You might be responsible for ruining your body and not even know it. The last 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic threw the American way of life into chaos, disrupting the best practices of the most devoted healthy eaters and gym devotees. Trouble is—most of us were falling short on official health recommendations even before we knew what a coronavirus was, and it may be unwittingly. (For example, experts estimated that only 20% of Americans were getting the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.) The stress and isolation of the pandemic discouraged healthy habits even further—to the point that you may have lapsed into patterns that are ruining your body without you even realizing it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these 16 “Health” Tips to Stop Following Immediately.
Insomnia isn’t just an irritant or inconvenience. A growing body of research indicates that poor-quality sleep can raise the risk of serious diseases ranging from cancer and heart disease to dementia. That’s because when we sleep, major body systems repair themselves, and when you’re not getting adequate rest, your heart, brain, and immune system aren’t getting adequate maintenance. Experts such as the National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.
Being lonely can feel lousy. But even if you’re used to it, social isolation can be wrecking your health in ways you don’t realize. Studies have found that loneliness seems to cause an inflammatory stress response throughout the body. Over time, that can wear down your heart, brain, and immunity. According to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, “The resulting long-term inflammation may represent a key mechanism in the development of loneliness-associated chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and neurodegeneration.”
Loneliness isn’t the only kind of chronic stress that can weaken the body. When you’re stressed, the brain increases its production of the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs T cells, a component in the blood that fights infection. According to the American Cancer Society, people who experience chronic stress are more prone to the common cold and viral infections like the flu. Stress also might play a role in the development of heart disease, the American Heart Association says—it can exacerbate high blood pressure, and it may encourage unhealthy behaviors (like overeating or drinking too much alcohol) that can tax the heart.
Lack of exercise doesn’t just put you at risk of packing on the pounds. Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can impair your heart, brain, and immune system, raising your risk of a variety of illnesses, heart disease, and dementia. According to James Levine, MD, author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, we lose about two hours of life for every hour spent sitting down. “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking,” he said. “We are sitting ourselves to death.”
Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. What’s more, sugar causes inflammation throughout the body, which compromises the immune system by weakening white blood cells, which fight off infection. Sugar even inhibits the body’s ability to rebuild collagen and elastin, the compounds in skin that keep you looking young. 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.
As a new article in The Atlantic notes, Americans are drinking a lot more alcohol these days. Over-imbibing has been normalized by a culture that has embraced wine-tasting stations in supermarkets, boozy playdates, and the advent of hard seltzer. Even if it’s more socially acceptable to drink at lunch, alcohol hasn’t become safer for your body. Drinking too much increases your risk of developing heart disease and more than 10 types of cancer. Experts recommend only moderate drinking, meaning no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
The pandemic knocked many of us out of our routines—as the daily commute and regular exercise were replaced by hours on the couch, it was all too easy to let healthy eating (and checking the scale) fall by the wayside too. Now’s the time to step back on the scale and make lifestyle changes if the numbers are too high. “People who have obesity, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions,” says the CDC. That includes chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—and death from any cause. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.