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
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.