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Bad habits doctors want you to stop

Bad habits doctors want you to stop
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You might think these things aren’t a big deal, but they can take a toll on your body over time. Do you have any of these bad habits?

Holding your pee

Holding your pee
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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),. “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 minimises 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.

Constantly chewing gum

Constantly chewing gum
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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 Professor Jeannette South-Paul, MD, medical director of the community health services division of UPMC. “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).

Biting your nails

Biting your nails
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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.

Skipping brushing or flossing

Skipping brushing or flossing
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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. 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.

Learn the 12 common teeth-cleaning mistakes that make dentists cringe.

Staring at a computer all day

Staring at a computer all day
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The average office 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, which has resulted in marked increase in nearsightedness over the last five decades as our screen use has skyrocketed. Dr Ansari suggests following the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break to stare at something 20 feet (6 metres) 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.

Here are 13 more eye care tips your optometrist wishes you knew.

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Sitting for too long

Sitting for too long
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Along with staring at a screen, simply sitting all day has bad consequences for our health. “As a chronic behaviour, [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. But, 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.”

Slouching

Slouching
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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.”

Learn 5 easy ways to improve your posture.

Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder

Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder
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A big handbag 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! Ideally your bag should weight no more than ten percent 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.

Learn more about what causes lower back and hip pain?

Wearing the wrong shoes

Wearing the wrong shoes
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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 [480km],” 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.”

These common bad hygiene habits are even worse than you thought.

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