10 Quick Ways to Become More Hygienic

Right now, at this very moment, there are germs running literally all over you, all over your home, and all over absolutely everything you own.

Please remain calm.

It isn't your fault. In fact, it probably isn't a matter of poor hygiene at all. Although we often think of hygiene as a word having to do with cleanliness, what the word actually refers to is conditions that promote health and prevent disease. And that's actually a lot more complicated than scrubbing the bejesus out of everything you come into contact with. (See also: The 10 Germiest, Grossest Things You Live With Everyday)

Here are a few very important hygiene habits research has shown to be important but that many people overlook.

1. Fine-Tune Your Posture

Try this: Tip your head straight back and look up. Kinda hurts, huh? That's because most jobs — whether they involve sitting at a computer or doing manual labor — involve bending forward, looking down and, in general, shortening all the muscles on the front side of the body. That can lead to rounded shoulders, a jutting neck and pot-bellied posture, which can mean pain, stiffness and even more serious back and neck problems. But as if that weren't bad enough, poor posture is also bad for your overall health, and has been connected to depression, constipation and circulatory problems. So straighten up for better health! (See also: 7 More Quick Tips and Tricks for Better Posture)

2. Dry Your Feet

Okay, so you probably know that you should wash your feet. (Or I hope you do — feet can get stinky!) But do you know what's just as important as washing them? Drying them very thoroughly and keeping them as dry as possible throughout the day.

A 2012 survey by the Institute of Preventative Foot Health found that about 20% of people have athlete's foot — a condition that causes, cracked, itchy feet — at any given time. The fungus that causes athlete's foot thrives in damp conditions. So, while keeping your feet clean helps, keeping them dry is actually the best way to keep your toes in tip-top shape. Dry your feet thoroughly after washing, change out of wet socks as soon as possible, and go barefoot when you can.

3. Shower Less Often

For many people, a daily shower is a ritual. It's about more than cleanliness — it just feels good. Unfortunately, scrubbing every bit of oil and bacteria off your body every day isn't as good for you as you might think. In fact, your skin needs a healthy layer of both to be at its best.

"Good bacteria are educating your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics," Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times in 2010. "They produce their own antibiotics that kill off bad bacteria."

This is part of the reason why people find that skin conditions like eczema — and even acne — tend to flare up as a result of too much scrubbing. Your skin needs a healthy balance of lipids and bacteria to be at its best. Showering every day can strip those essential elements away, leading to drier, itchier, more inflamed skin.

4. Change Your Sheets More Often

Most people wouldn't think of wearing the same clothes for days on end, but they'll lie on the same sheets for weeks at a time. Why change your sheets regularly? Well, they're covered in sweat, drool, body oil, dead skin cells, and possibly even cookie crumbs. That's pretty gross, but dermatologists say grinding your face into a less-than-clean pillowcase can also contribute to acne. And no one likes that. Change sheets once a week and pillowcases more often than that if you're prone to breakouts.

5. Wash Your Hands — Like, Actually Wash Them

The advent of hand washing in hospitals literally changed the face of infectious disease control. It's that important. However, in recent years we've become so concerned with keeping our hands clean that we've moved beyond good, old fashioned hand washing to coating our hands with antibacterial "hand sanitizers." I see dispensers for this stuff everywhere — in airports, in office buildings, in hospitals. Unfortunately, many of these products contain triclosan, an antibacterial product that's been linked to hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance. Alcohol-based sanitizers are still considered safe and effective when you're in a pinch, but experts say that nothing beats plain, old soap and water. So wash well and wash often!

6. Avoid Antibacterial Anything

While you're washing, skip the antibacterial soap in favor of a gentle soap. It's better for your skin — and for your health. In 2013, the FDA stated that the long-term use of antibacterial soap and other products may do more harm than good. That's in response to research that found that antibacterial soap offers few additional benefits over basic soap, and may contribute to the rise of superstrong bacteria that are resistant to the chemicals it contains as well as to many antibiotics. Plus, lathering and rinsing removes most bacteria manual.

7. Ditch Text Messages

You probably know that your cell phone is covered with every germ imaginable, but then, so is your toothbrush, so that may be less of a problem than some of the other ill effects your phone can produce, particularly when you do a lot of texting. In fact, texting for long periods has been found to lower life expectancy because it contributes to poor posture. It's also been shown to be bad for your relationships.

8. Keep Your Hands Away From Your Face

The germs that give us colds and other infections tend to take the easy way in — through our eyes and mouths. In fact, touching your face less often has been found to be the best way to avoid getting sick. Get used to keeping your hands away from face as much as possible. And if you must rub your eyes or bite your nails, wash your hands first!

9. Clean Up Your Diet

Sometimes when we try to focus on eating "healthy" foods, we can get tricked into buying all kinds of things that are labeled as "high fiber" or "low fat" or "sugar free." But the healthiest foods tend not to have a label. Sticking to these whole, unprocessed goodies is often called "clean eating." Eating food in its whole, most unprocessed state has been found to improve health, help in the maintenance of a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

10. Take Care of Your Contacts

A survey conducted in 2012 found that people will use anything from spit to butter or beer to clean their contact lenses. Ewwww.

These are your eyes we're talking about, people! And even if you've never resorted to lathering up your contacts with a cold Coors Light, you should probably be taking your contact lens hygiene more seriously. Failing to follow the exact procedure recommended by your ophthalmologist — including washing your hands, replacing the contact solution in your case daily and using a sterile cleaning solution — can lead to the growth of a bacterial film on your lenses. And that isn't just gross; it can lead to eye irritation or even serious eye infections.

Hygiene is often assumed to be about being clean, but it's really about being healthy. Put health first and you'll be well on your way to your most hygienic — and healthiest — self.

How do you keep yourself clean and inoffensive to those sitting near you? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

I would like to add: try to avoid touching public faucet handles, door knob handles, frequently used switches, etc.These are crawling with other peoples germs.