When you gotta go, you should go! Holding it in for too long is not good for your health.
“Urine is like a creek or river,” says Grant Fowler, MD, vice chair of family and community medicine at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), and a member of the medical staff at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “If you block it, the stream becomes stagnant and gives bacteria the chance to grow in the bladder, and maybe to move back upstream to your kidneys. Keeping it flowing minimizes the risk of infection.”
Asif Ansari, MD, medical director of the Montefiore Medical Group, says holding it can put you at risk for bladder, kidney and even prostate infections, especially if you have an underlying urological condition or are pregnant. In addition, some studies have shown that holding it for too long can actually stretch out your bladder, a condition called “infrequent voiders syndrome.” Plus, if you’re not going four to seven times a day (at least every four to six hours), you’re probably not drinking enough fluids, and may be dehydrated.
You might think gum gives you fresh breath, or maybe it helps alleviate tension, like squeezing an oral stress ball. But if you chew gum all the time, it could be putting too much pressure on your jaw.
“The temporomandibular joint—at the top of the jaw—is a synovial joint just as seen in the knees,” says Jeannette South-Paul, MD, medical director of the community health services division of UPMC, Andrew W. Mathieson Professor and chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. “If you use those joints too much, you can develop arthritis, clicking, and pain.” Plus, swallowing too much air can lead to stomach upset, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Another nervous habit that’s really not good for you is chewing on your nails. “Biting your nails can result in damage to the nails and infection of the skin surrounding it, called paronychia,” Dr. Ansari says.
The spread of germs can work the other way, too. “In addition, this can introduce viruses into the body, resulting in upper respiratory and other infections,” he says. Dr. Fowler says you could also damage your teeth, or even crack a tooth!
Plus, the psychological reasons why you do it need to be addressed. “Biting nails is usually a subconscious habit frequently made worse by anxiety,” Dr. Fowler says. “What is making you so anxious? Anxiety itself may not be dangerous, but it can affect the quality of your life.” A study from Canada found that nail biting is also caused by boredom and frustration—two traits of perfectionists, according to the research.
You’re tired and fall into bed without taking care of your teeth—we’ve all done it, right? Well, skipping a brushing or flossing is worse for you than you think, especially if you make a habit of it. “Skipping teeth brushing or flossing are the biggest risks for dental decay,” Dr. Fowler says. “And poor dentition is a risk factor for many things including major, overwhelming infections and malnutrition—especially in the elderly—and also cardiovascular disease.”
Whoa, heart disease? Turns out, the connection is not yet fully understood, but studies have shown a link. The theory is bacteria in the mouth can move into the bloodstream, creating an inflammation of the blood vessels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Brush twice daily, floss once a day, and see your dentist regularly to avoid this. “Not maintaining this routine contributes to cavities and gingivitis—gum infections and inflammation—the major cause of early tooth loss,” Dr. South-Paul says. Dr. Fowler also recommends an electric toothbrush to get to places regular brushes miss.
According to the American Optometric Association, the average American worker spends seven hours staring at a computer screen, which can result in computer vision syndrome. “Staring at a computer screen for extended periods of time can result in visual issues, including eye strain and even retinal damage,” Dr. Ansari says. Research from the National Eye Institute showed that nearsightedness among Americans ages 12 to 54 has leapt from 25% to 42% since 1971, likely due to more time indoors staring at screens.
Dr. Ansari suggests following the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break to stare at something 20 feet away. “This reduces the strain on your eyes and also increases blinking, which can soothe dry and irritated eyes,” he says. Plus, staring at bright screens (including phones and tablets) decrease quality of sleep, he says, so put the phone down before bed.
Along with staring at a screen, simply sitting all day has bad consequences for our health. “As a chronic behavior, [sitting] leads to all the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle including weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure,” Dr. Ansari says. Although some research shows an increase in blood pressure or numbness specifically while sitting cross-legged, Dr. Ansari says those effects are only temporary, and won’t really affect long-term health. “Crossing your legs doesn’t cause clots except for those at risk of arthritis or high blood pressure, or those who are physically inactive longterm,” Dr. Fowler agrees.
However, walking throughout the day helps to prevent arthritis, and can also help to prevent high blood pressure. “Most of the harmful effects are from the simple act of sitting for prolonged periods,” Dr. Ansari says. Studies show walking around periodically can help. When you are seated, it’s important to have good posture so you don’t get neck or backaches. “When you do sit make sure you scoot into the seat and use the back of the chair to help you sit up straight,” Dr. Ansari says. “This will help ease the tension on your back muscles. Your knees should be at 90 degree angles and your feet flat on the floor.”
Whether sitting or standing, slouching actually has negative effects on your overall health. “If you are leaning over, our heads are very heavy compared to rest of body—it puts a lot of leverage on the neck,” Dr. Fowler says, which can lead to tension headaches. Leaning over is also really bad for your back. “This can increase the risk of a disc rupturing or herniating, resulting in pain and pinched nerves,” he says. Not sitting up straight can also cause some unexpected problems. “Poor posture while seated can cause abdominal discomfort and issues with digestion, including constipation,” Dr. Ansari says. This happens because your intestines get compressed, which studies show inhibit their ability to push food through the digestive tract. Plus, “slouching or hunching over can decrease the amount of air you are able to take into your lungs,” Dr. Ansari says. “Some studies have also shown that people with poor posture may be more prone to depression.”
A big purse can help us feel prepared for any situation, but unless it’s a backpack, it may be hurting your health. “When you carry heavy bags on one side, you disturb the angle of your neck, and it can cause pressure on the nerves that come between the vertebrae in the neck and provide sensation to the arms,” Dr. South-Paul says. “If there is pressure on the nerves as they exit the neck, one can experience numbness, tingling, and even pain in the shoulders and arms.”
Ouch! The American Chiropractic Association says your bag should weight no more than 10% of your body weight. The negative effects are even greater if you always carry your bag on the same side, so try to switch it up—and don’t use your phone while holding your bag, which throws off your alignment even more. But men aren’t off the hook either—keeping your wallet in your back pocket can cause back problems, too.
This is probably not news for women who wear high heels: They kill your feet, and your whole body can feel the effects. “Your footwear influences the health of your feet, knees, hips, and back,” Dr. South-Paul says. “We weren’t built to wear high heels, and that predisposes women to bunions, Achilles tendon tightness and associated problems.”
But it’s not just stilettos that are causing shoe woes—flip-flops and other shoes without support can damage your body as well. A study from Auburn University showed that wearing flip-flops actually changes the way you walk, which can cause problems from your feet up to your hips and lower back.
For long-term use, make sure your feet and ankles are properly supported. For working out, make sure your shoes aren’t too worn. “If you are a runner, you systematically wear down the support within your running shoes—we often think your shoes are good for no more than 300 miles,” Dr. South-Paul says. “After that, even if the uppers aren’t raggedy, you have lost the necessary support in the soles of the shoes to protect your feet—predisposing the bones in your feet to soreness and stress fractures.”
You know about the importance of sunblock to protect against the sun’s harmful rays—but it’s tempting to do a quick job putting it on, missing certain areas. “The most worrisome spots to remain covered are the face and trunk—as well as the hands and feet,” Dr. South-Paul says, which includes in between your toes and your nail beds. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the ears are the third most common location to get skin cancer, so make sure you slather sunscreen there. Other missed locations are the scalp (even if you have hair), eyelids, lips, neck and armpits. Plus, you need to reapply, which is easy to neglect when you’re having fun in the sun. “Where most folks get in trouble is forgetting they need to reapply the sunblock every time they get out of the water when swimming,” Dr. South-Paul says. “But your skin never forgets the sun rays it absorbs, so protection is always needed.”
Getting good and consistent sleep is crucial for our body’s overall functioning, but the temptation to stay up late or indulge in other bad sleep habits can take their toll. “What is problematic are those who have erratic bedtimes, watching TV and dozing off on an irregular schedule, using things like alcohol and caffeine to relax or alert you, or exercising too vigorously within an hour of bedtime,” Dr. South-Paul says. These behaviors are likely to disrupt sleep patterns, she says. What about hitting the snooze button? If you’re a serial snoozer and hit the alarm multiple times, you’re cutting down on good, constant sleep—plus, if you’re not ready to get up, it probably means you didn’t get enough sleep. According to some sleep experts, hitting snooze can set you into a new sleep cycle that you won’t have time to finish, leaving you in a state of sleep inertia that may cause you to be groggy throughout the day.