20+ Healthy Habits That Can Hurt You


I've stopped mentioning the negative side effects of my athletic pursuits to my non-athletic friends. Discussions of overuse running injuries and unfortunate cycling accidents are now reserved for those, like me, who overlook potential harm associated with generally healthy habits. (See also: 15 Small Healthy Habits)

My friends are probably joking when they defend their inaction and inattention to good-for-you practices. But I have grown tired of hearing that they don't exercise, for example, because it's safer that way. To me, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks.

Still, I get it.

Healthy habits can hurt when you engage in activities that carry inherent risk; you take routines to the extreme, thinking more is always better; you don't adjust for personal circumstances or health risks; or you focus on a single healthy habit to the exclusion of other beneficial practices.

Consider these habits that carry potential for harm.

1. Exercising Daily

You've heard that you need to get a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis to stay healthy. But after you form the habit of exercising, you can overdo your efforts. Symptoms of over-exercising include weakness and chronic fatigue. Be sure to take rest days, especially after you start a new exercise regimen. (See also: Tips for Starting Your Exercise Regimen)

2. Running

Running boosts cardiovascular function and helps avoid heart disease. But new runners and those who log lots of miles are subject to injuries. Take precautions such as adding mileage slowly and stretching before and after runs. And, though marathon runners are often in great shape, running a marathon can increase your risk of heart attack, temporarily, during the race. Training well for a marathon can lower your risk of a cardiac event during the race.

3. Walking Outside

Walking is an excellent form of exercise, performed cheaply and easily nearly anywhere. Plus, you can get sunlight that helps prevent certain diseases and boosts your mood. But walking outside can expose you to pollution, which can worsen lung diseases such as asthma and increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Go outside only when air quality is rated as good in your area or walk indoors if you have a chronic respiratory disease.

4. Cycling

Cycling builds and improves cardiovascular wellness plus is easy on your joints. But many cyclists have lower bone densities compared to those who are similarly fit but engage in higher-impact activities; less bone can make you more prone to fractures. Plus, cycling on challenging trails and roadways involve hazardous conditions that can result in accidents. Add weight-bearing activities to your exercise routine (such as running). Learn and practice safety measures when cycling. (See also: How to Cycle Safely in the City)

5. Consuming Diet or Sports-Related Foods

You want to consume foods that help you meet health goals. But some foods marketed to the health-conscious may have ingredients that harm your health. Examples include vitamin-enhanced water (with lots of sugar) and low-calorie diet meals (with lots of sodium). Read labels to make sure what you are eating is healthy.

6. Getting Medical Tests

We may think that getting tested for suspicious symptoms will automatically detect disease and keep us healthy. But certain screenings carry hazards and may yield inconclusive or false positive results, wrongly indicating a problem that requires additional time, money, and invasive testing to investigate. Visit the Choosing Wisely website to learn about common tests that may be unnecessary.

7. Drinking Skim and 1% Milk (for Kids)

You might give skim or 1% milk to your kids rather than whole milk to keep calories down and avoid childhood obesity. But a recent study of more than 10,000 children found that those who drank skim and 1% milk were more likely to be overweight or obese. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the reasons for this mystery. While they try to figure out whether the milk itself is causing the problem or other aspects of the children's food intake, make sure your kids eat healthy food and get plenty of exercise, instead of focusing on nuances of their diet.

8. Taking an Aspirin Daily

Many people take an aspirin each day to prevent a heart attack. Regular intake of this inexpensive drug has also been linked to lower incidences of certain kinds of cancer. But possible side effects include stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding. Ask your physician whether the benefits of taking aspirin outweigh the risks based on your personal health situation.

9. Being Thin

We often associate thinness with good health because of the dangers of being obese. But risks associated with being too thin include anemia, fertility issues, osteoporosis, and a lower-performing immune system. In addition, a recent study suggests that being overweight is associated with lower death risk. Focus on a getting a healthy diet and exercise, instead of a number on a scale.

10. Getting Enough Sleep

A good night's rest supports a healthy immune system. But sleeping too much (over eight hours per day) is associated with health problems such as diabetes, headaches, and back pain. Get enough sleep every night, but don't overdo bedtime hours. (See also: Your Sleeping Position May Be Hurting You)

11. Avoiding Fat in Your Diet

Too much fat in your diet can lead to heart disease and weight problems. But fat enables your body to absorb vitamins from your food. Avoiding fat may prevent you from getting the nutrients you need. Eat healthy fats within a normal range (about 44 to 78 grams) based on your personal circumstances.

12. Getting an Annual Physical

Seeing your doctor for an annual physical seems like a healthy decision. But these visits have not been proven to save lives. If you get a regular physical but don't get recommended tests, then your health may be at risk. According to Davis Liu, MD in MedPage Today, "Far more valuable than a routine physical is the concept of tailoring screening tests and interventions based on your age."

13. Ordering a Salad at a Restaurant

Getting a salad when you eat out seems like the healthiest choice. But sadly, salads can be loaded with unhealthy levels of calories, sodium, and saturated fat. Review nutritional information before ordering your meal.

14. Wearing Sunscreen

You need to wear sunscreen when you are outside to avoid skin cancer. But lack of sunlight and Vitamin D production has been associated with other forms of cancer, such as Hodgkin lymphoma as well as breast, ovarian, colon, and pancreatic cancers. In addition, some studies have suggested that a deficiency in Vitamin D from either diet or sun makes you more susceptible to multiple sclerosis. Protect yourself by avoiding excessive exposure that leads to sunburn, and make decisions on sunlight exposure based on your personal health risks. (See also: 7 Ways to Protect Your Skin)

15. Limiting Carb Intake

Reducing your carbohydrate consumption can allow you to focus on consuming more fruits and vegetables while avoiding processed foods. This diet change may help you lose weight by lowering your intake of calories. But restricting carbs too much can cause weakness, fatigue, headaches, and other complications. Eat carbs within dietary guidelines.

16. Taking Your Vitamins

Vitamins provide nutrients you may not get through your regular diet. But studies have linked the use of many vitamin supplements to higher death rates. Don't assume that all supplemental vitamins will improve your health and increase your life expectancy; read the research before making a decision on what to take.

17. Eating Healthy Snacks Throughout the Day

Healthy snacks are better for you than non-healthy ones. But you can easily gain too much weight if you snack heartily through much of the day and night plus consume regular-sized meals. Plan snacks and meals so that you don't overeat.

18. Brushing Your Teeth After Eating

Good dental hygiene is associated with good health. But brushing immediately after eating can disrupt the acidic levels in your mouth, causing damage. Wait about 30 minutes after eating to brush your teeth.

19. Crossing Items Off Your To-Do List

You probably feel better after you've completed your daily list of action items. But if you spend much of your evening on chores and don't take time to relax, then you may have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to mental and physical health problems. Relax and leave a few things undone.

20. Keeping a Clean Home

Having a clean home is a good way to prevent spread of infection and disease among family members. But keeping your home clean with packaged cleaning supplies such as chlorine bleach, detergent, air fresheners, and oven cleaners can cause chronic breathing problems. Use natural formulations when you clean. (See also: 8 Green Cleaners Already in Your Home)

21. Drinking Red Wine

Drinking red wine is considered healthy because research suggests that one of its ingredients, resveratrol, may reduce bad cholesterol and prevent blood clots. But alcohol intake is linked to higher risk of breast cancer. Know your risk factors and adjust habits according to your personal health risks.

22. Doing High-Intensity Exercises

High intensity exercises, including weight-lifting and similar moves, build strength and fitness. But doing too much too soon has been linked to the muscle-wasting disease rhabdomyolysis. Build your strength slowly over time.

What seemingly healthy habits have hurt you?

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Guest's picture

There is so much conflicting advice. One expert says "X is good for you" while another says "X is bad for you." How are we supposed to know what to do? I think I'll stay in bed and pull the covers over my head!

Julie Rains's picture

Your comment reminds me of Mark Twain's quote: "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."

I think most people would do well to avoid fad recommendations and just get some basic exercise.

As for me, I like to delve into tips, compare them to recommendations on reputable medical websites (like mayoclinic.com), see how they affect me personally, and toss them around with friends (like my cycling buddies in their 60s and 70s) who have seen fads come and go and seem to know what works for the long haul. Finally, I realize you can't live forever but you can have fun while you're here -- so it makes sense to do what is most likely healthy and what you enjoy.

Guest's picture

I can't believe how many people order salads at restaurants, thinking they're making a healthy choice. 9 times out of 10, it's not the best choice.

Julie Rains's picture

It's an eye-opener to compare nutritional value of many restaurant salads to their alternatives (particularly for quick-serve places).

I say order a salad if that's what you want but don't order the salad just because you think it will be healthier and have fewer calories than the burger or whatever else may be on the menu.

Thanks for reading!

Guest's picture

#10 strikes me as dubious. It is *much* more plausible to me that poor health makes one want or need more sleep than that deliberately restricting one's sleep improves health.

Julie Rains's picture

From what I could discern from research, you are right that needing or wanting more sleep can be a sign of an illness (like depression or another underlying disease) rather than the cause of an illness.

But that doesn't rule out the idea that sleeping too much itself can lead to health problems. So, if you seem to be sleeping too much and aren't sure why, it could be a good idea to find out what's going on or if you are developing problems.