July 23, 2013 at 11:36 AM ET
Too busy to stay healthy?
It's no secret that leading a healthy lifestyle often feels like it takes more time than most of us have. So found a survey by the American Public Health Association in which 34% of adults said they were too busy to fit in things they knew were good for them, like eating right and exercising regularly. (Should you tackle both eating healthy and working out at the same time? Not necessarily. Do this healthy habit first for the best results, a new study finds.)
So raise your hand if, as you hurry through the day, you cut a few corners: "I'm too tired to take out my contacts, so I'll leave them in over-night," you say, or, "I won't bother with my seat belt -- I'm not going far." What you may not realize is that these moves could actually cost you time, money, and sometimes serious health issues in the long run.
Here, the scoop on 14 time-savers that really aren't, plus safer alternatives that fit easily into a tight schedule.
1. Forgetting nightly floss
It's been a really long day, so you decide to skip the dental string -- but brushing alone leaves as much as 40% of tooth surfaces untouched.
Flossing between teeth allows you to get into the nooks and crannies that a toothbrush can't reach, and doing it daily -- preferably at night, when plaque-causing bacteria really build up -- is your frontline defense against gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath.
If the benefits of good oral health don't convince you to pick up the floss, perhaps an increased risk of heart disease will: Research at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health revealed a connection between severe gum disease and an increased risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries become blocked.
Next time: Swear to yourself that you'll floss the following evening. Nightly flossing is ideal, but it's acceptable to do it every other day, as long as it's thorough and you don't have a family history of gum disease, says Gordon L. Douglass, DDS, a past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. On days when you're not going to floss, swish water around in your mouth after brushing; Douglass says this has been shown to reduce bacteria. (You don't have to go to the dentist's office for pearly whites: Learn How To Whiten Your Teeth In 5 Minutes!)
2. Sleeping in contacts
Simply wearing contact lenses impedes the flow of oxygen that corneas need to stay healthy.
"When you close your eyes for hours while sleeping, it's even worse," says Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University. A study of 557 contact lens wearers in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the odds of developing a bacterial infection with daily wear (including taking the lenses out at bedtime) were 1 in 2,500.
Next time: Switch to the newer silicone hydrogel lenses, which allow more oxygen to reach the eyes. According to a study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, sleeping in these lenses reduced the risk of infection fivefold over traditional soft contact lenses. "The safest option is to take out your lenses at night, but if you think you'll be a habitual offender, you'd be better off with this new technology," says Steinemann. For more ways to find relief, check out these 9 Solutions For Dry Eyes.
3. Not removing makeup
Wearing foundation to bed can clog your pores, which can lead to blackheads and breakouts.
But a more serious consequence is that mascara fragments will dislodge in your eyes while you're sleeping and cause painful corneal abrasions.
Next time: Keep pre-moistened makeup removal pads on hand, such as Olay Daily Facials Lathering Cleansing Cloths or Noxzema Wet Cleansing Cloths. A few swipes, and -- voila! -- you're done. Just avoid these makeup mishaps that make you look 10 years older than you are.
4. Choosing juice over fruit
You can't seem to fit fruit into your diet, so you down yours in a glass of juice.
"Most juice on the market -- even if it's labeled 100% juice -- is still like soda pop," says Elizabeth Somer, RD. It's often loaded with sugar (look for high fructose corn syrup or white grape, pear, or apple juice concentrate on the label) and lacking in the fill-you-up fiber of fruit.
Next time: If it's juice or nothing, at least choose the one that packs the best nutritional punch. "One hundred percent orange juice that's fortified with calcium and vitamin D is my juice of choice," says Somer. A good option if you also aren't eating enough veggies is Low-Sodium V8 100% Vegetable Juice, which delivers 2 servings of vegetables in 8 ounces. Better yet: Blend up one of these 25 Delectable Detox Smoothies.
5. Skipping birth control
What the heck, you're married, you already have kids -- what are the odds?
"It is true that fertility declines after age 40. But for women who have had normal fertility in the past, it's certainly possible to become pregnant between 40 and 50," says Philip D. Darney, MD, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. It's also worth noting that pregnancy for an older woman brings with it higher odds of complications for mother and baby.
On the flip side, some contraceptives even confer health benefits. "For nonsmoking, healthy women, low-dose oral contraceptives provide adequate hormones to keep bones strong; prevent a host of conditions, including pelvic infections and arthritis; control irregular bleeding; and clear up acne -- all in addition to preventing pregnancy," explains Darney.
Next time: Ask your doctor about a long-term birth control option, like Depo-Provera, a progestin-only injection you get 4 times a year or an implant like Implanon, a match-stick sized rod that's placed in your arm; it delivers progestin for up to 3 years. You may want to consider an intra-uterine device (IUD), which can be used for up to 10 years. "Failures almost never occur with these," says Darney. "They're very safe and more effective than sterilization."
And if you're considering the withdrawal method, did you know that it can be a good option for some couples? That is, as long as you follow these guidelines for making withdrawal work for you.
6. Strolling in stilettos
You forgot your athletic shoes at home, but you head out for your lunchtime walk anyway in a pair of 3-inchers.
If your "walk" is a short stroll as you browse the shops, you're probably okay. But if you're planning a 20-block hike, you could be in trouble. "The sole of a high-heeled shoe is not constructed correctly for long-distance walking, and the higher the heel, the worse it will be," warns Stephen M. Pribut, DPM, past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM).
Summer sandals and mules can be even more detrimental. "When your shoe's heel isn't closed in, the heel of your foot separates from the sole of the shoe as you walk, putting a lot more stress on your forefoot," explains Pribut. The worst-case scenarios: a sprained ankle or stress fracture -- either of which could really curtail your lunchtime forays.
Next time: Throw a pair of sneakers under your desk or in your car, so you're never without them, and lace them up if you're going for more than a few minutes' stroll. Look for a shoe that bends where the toes bend, not in the middle, advises Pribut: "A flexion point that's in the middle of the shoe will put stress on that part of the foot and cause abnormal motion."
7. Applying sunscreen once a day
On beach days, you slather on the highest-number-SPF sunscreen in the morning to avoid reapplying later.
Even if you coat your entire body with the recommended amount of sunscreen (a full ounce, or more, if you're going to be in a swimsuit), you'll want to reapply at least every 2 1/2 hours -- studies show that you're five times more likely to burn if you don't. Besides causing wrinkles, brown spots and coarse skin, overexposure to the sun is responsible for the development of potentially deadly skin cancers, which, according to the American Cancer Society, are the most common of all cancers.
"But if you're involved in any type of activity that might cause sunscreen to be washed, wiped, or sweated off, you'll need to reapply more often -- and that's true even if you're using a long-lasting waterproof sunscreen," says Andrew Kaufman, MD, a dermatologic surgeon in Thousand Oaks, CA, who specializes in skin cancer.
Next time: Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or avobenzone, which are the most protective ingredients, and one you won't mind applying several times a day. Because studies show that most people apply only enough sunscreen to get half the SPF listed on the bottle, Kaufman recommends opting for a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, at least during the months of April through September.
8. Biting off broken nails
Your nail splits, but you don't have clippers or an emery board on hand, so you chew off the ragged edge.
This is a bad idea for several reasons, the least of which is that your nails will look lousy. "When you bite your nails you risk transferring infectious organisms between your mouth and your fingers," says Emmanuel Robert Loucas, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. "This could result in a bacterial or yeast infection of the nail bed."
Next time: Stash nail clippers and emery boards in places where you spend a lot of time-at your desk, in the car, in your purse, in a kitchen drawer. Neither item is expensive, so it's easy to keep multiple sets around.
9. Wearing old sneakers
It's been -- uh, 2 years, is it? -- since you replaced your exercise shoes.
The first thing that goes with old, comfy shoes is shock absorption, which helps protect your feet and joints as you exercise, says Pribut, chairman of the AAPSM's shoe evaluation committee. This can put extra pressure on bones, leading to soreness and possibly a stress fracture.
To prevent injury, stick to this shoe-replacement schedule: Buy new running shoes every 350 to 500 miles (don't forget to add the mileage you put on shoes if you wear them to do things such as walking the dog); purchase new walking shoes every 6 to 9 months if you walk up to 4 miles a day; replace aerobic shoes every 6 to 9 months if you do 3 hours of aerobics each week.
Next time: Spring for a new pair way before your sneakers start to look worn-in. When you find a shoe you love, buy two or more pairs.
10. Depending on the drive-thru
You're starving. You turn into the fast-food joint just ahead, even though you know there's a deli about 10 minutes away.
Have you ever noticed how soon you feel hungry again after eating a typical fast-food meal? That's because there's so little fiber in it to keep you satisfied. Of the salt, sugar, and saturated and trans fats that fast food is loaded with, Somer says, "You're basically putting greasy sawdust in your gas tank."
And don't get us started on the calories in most drive-thru meals: A Burger King double hamburger packs 420 calories, while six McDonald's Chicken McNuggets weigh in at 280 calories -- but that's for a little more than 3 ounces, which isn't likely to fill you up for long. Meals like these put you on a fast track to being overweight, and all the health problems that tag along with it.
Next time: Anticipate -- and avoid -- these "must eat now" situations. "We're so busy that if we wait to listen to our bodies, it's often too late," says Cindy Moore, RD, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Thinking about lunch even a half hour earlier would allow you to make sounder, less emotional choices." To tide you over between meals, keep healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts in your purse, desk, and glove compartment. When fast-food fare is your only option, order a grilled chicken sandwich, no mayo.
11. Playing phone tag with pals
You've gotten too busy to stay in regular touch with even your close friends.
"When someone is stressed-out, one of the first things to go is socializing," says Patricia A. Fennell, the CEO of Albany Health Management Associates in Latham, NY, and author of The Chronic Illness Workbook. But research shows that having close, supportive relationships has a tremendously positive impact on your health.
A large study at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that women who were at high risk significantly reduced their odds of developing heart disease if they had a strong support network in place. There was a significant link to a history of heart disease for those who ranked high on hostility and low on social support, even when other unhealthy behaviors were taken into account. An ongoing Harvard study showed much the same thing in men who don't have good relationships.
Next time: If a full-blown conversation is too much to manage, text mini updates or "I'm thinking about you" messages to your girlfriends. "Check-ins hardly take any time, but they leave you feeling grounded and connected," says Fennell.
12. Not warming up or cooling down
You only have a half-hour at the gym, so you skip your warm-up and cool-down.
"Drop the warm-up if you must, but don't deep-six the cool-down. It not only prevents the dizziness that can result when blood pools in the large muscles of the legs after vigorous activity is suddenly stopped, but it also helps remove the lactic acid that can build up in muscles, says Wayne Westcott, PhD, a Prevention advisor and the senior fitness research director for the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. "Recirculating the lactic acid and pooled blood will leave you feeling less fatigued after your workout," he says.
Next time: To warm up, perform whichever exercise you were planning to do for your workout at a slower pace for about 3 minutes. For the cool-down, gradually slow the intensity of your chosen exercise over several minutes. Follow that with 2 minutes of stretching. "The best time to stretch is when muscles are still warm," says Westcott. "It's relaxing and it gets the blood flowing back to the heart."
13. Not wearing a seat belt
As you head out for a quick trip to the supermarket, you think, I'll just be a few minutes; I don't need my seat belt.
Wearing a safety belt is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself in the event of an accident," says Russ Rader, director of media relations for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in Arlington, VA. During the summer months, there's more reason to buckle up: An IIHS report found that more people are killed in car accidents on July 3 and 4 than on any other days of the year (July 2 ranked ninth on the list), and more road-related deaths occur in summer and fall.
Next time: You know this one: Just do it. Buckling up takes a second or two, after all, and it prevents you from being tossed around inside the car or thrown from it if you're in a crash. If you're counting on air bags to save you, don't. By themselves, air bags reduce your odds of dying in a crash by just 12%. "Air bags are designed to work with safety belts, not by themselves," says Rader.
14. Living on energy bars
A big project means lunch is cut short for a few weeks. You rely on energy bars and protein shakes to get you through.
"You'll get more calories than you need, but not nearly enough of the fiber that will help sustain you for the long haul," says Moore. High-carb bars and shakes can also cause blood sugar to spike and then drop after an hour or two, leaving you feeling hungry, jittery, and irritable. "That's often when people start looking for chips or other fatty, salty, or sugary snacks," adds Somer.
Next time: Plan ahead: Round up delivery menus from all the restaurants and delis that serve healthy food; then circle your faves so you're ready to order come lunchtime. To save money and time, stock up on healthy foods on the weekends. "Pack some fruit and yogurt or fat-free milk, and a whole grain bagel or crackers with peanut butter," suggests Moore, who notes that a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat will keep you going longer. When the convenience of an energy bar is too tempting to pass up, choose one with 8 to 10 g of protein.