of negativity to an increased risk of dementia.
It’s easy to get pulled into negativity, says pediatric psychologist Eileen Twohy, PhD. “There is a certain level of satisfaction that comes from negative conversations, gossip and complaining,” she says. “But over time, this leads into patterns of negativity that don’t point in a healthy direction.”
One of the best ways to know if you are stuck in a negative cycle is to go on vacation and see the difference in your body and attitude. Are you suddenly getting good sleep? Do you feel less tension in your body? Once you experience that wake-up call, it’s important to find ways to relax and replenish positive energy, she says.
“Children are particularly good at doing this,” says Twohy. “We can all learn how to be more playful and surround ourselves with people who are uplifting and life-giving.”
Because you cannot pick your family, balance a negative day with something positive, she says. This can be going out to walk your dog, exercising or listening to music, she says. “For me, it’s karate, talking to loved ones or playing with kids.” Meditation and yoga can also balance and dissipate negative emotions.
Stumble #5: Water shortage
Solution: choose high-water-weight foods
It’s a well-known mantra: Drink eight glasses of water every day to stay healthy and hydrated. But who really hits that goal?
According to Johns Hopkins professor of medicine Lawrence Appel, MD, the answer is to eat or drink when you’re thirsty. Appel, who chaired a panel for the National Academies Institute of Medicine’s 2005 report on daily water intake, says, “Drinking water is a frequent choice for hydration, but you can also get water from juice, milk, coffee, tea, fruits and vegetables.”
You can determine whether you need to adjust fluid intake by how you feel, where and how you live and other concrete health indicators. For instance, if you are tired or constipated, drink more fluids or eat foods high in water content, such as watermelon, spinach, tomatoes and broth. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as well as athletes and people living in warmer climates and at high altitudes, all need to consume more fluids than the general population.
You can tell you aren’t getting enough water if your urine appears dark, you feel dizzy or lightheaded or you aren’t thinking clearly. When you feel hungry, drink a glass of water first because you may just be thirsty. Keep a refillable water bottle with you all day. And of course, drink before and after a workout.
Stumble #6: Conventional concerns
Solution: select wisely
You may buy conventionally grown fruits and vegetables because they’re often cheaper than organic. But pesticides accumulate in the body and eventually create weakened immune systems, says Stephanie Hancock, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Kaiser Permanente. That’s particularly bad for pregnant women and children.
It’s critical to health to eat fruits and vegetables, but it’s also worth it to be choosy. “I tell people to be selective,” says Hancock. Foods with a thick rind or peel that you don’t eat, such as cantaloupe or avocado, provide a barrier to pesticides, while more delicate, eat-the-skin foods like apples and peaches absorb chemicals into the flesh more easily, she says.
Prioritize your choices. Study the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen, a yearly compilation of the 12 most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables based on USDA data, and buy those items in the organic section whenever possible. For 2017, that list names (in order): strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.
EWG also creates a list called the Clean 15: fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticide residues. This year’s list names sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.
Stumble #7: Noise, noise, noise
Solution: turn it down (or off)
No one thinks about their hearing until they lose it, but today’s environment is increasingly full of loud noise, which contributes to hearing loss.
“We are constantly overstimulated by noise,” says clinical audiologist Wendy Framel. “So many people are on their personal devices, streaming music. Our ears get worn down over time, [and now] I’m seeing hearing loss at earlier ages and in younger people. If you are constantly listening to music for hours a day, that’s taking a toll and causing real damage.”
Make a point to turn off all sound whenever possible. And spend the extra $20 to upgrade your headphones for better sound quality at lower levels, she says, or get noise-cancelling headphones. If you do experience hearing loss, new solutions include Bluetooth hearing aids that connect to your smartphone.