'Healthy' habits that aren’t

Here's what experts say about little habits that can backfire, and how you can swap your old habit for a better one.
© Prevention // © Prevention

Good habits gone bad

You have the best of intentions, we know. You squat over the toilet seat at restaurants, you unwind before bed, you brush after eating. But guess what? These so-called healthy habits might actually be causing more problems than they solve. Here, 7 everyday "healthy" habits that aren't -- and what to do instead.

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You squat over the toilet seat

Bravo! You've saved yourself from the risks (and gross-out factor) of sitting on public toilet seats. But all that squatting might not be so good for you, either, causing an increased risk of dreaded urinary tract infections. "Squatting causes the pelvic muscles to contract and tighten around the urethra," says Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, urologist and author of a book about bladder health. "This prevents the bladder from emptying fully. Relaxed pelvic muscles will optimize flow and flush out bacteria." (Good news for cranberry juice drinkers: New research has shown that consuming cranberry products can lower your risk of UTIs).

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Your better bet: Line the seat with paper before sitting, says Dr. Kavaler. "You cannot get a UTI from a dirty toilet seat."

2 of 11 Public bathroom (© Matt Henry Gunther/Getty Images)

You brush your teeth after meals

Are you one of those enviable people who brings a toothbrush with them everywhere they go? Great -- but you may want to wait a half hour or so after eating highly acidic foods, says Howard R. Gamble, DMD, FAGD, immediate past president of the Academy of General Dentistry. The acid from some foods, such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, colas (regular and sugar-free) or sports drinks, can soften the enamel on your teeth making it "like wet sandstone," says Gamble. Brushing your teeth while the enamel is still soft can speed up the effect of the acid and erode the layer beneath it.

Your better bet: Wait 30 to 60 minutes after consuming acidic foods and beverages before brushing. Or rinse your mouth out with plain water or with one part baking soda, eight parts water.

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3 of 11 Person brushing teeth (© Andreas Stamm/Getty Images)

You graze all day long

Small frequent meals, we're told, are the secret to staying svelte, right? Not so fast -- and especially if you're eating late at night. Eating late into the night may prevent weight loss and cause weight gain, according to an animal study from researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. "Our bodies metabolize calories much better if we eat during the daytime, within a 10- to 12-hour range," says Satchidananda Panda, PhD, associate professor in the regulatory biology laboratory at Salk. "Many of us eat in a 14- to 16-hour window and often eat dinner late at night."

Your better bet: Eat within a 10- to 12-hour time frame. That means that if breakfast is at 7 a.m., you should be done eating dinner by 7 p.m. (We won't tell if you have a small after-dinner treat, but make it something healthy, like these 5 low-calorie late-night snacks.

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4 of 11 Woman snacking (© Westend61/Getty Images)

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. One example: McDonald's Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken and Newman's Own Ranch Dressing has 540 calories and 35 grams of fat; a Big Mac has 540 calories and 29 grams.

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Your better bet: Don't scratch take-out salad off your menu; just use a few common sense 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.

5 of 11 Woman eating salad (© Hybrid Images/Getty Images)

You silence your phone and chill out on the couch before bed

A comfortable couch and a game of Words With Friends may be your favorite way to unwind before bed, but experts say this could make you sacrifice sleep. "Low intensity blue light from a television or computer screen -- including a laptop, iPad or smartphone -- can alter and delay your body's internal clock," says Gregory S. Carter, MD, associate professor in neurology and neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "That makes it harder to get out of bed in the morning."

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Your better bet: Turn off the TV and all electronic equipment -- including your phone -- an hour before bedtime, says Carter. Here's what to do during your waking hours for a better night's sleep.

6 of 11 Women watching tv (© Caroline Purser/Getty Images)

You get your chores out of the way, daily

You know clutter can interfere with your ability to relax, so when you get home from work, you make sure to tidy up, pay your bills, and clear out the stuff that accumulates at home before you unwind for the day. Problem is, end-of-day chores mean elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Chronically high cortisol levels create a greater risk of both mental and physical health issues, and can deplete your immune system, to boot.

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Your better bet: Give yourself permission to relax at the end of the day, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist. If you're miffed because your husband has his feet up while you're powering through an endless list of chores, take a cue from him and join him -- instead of getting mad.

7 of 11 Woman paying bills (© Richard Elliott/Getty Images)

You catch up on sleep during the weekend

If you look forward to sleeping in on weekends, you may pay the price on Monday. "It's a myth that if we miss sleep over the course of the workweek we need to catch up on an hour-for-hour basis on the weekend," says Dr. Carter. "In truth, you can make up that 'sleep debt' by sleeping for eight hours a couple of nights in a row."

Your better bet: Catch up on sleep by going to bed earlier, rather than sleeping later the next morning.

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You wash your pillowcases weekly

If you do this, you're probably already ahead of the pack when it comes to sleep hygiene. But before you pat yourself on the back, tell us this: When was the last time you actually bought new pillows, or washed the ones you have. If you can't remember, that's a problem, says Stanley Fineman, MD, President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The bedroom is where you'll find the greatest number of dust mites, according to the ACAAI. Dust mite allergies affect up to 10 percent of the general population and 90 percent of people with allergic asthma, according to the ACAAI.

Your better bet: Wash your pillows -- not just the cases -- in very hot water every three to four weeks to kill the dust mites, says Dr. Fineman.

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You work out every day

When your exercise routine is so intense that you're tired all the time but can't sleep at night, you're setting yourself up for overuse injuries -- not to mention dark circles and bags under your eyes from those sleepless nights. These symptoms could be a sign of overexhaustion, says Ryan Halvorson, personal trainer, IDEA Health and Fitness Association expert, and author. Other clues that you're working out too much include extreme muscle soreness that persists for several days, unintended weight loss, an increased resting heart rate, interruptions in your menstrual cycle, or decreased appetite.

Your better bet: "Plan your rest as well as you plan exercise," says Polly de Mille, RN, a registered clinical exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. "If there is no balance between breakdown and recovery, then the muscle is in a state of chronic inflammation and what may start as a simple case of soreness after a hard workout can turn into an actual overuse injury."

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