10 Health Mistakes Even Smart People Make

Don’t text and…walk? That’s right. Ten small behavior tweaks 
to keep you healthy and intact (and out of the ER).


You Know Not to Wear Heels Every Day

Photo by Levi Brown

But do you live in flip-flops all summer?
By varying heel heights (or avoiding stilettos altogether), you’re sparing yourself foot pain—something that 70 percent of high-heel wearers suffer from. But flimsy flip-flops aren’t the best alternative. “Traditional thong flip-flops weren’t designed for all-day wear,” says Grace Torres-Hodges, D.P.M., a podiatric surgeon in Pensa­cola, Florida, and a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. “They don’t provide 
 foot muscles with proper support, so your toes have to work extra hard to hold on to the shoe.” That gripping, says Torres-Hodges, may lead to painful inflammation of the toe joints, aggravated calluses, and chronic pain along the balls of the feet. And strain from unsecured heels can bring on plantar fasciitis and heel pain or even a twisted ankle. Save flip-flops for the pool, the beach, or your home. For longer-distance walks and errand running, Torres-Hodges recommends upgrading to a sandal with a back strap and a contoured foot bed.


You Know Not to Leave the House Without SPF on 
Your Face

But do you wear it on your hands?
Applying a broad-
spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 on your face is important. But it’s just as important to use one on any skin not covered by clothing, says the American Academy of Dermatology. In a study published in 2015 in the academy’s journal, just 30 percent of women reported applying sunscreen to all exposed skin (versus 43 percent who said they used sunscreen only on their faces). Researchers speculate that people are more diligent about protecting the face to prevent signs of aging. But regular UV exposure when you’re outdoors, driving, or under the gel-manicure UV lamps at the nail salon can contribute to early signs of aging, such as dark brown spots, wrinkles, and thinning skin on your hands as well (plus an increased skin cancer risk), says Julia Curtis, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, in Salt Lake City. Her advice: Protect all exposed skin, including the ears, neck, upper chest, back, and hands.


You Know Not to Mix Wine and Prescriptions

But do you have a glass while on OTC cold medicine?
Mixing any alcohol with prescription drugs such as pain medications, sleeping pills, and antidepressants can cause symptoms that range from mild—nausea, dizziness, headaches—to severe, including internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulty breathing. But you can face identical problems with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, says George F. Koob, Ph.D., the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Some cough and cold medicines intensify the effects of alcohol, which could lead to fatal breathing trouble. Cough medicines can also contain high levels of alcohol. Ask your doctor how a particular drug might interact with alcohol, and when in doubt, skip the drink.


You Know Not to Drive Without 
a Seat Belt

But do you always use your 
turn signal?
Eighty-five percent of Americans wear seat belts, which saves lives, says Tom Dingus, Ph.D., the director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). But over a quarter of drivers don’t use their blinkers when turning, and nearly half don’t signal to change lanes, says 2012 research published by SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers). “When you don’t signal, it takes time for the other drivers to process your sudden change, and that leads to crashes,” says Dingus.


You Know Not to Eat Food Past Its Use-by Date

But do you keep leftovers longer than three days?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government food-safety agencies suggest finishing foods by their use-by date and relying on the home food-storage guides at foodsafety.gov for foods that have a less dire best-by date. But leftover cooked foods have a life span, too, and you can’t rely on a sniff test or look for mold, since bacteria that cause food poisoning may be multiplying without any obvious signs. “Leftover meat, egg dishes, casseroles, and other low-acid cooked foods are safe to eat on average for three to four days, then you should freeze them or throw them out,” says Sarah Krieger, a licensed dietitian nutritionist in St. Petersburg, Flor­ida. “Generally foods with acid, such as homemade chili or marinara sauce, are safe for up to five days, since the acids act like a preservative and delay bacterial growth.”


You Know Not to Skip Flossing and Brushing

But do you use your teeth to remove clothing tags or open food packages?
If you brush twice a day, floss once a day, and see your dentist on a regular basis, your teeth should stay in great shape for a long time, says dentist Kimberly Harms, a national spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Unless, that is, you use them as a handy all-purpose tool. Yanking off hard plastic tags or ripping open wrappers 
 with your pearly whites can cause chips and cracks and eventually wear down the hard enamel that protects teeth, says Harms, who adds that crunching on ice is as bad as using your teeth as scissors. “Once the enamel starts to wear,” she says, “you may face tooth sensi­tivity and higher rates of tooth decay.”


You Know Not to Get Cozy With the Comforter on 
a Hotel Bed

But do you hop right into the hot tub?
A decade ago, well-
publicized research by Philip M. Tierno Jr., a professor of micro­biology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, found 
numerous germs on hotel bedding, including staph aureus and E. coli. But while the chemically treated hotel hot tub may seem safer, it often isn’t. Human error and equipment failure can cause an imbalance in germ-killing chemicals, potentially leading to outbreaks of Legionella and pseudomonas, says Michele Hlavsa, the chief of the Healthy Swimming Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Use your senses: A properly-cared-for spa should have no smell, and the tiles on the side of the tub shouldn’t feel slick.


You Know Not to Wear Shoes in the House

But do you set your handbag down on the kitchen counter?
Shoes are dirty. In a 2008 study, researchers at the University of Arizona found nine different varieties of bacteria on shoe bottoms, and “90 percent of that bacteria transfers to floor surfaces in the home,” says study coauthor Kelly A. Reynolds, Ph.D., a microbiol­ogist at the university’s College of Public Health. Your purse may be just as germy, based on research Reynolds coauthored that year. “The bottoms of most handbags had tens of thousands of bacteria,” including staph, pseudomonas, salmonella, E. coli, and MRSA, says Reynolds. “Thirty percent had 
fecal bacteria.” Her advice: Regularly machine-wash handbags, if possible, or wipe the bottoms with disinfecting cloths.


You Know Not to Smoke

But do you stay put when someone lights up near you?
About 41,000 deaths a year are caused by secondhand smoke, reports the American Lung Association (ALA). Secondhand smoke from cigar­ettes, cigars, and pipes contains hundreds of toxic chemicals—about 70 of which can cause cancer—and breathing it raises your risk of heart attack. (It has an immediate negative effect on your heart and blood vessels.) It also raises the risk of lung cancer and stroke. Only 25 states, plus Washington, D.C., have laws requiring restaurants and bars to be smoke-free, according to the American Cancer Society. If you live outside those areas, “moving seats in a restaurant won’t protect you, since smoke migrates and stays in the air even after the smoker is gone,” says Bill Blatt, the national director of Tobacco Programs at the ALA. “To eliminate the health risk, leave—and tell the staff why.”


You Know Not to Text and Drive

But do you text and walk?
Texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash by six to seven times, according to research spanning 2012 to 2015 by VTTI. Although heightened awareness about the hazards of texting and driving has reined in that habit somewhat, says Dingus, a coauthor of Survive the Drive!, staring at your phone on the street or in a parking lot isn’t much better. “Distracted walking is a worrisome trend among pedestrians,” says Alan Hilibrand, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy
 of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “People are putting themselves and others at risk by walking into traffic and tripping over curbs or potholes.” In 2015, about 1,300 emergency-room visits were connected to walking while texting, reveals data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “That number is probably much higher, since many people don’t admit to distracted-walking injuries,” says Hilibrand. Avoid scrapes, bruises, broken bones, or a life-threatening accident by stepping out of the flow of cars, bicycles, and people before checking your phone.