You pick healthy food, work out (when you can), and watch your waistline. That means you're healthy right?
Not so fast—many people who are in tip-top shape (for now) have habits or beliefs that can put them at risk for illness or injury down the road.
Read on to learn about these common mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
1. You always buy organic
Buying organic is wise for certain foods, such as beef or strawberries, but it doesn't make much difference for others, like avocados or eggs.
And don't assume that all organic foods are healthier than non-organic options, or that organic equals healthy. Organic choices are usually pricier, for one thing. And organic high-calorie, high-fat granola bars and sugary cereals are just as bad for you as the non-organic version.
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2. You don't socialize enough
While you may feel virtuous on your long solo runs, don't forget to check in with your pals once in a while. Studies suggest that social networks are good for your health too.
Try to schedule regular meet-ups with friends, whether it's a book club or poker—it doesn't matter. (No need to make it exercise-based, although that's nice too.)
Just connecting with other people, and maintaining those social networks as you age, is good for your health.
3. You skimp on sleep
Think it's a good idea to get up at 5 a.m. and hit the gym? Not if you should be sleeping instead, says Dr. Gary Rogg, a primary care physician and assistant professor at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. Studies have consistently shown that people need at least seven hours of sleep a night for optimal health, and short sleep has been associated with a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and a reduced immune response to vaccines.
4. You lack supplement savvy
More is not better when it comes to vitamins and supplements, and too much of a good thing can actually be harmful.
In 2011, an analysis of data on nearly 40,000 women found that those who took dietary supplements—especially iron—were actually at slightly higher risk of dying, although the investigators weren't sure why. "There's no really long-term studies that show unequivocal benefits of taking vitamin and mineral supplements," says Rogg. "If you're going to take supplements, take them in moderation, and stick to the recommended daily doses."
5. You get unnecessary tests
As with vitamins and minerals, more does not always mean better when it comes to medical tests. Especially tests marketed directly to consumers, like the cardiac calcium-scoring test. While this test—a CT scan that identifies calcium deposits in the heart arteries—is useful for a select group of at-risk people, it isn't for everyone, says Rogg. It also exposes you to a whopping amount of radiation—the equivalent of 25 to 50 chest X-rays.
Several U.S. medical specialty groups have launched an initiative, Choosing Wisely, to draw attention to overuse of 45 medical tests, and encourage physicians to avoid tests and procedures of questionable benefit.
6. You beg for antibiotics
Many people ask their doctor for a prescription for antibiotics or antivirals for symptoms that probably would resolve on their own, or just because they fear getting sick.
And some doctors may oblige. But these drugs also carry risks, from contributing to the huge problem of drug resistance to killing off the good bacteria in your body. Let your doctor decide if your symptoms warrant medication, and skip the high-pressure tactics.
7. You're a germaphobe
We all know people who never leave the house without their hand sanitizer—you may even be that person. And yes, you should wash your hands with soap and water to kill germs that can make you sick.
But evidence also suggests that some germ exposure could steer the immune system away from allergies, and that an overly sterile environment might be bad. (It's called the hygiene hypothesis.) Good bacteria are also key for staying healthy, particularly for the skin, digestive tract, and vagina. So "fear of germs" does not equal "good health."