Even women who know a lot about staying healthy tend to make these mistakes. Find out if you're among them.
You're supposed to watch saturated fat and eat lots of vegetables—that's why you usually pick up a salad for lunch and dinner (even when the kids get burgers). But you're not obsessed with the scale like some women you know. You brush your teeth twice a day, and you last flossed, oh, maybe 2 weeks ago. You exercise but avoid lifting so you don't bulk up. The tummy pains you got last week? Must have been gas—nothing serious. And hey, you'd like to get eight hours of sleep, but the days are short, and it's hard to get everything done. Sound familiar? These so-called "good" habits may actually be derailing your health.
Here, experts share the surprising things you're doing wrong—and how to recover.
7 'Healthy' Habits That Aren’t
1. You Always Order a Salad
Don't assume that bowl of lettuce is always the healthiest menu pick.
Truth is, a lot of take-out and restaurant salads are basically a burger in a bowl, says Brie Turner-McGrievy, RD, clinical research coordinator for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in Washington, DC. That's because add-ons like fried chicken, croutons, and full-fat dressing pack major calories, fat, sodium, and other unhealthy nutrients.
The Fix: Don't scratch take-out salad off your menu; just use a few commonsense rules before you order. Avoid high-fat add-ons such as sour cream, extra cheese, croutons, bacon bits, and creamy dressings like Caesar and ranch. Opt for salads that aren't just a fiber-free mound of iceberg lettuce dotted with a few carrot and red cabbage shavings. And plan ahead: Most fast-food chains supply nutritional info online so you can scout out the best options before you leave.
2. You Rock Out While You Work Out
Do your ears ring after a long iPod-powered workout?
Check the volume on your iPod or MP3 player, advises Dr. Andrew Cheng, an otolaryngologist at New York Medical College. The normal range of an MP3 player is 60 to 120 decibels; persistent exposures above 85 may cause hearing loss. If you're concerned, ask a friend to stand next to you while you listen: If she can hear your music, it's too loud.
The Fix: To protect your ears, try to listen at 10 to 50 percent of the full volume. Some MP3 player models let you lock in a range. Or switch over to a pair of sound-isolating earphones; they drown out background noise so your music doesn't have to.
4 Scary Things Your Hearing Says About You
3. You Avoid the Scale
For some women, this is the only thing in the house gathering more dust than the treadmill.
Doctors call scale-phobia an avoidance behavior. The idea behind it: If I don't know for sure that I gained weight, maybe I didn't. You're most likely to duck the scale after a few days, weeks, or months of eating whatever you want.
"For some people, getting back on the scale can be a help," says Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. "The trick is knowing whether or not it will motivate you." But if you're trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, you may need the kind of feedback the scale provides, says Brownell. If you weigh yourself regularly, you can notice a gain when it's easier to shed—at three pounds, say, instead of 15. But it's important not to get so obsessed with the numbers that you're weighing yourself once or twice daily. Your weight can vary from day to day, even hour to hour.
The Fix: If you're trying to lose weight, get on the scale monthly. Do it first thing in the morning, naked, after you use the bathroom, and at the same time in your menstrual cycle—not when you're likely to have water-weight gain. If you're maintaining weight you've recently lost, hop on at least once a week. That's how the biggest "losers" in the National Weight Control Registry—the largest study of people who've been successful at long-term weight loss—stay slim. Don't freak out over anything less than a 5-pound gain; that's a normal fluctuation. But if you find yourself drifting higher than that, it's time to rein yourself in.
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4. You're Sloppy with Sunscreen
Think you're sunscreen savvy? Maybe not
You know sunscreen is essential for preventing burns, wrinkles, and skin cancer. But one study finds 9 out of 10 people don't do a good enough job when applying sunscreen. Just 25 percent of participants got complete coverage over any one area. The most common mistake? Putting sunscreen on too carelessly.
The Fix: To apply the right way, focus on one area at a time, careful not to miss spots like feet, tops of ears, temples, and the back of the neck. Be sure to use enough: You'll need at least one ounce of sunscreen to cover your entire body. If your bottle is four ounces, it should not last for more than four applications. Squeeze the lotion directly onto your body skin and rub it in with your fingertips; putting it on your hands first makes most of the lotion stick to your palms.
8 Sketchy Sunscreen Claims—Decoded
5. You Forget to Floss
We spend millions a year on procedures that bleach our teeth whiter than pearls, but many don't put in the less than five minutes a day it takes to floss.
The result: At least 23 percent of women between 30 and 54, and 44 percent of women over 55, have severe gum (or periodontal) disease, reports the American Academy of Periodontology. This is a serious bacterial infection that attacks the tissue surrounding one or more teeth and the bone supporting them. It's the number one cause of tooth loss in the United States, but it's far from just a cosmetic issue: When periodontal bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can cause chronic inflammation. Researchers believe that such simmering infections in the body may up your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and even premature birth. Women in particular need to pay close attention to gum health. "Flossing is so critical because the hormonal changes that occur in women during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause cause the oral bacteria that lead to gum disease to grow more readily," says Dr. David Schneider, a Chevy Chase, Md., periodontist.
The Fix: Floss at least once a day. Treat it like any other part of your routine you'd never skip, like brushing your teeth or showering. Here's a reminder how-to from the American Dental Association: Take about 18 inches of floss and wind it around the middle fingers. Hold a few inches of the floss tightly between thumbs and forefingers. Guide the floss between your teeth, using a gentle rubbing motion. When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth, and gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth. Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with an up-and-down motion. Repeat this for every tooth.
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6. You Don't Lift Weights
Some women avoid lifting weights because they think they'll end up looking like a female version of The Rock.
They're wrong. "The vast majority of women do not have the genetic capability to develop large, bulky muscles," says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, the organization that certifies personal trainers. To get that look, you need a guy's levels of testosterone, plus many, many, many hours a day spent pumping iron. The average woman simply does not naturally produce enough testosterone to bulk up from weights, Bryant says, and most women are lucky to squeeze in half an hour a day doing any exercise.
So think of "weight lifting" more as a great way to tone, tighten, and trim your body (and get those Jennifer Aniston arms or Heidi Klum legs). Your goal isn't necessarily weight loss—in fact, once you start, you may even notice that you've put on a few pounds, but don't panic. You're gaining muscle, which weighs more than the fat you're losing. But because muscle is more dense than fat, it takes up less space, helping you fit into your clothes better. And if you lift regularly, you'll eventually start dropping pounds. Plus, research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that women on a strength-training program for 25 weeks lost significant amounts of belly fat—the dangerous kind that increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The Fix: You don't have to spend a lot of time pumping iron to reap the benefits—two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days for about 30 minutes per session should do the trick. The American Council on Exercise says that light weights and multiple reps tend to help build endurance and muscle tone, while using heavier weights generally produces stronger muscles.
7. You Ignore Aches and Pains
If you're knee-deep in caring for kids, managing a household, and holding down a job, you may be quick to brush off a nagging cough, back twinge, or bout of indigestion. You may think fatigue is your natural state.
But you shouldn't ignore any of those symptoms. Years ago, Stephanie Goldner, a then 37-year-old mother of four, went to work despite waking up with what felt like a bad case of indigestion. But her colleagues at Baptist Hospital in Miami took one look at her and sent her to the emergency room. There she learned that her bad indigestion was actually a heart attack.
Although women tend to go to doctors more often than men do, and though they're the caretakers for everyone from grandparents to the pet parakeet, they're least likely to take care of themselves, says Dr. Diana Dell, assistant professor of obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. Research suggests that some women will ignore even crushing fatigue and pain, symptoms that in a partner or child would send them scurrying for a doctor's appointment.
The Fix: Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of serious illness, know your risk factors, report anything unusual immediately, and don't let anything get in the way of regular screening tests, which can often detect problems when they're still small and treatable.
6 Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore
8. You Wear Contacts No Matter What
It's safer to switch to glasses when you're under the weather.
Fighting a cold? If you normally wear contacts, switch to eyeglasses. Your eyes don't work as well when you're sick, say researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. A decline in tear production makes contact lens wearers more prone to conjunctivitis—a.k.a. pinkeye. So can using antihistamine meds, which also dry out eyes.
The Fix: Wear your specs until you're feeling better, experts advise, or switch to daily-wear disposable lenses to avoid infection.