EACH DAY, YOU eat from a smorgasbord of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and whole grains. You pound water and exercise regularly. Even with all these good habits, you could still be setting yourself back health-wise if you’re constantly reverting to bad ones as well.
Here, seven bad-for-you behaviors that are setting you up to be more susceptible to illness—and making it harder to get over it.
You Have Sporadic Sleep Patterns
Sleep deprivation is a b#$%^. (Seriously, go read all the ways it can ruin your life.) It’s even worse if you’re out on a weekend bender with your college buddies—or procrastinating and working all-night long on a next-day project—because an absolute lack of shuteye can seriously weaken your immune system. A study, published in Sleep, found the white blood cell counts in young, healthy men who were sleep deprived rose at night and mimicked a response usually seen with stress (note: white blood cell counts rise when you’re sick.) Even slight sleep deprivation hurts your ability to stay healthy. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you don’t get good quality sleep or enough zzz’s, you’re more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.
You Let Stress Take Over
Long-term stress dampens your ability to moderate inflammation because immune cells become insensitive to cortisol, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University. In short, when you’re super frazzled, your defenses are down, so you’re more susceptible to getting sick and getting better. Be especially mindful of this as we settle into the thick of cold and flu season.
You Bite Your Nails
You know nail biting is a nasty little habit; but how bad can it be? Pretty (disgustingly) bad. Turkish researchers tested 59 people for changes in the kind and amount of oral bacteria in their mouths if they munched on their finger nails. Bad news: 76 percent of nail biters tested positive for diarrhea- and vomit-causing bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, compared to just 26.5 percent of non-biters.
You Don’t Wash Your Hands Enough
Your skin has a load of bacteria living on it (the kind that causes strep, food poisoning, and diarrhea; and the longer you go without washing your hands, the more and diverse that colony becomes, according to Harvard Health Publications.) And, look, you’re an adult; we’re not here to lecture you. But 30 seconds of washing with soap and water reduces your hands’ bacterial count by 58 percent, and alcohol-based hand rubs reduce up to 83 percent of bacteria. This will lower the odds your contaminated hands pass germs to your eyes, nose, or mouth—or other people.
You’re Still Smoking
Still, haven’t nixed the cigs? Consider this: Smoking makes you more likely to get sick with the flu, cold, and pneumonia because it damages your upper and lowers respiratory tracts. What’s more, a Yale University study discovered the immune systems of mice exposed to cigarette smoke (two cigarettes a day for two weeks) went into overdrive when they were also exposed to a viral infection mirroring the flu virus, which sounds like a good thing. Wrong. This exaggerated response (i.e. inflammation) caused increased levels of tissue damage in the mice’s lungs.
You Eat Lunch at Your Desk
Your office is a hot bed of bacteria. If you’re like most adults who pound coffee and can’t get away from the computer, even at lunch, you’re at a higher risk for getting sick, according to a University of Arizona study. (The coffee pot and keyboard are the germiest office spots so beware.) Help yourself de-stress and reduce how much bacteria you’re exposing yourself to and eat your lunch outside—or literally anywhere else in your office. The researchers also found a virus can spread to about half an office’s employees (by way of people’s hands and surfaces) in just four hours when a door is contaminated with a virus.
You Never Get Your Flu Shot
The best way to ward off the flu—aside from becoming a hermit and living in a bubble—is getting the flu vaccine. The flu shot keeps you protected for about six to eight months, so aim to get it in October. That’s well in advance of peak flu season, which typically strikes in January or February.