As the COVID-19 pandemic abates, many of us are looking forward to resuming our routines. And many of us are looking at how we can improve what used to be routine before the coronavirus shut down most of the world. Experts say that everyday habits related to our health are worth a closer look: For some people, a year of social isolation inspired or worsened some seriously dangerous patterns. Read on to find out what they are—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these 19 Ways You’re Ruining Your Body.
You’re Not Moving Enough
Even before the pandemic, only 20 percent of Americans were getting what the American Heart Association says is enough exercise to prevent heart disease: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) per week. But there’s no part of your body that can’t benefit from exercise: It reduces your risk of cancer, diabetes, dementia, fatty liver, and kidney disease, to name a few. To extend your life, get up and move throughout the day as much as possible—even a little activity is better than none.
You’re Eating Too Much Sugar
Step away from the soda aisle, and nobody gets hurt. Consuming too much added sugar—which we most often encounter via sugar-sweetened drinks, baked goods, and processed foods—is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Added sugar increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, and weakens the immune system by increasing inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day and that women have no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams). The average American consumes about 15 teaspoons every day. To keep tabs on how much sugar you’re consuming, Nutrition Facts labels are your friends. You can make major progress by eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages ASAP.
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Loneliness may make you feel low-key and blue, but it actually puts the body on red alert: Research suggests that social isolation causes an inflammatory stress response throughout the body that can wreck your defenses against chronic disease. According to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, this long-term inflammation can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia—all conditions that have been repeatedly linked to loneliness. Make an effort to reach out to others as much as possible.
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You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is the body’s nightly software update—a time when the brain, heart and immune system cleanse, repair and reboot themselves. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, these vital machines can fall into disrepair. Poor sleep has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, among other serious conditions. How much is enough? Experts such as the National Sleep Foundation recommend that every adult get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.
You’re Drinking Too Much Alcohol
If you’ve been drinking like it’s the end of the world, you’re not alone—a study published last fall by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that alcohol consumption in the U.S. increased by double digits versus the year before. But if you keep it up, that could put your body into terminal decline. Heavy drinking (defined as more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and more than 10 types of cancer.
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You’re Still Stressing Out
Chronic stress can send your immune system into a tailspin. When you’re stressed, your brain pumps out the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits T cells, the blood’s first responders against disease. According to the American Cancer Society, people who experience chronic stress are more prone to colds and flu. Stress also might play a role in the development of heart disease, says the American Heart Association: Stress can worsen high blood pressure and encourage unhealthy behaviors like overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Find healthy ways to deal with stress, including exercise, relaxation exercises and meditation. Your doctor can help.
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You’re Eating Too Much Salt
Even if you never sprinkle salt on your food, you could be overloading your body with sodium. The Standard American Diet (a.k.a. SAD) is loaded with processed food, which is full of body-wrecking additives like added sugar and sodium. Most Americans consume about 3,400mg of sodium daily, far above the expert-recommended 2,300mg (about one teaspoon of salt). High salt intake is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. To protect your heart and brain, examine Nutrition Facts labels and buy products with as little sodium as possible. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these First Signs You Have a Serious Illness.