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Video: Worst places for your health revealed

  1. Transcript of: Worst places for your health revealed

    ANN CURRY, anchor: This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , the worst places for your health. From stashing your shoes to picking a seat on an airplane, how you organize your environment can have unexpected impacts on your personal well-being. Well, Courtenay Smith , who's the executive editor of Prevention magazine, is here with alternatives to some of the most unhealthy spaces. Courtenay , good morning.

    Ms. COURTENAY SMITH: Good morning.

    CURRY: I feel like we should have a warning sign for this segment because for anybody who is germ-phobic, this is going to skeeve them out, right?

    Ms. SMITH: It might gross you out a little bit, but there are little fixes that are easy.

    CURRY: OK. For example, you say the bathroom is actually not the best place for your toothpaste, and your toothbrush more specifically. And why is that, Courtenay ?

    Ms. SMITH: It's specifically your bathroom sink and it's because the bathroom sink is so close to the toilet and your toilet bowl has 3.2 million microbes per square inch and when you flush they propel up to six feet, which means they're getting all over your bathroom sink, and yes, all over your toothbrush.

    CURRY: Oh, goodness.

    Ms. SMITH: So what you can do is actually keep your toothbrush behind closed doors, put it in the medicine cabinet or cupboard in your bathroom . Takes just an extra second.

    CURRY: Oh. People will be surprised -- I think we want to quickly move off of that one and into the next one -- and people will be surprised that you would say that your closet is not the best place for your shoes.

    Ms. SMITH: It is not, and that's because when you walk from your front door to the closet in your bedroom you are tracking allergens, pollen, contaminants and lawn chemicals through your home, and studies show they can linger for up to a week.

    CURRY: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. SMITH: So if you want a less toxic option, just take your shoes off right away as soon as you get in and store them under a bench in the entryway. Or at the very least, if you keep them in the bedroom closet, carry them there, don't wear them there.

    CURRY: You just mentioned the toothbrush is good to put into the medicine cabinet, but you actually don't think we should keep our medicines in the medicine cabinet. Why not?

    Ms. SMITH: Isn't that the biggest irony? It's not -- the medicine cabinet is not the best place for your medicine and that is because your bathroom when you take a shower will heat to up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit , but many medications should not be stored above 77 degrees Fahrenheit ; they will lose potency over time .

    CURRY: Hm. If you get airsick, if you are inclined in that way, you say there are some places on the plane that are better to sit than others. OK, lay it out for us.

    Ms. SMITH: OK. If you get motion sickness, avoid the rear of the plane and that's because the plane acts like a seesaw, it's most stable over the wings. Because the tail is longer than the front, you'll get the most up and down action in the back. So you want to sit over the wings where it's more stable if you're prone to air sickness.

    CURRY: If you actually like a joyride, then you can sit in the back, so there you go. OK. Now what about leftovers? Things -- we know -- you know, when we've eaten some food and we want to put some and want to save it for tomorrow, we normally just wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator.

    Ms. SMITH: But that is a mistake if the food is hot and if it's a large portion because it will take a long time for the center of the food to cool down and that leaves it warm for bacteria to grow and increases your risk of food poisoning . So the bottom line is you can leave it -- you can safely let leftovers cool on your counter for up to one hour after cooking, or you can take large portions, dole them out into smaller containers, put the smaller containers in the refrigerator, they will cool down faster.

    CURRY: OK. Now we're going to sort of increase probably the gross factor here because we're going to talk about where we put our purses. OK, we can -- the mind reels. What will you say is the worst place where we can put our purses?

    Ms. SMITH: Do not put it on the kitchen counter where you prepare food. And that is because, think about it, we put our purses on the floor of the public restroom, under a restaurant table, and swabs have found they have 10,000 bacteria per square inch and one-third of purses test positive for fecal matter.

    CURRY: Oh!

    Ms. SMITH: It's disgusting, so...

    CURRY: OK.

    Ms. SMITH: ...just put it anywhere where you don't prepare any food.

    CURRY: This is a little TMI . But bottom line is that we shouldn't probably put our purses on, obviously, the bathroom floors and in other -- we have to sort of be very careful where we put them, then.

    Ms. SMITH: Yes.

    CURRY: Yes.

    Ms. SMITH: Although sometimes, you know, you don't have any other options.

    CURRY: Hm.

    Ms. SMITH: So at home you can put them in a drawer, on the floor of your closets, in a chair, just keep it away from where food is.

    CURRY: The worst place to use a public bathroom .

    Ms. SMITH: Well, the middle stall is the one that has the most bacteria and germs. The end stalls, the one furthest to the right and furthest to the left, those have the least bacteria and germs. So just -- to protect yourself and to avoid the ick factor, use the ones on the end.

    CURRY: OK. And the worst place to put your headphones.

    Ms. SMITH: We listen to music during our commute, subways, trains and airplanes, it's the worst place because they're loud and we will turn up the volume to over 89 decibels. That's what risks our long-term hearing. So invest in noise-cancellation headphones if you listen in these environments, that will block out the background noise and lessen the likelihood you'll turn it up too high.

    CURRY: We're not even going to bring up our phones and our BlackBerrys because where we put them and how we use them. But I guess the -- you know, getting exposed to some of this bacteria, does it actually even have -- can it affect us really in terms of hurt us -- hurt us in terms of making us sick? I mean, could some of these bacterias be good?

    Ms. SMITH: Well, in general, the bacteria were...

    CURRY: Not the fecal bacteria, but I'm talking about some of the other ones that you've not named.

    Ms. SMITH: You know what, we have good bacteria like within our intestines and within our own systems; when we're out in the world we may be being exposed to new ones that our immune system doesn't know how to handle. So I don't want to say every time you're exposed to bacteria you'll get sick because that's not true, but there is the ick factor and then sometimes you can be picking up, like, cold and flu or, you know, bacteria like if you're putting your purse on the counter, you just don't want to go there sometimes, so stay safe.

updated 6/8/2010 10:12:48 AM ET 2010-06-08T14:12:48

Researchers in a wide variety of fields know that how you organize your environment — from where you stand in fitness class to the place you choose to store your meds — has a surprising effect on everything from your weight to your chances of staying well. In other words, when it comes to how you feel, it's not just what you do, it's where you do it. Here, surprisingly bad locales for your health — and the best places to optimize it.

1. To keep your toothbrush

The worst place: Bathroom sink

There's nothing wrong with the sink itself, but it's awfully close to the toilet! There are 3.2 million microbes per square inch in the average toilet bowl, and all of those germs are propelled as far at 6 feet every time you flush. Those germs then settle on the floor, the sink, and yes — your toothbrush.

Best place: Unless you like rinsing with toilet water, keep your toothbrush behind closed doors in the medicine cabinet or a nearby cupboard.

2. To stash sneakers and flip-flops

The worst place: Bedroom closet

Walking through your house in shoes you wear outside tracks in allergens and contaminants. One study found that lawn chemicals were tracked inside the house for a full week after application, with most chemicals concentrated around the entryway. Shoes also carry in pollen and other allergens.

Best place: Reduce exposure by leaving shoes like sneakers and flip-flops by the door in a basket or under an entryway bench. If your work shoes and pumps stay off the lawn, you can bring them to the bedroom — but it’s probably best to carry them there to be safe.

3. To fall asleep

The worst place: Under piles of blankets

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A natural nighttime drop in your core temperature triggers your body to get drowsy, so experts believe that being overheated can keep you from nodding off at night. To ease your way to sleep, help your body radiate heat from your hands and feet.

Best place: Don socks to dilate the blood vessels in the extremities — then take the socks off and let a foot stick out from under the blankets.

4. To cool leftovers

The worst place: In the refrigerator

This may shock a lot of viewers! Placing a big pot of hot leftovers directly into the fridge is a recipe for uneven cooling and possibly food poisoning. The reason is simple: It can take a long time for the temperature in the middle of a big container to drop, creating an environment ripe for bacteria.

Best place: You can safely leave food to cool on the counter for up to an hour after cooking, or try placing large servings into smaller containers and then refrigerating, which allows the food to cool faster.

5. To sit on an airplane

The worst place: The rear

If you're prone to airsickness, avoid the back of the plane. Think of the plane like a seesaw —the farther from the center you are, the more up-and-down movement you experience. Since the tail of the plane is usually longer than the front, that’s where you’ll often get the bumpiest ride.

Best place: The smoothest option is sitting as close to the wing as you can.

6. To set your handbag

The worst place: The kitchen counter

You may be carrying more than your daily essentials in your fancy handbag! In tests, swabs showed up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch on purse bottoms — and a third of the bags tested positive for fecal bacteria. Purses often get parked in some nasty spots, including the floor of the bus, beneath the restaurant table, and even on the floor of a public bathroom.

Best place: Put your bag in a drawer or on a chair — anywhere except where food is prepared or eaten.

7. To use a public bathroom

The worst place: The stall in the middle

The center stall has more bacteria than those on either end. Touch a germy toilet handle and then forget to wash your hands thoroughly and you can contract a host of diseases. 

Best place: Pick a stall all the way left or right to minimize your germ exposure.

8. To keep medicine

The worst place: The medicine cabinet

It's not uncommon for the temp in a steamy bathroom to reach 100°F — well above the recommended storage temperatures for many common drugs. The cutoff for the popular cholesterol drug Lipitor, for instance, is around 77°F.

Best place: Somewhere cool and dry, such as the pantry.

9. To use headphones

The worst place: On an airplane, train, or subway

Many of us listen to music when we travel to drown out noisy neighbors or surrounding chit-chat, but studies show that you’re probably cranking the volume too high if you’re listening to headphones in a noisy environment. Harvard researchers found that in reasonably quiet surroundings, volunteers tended to keep the volume at an ear-friendly level. But when the researchers added background noise — the loud rumble of an airplane cabin — 80 percent boosted the volume as high as 89 decibels, a level that risks long-term hearing damage.

Best place: Wherever you don’t have to blast your music to enjoy it. If you do, consider noise-canceling headphones — only 20 percent of listeners in the study who used a set got close to the danger zone.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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