With the pandemic lurching to a long and winding close, you may be ready to leave lockdowns and wanting to take back control of your health. Good idea. Popular things you’ve done over the last year may have put your body out of shape, and now is the time to reverse the damage. Read on for popular habits that are wrecking your body, according to experts—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID And Should Tell Your Doctor.
“With the pandemic, many people are now watching more TV on their phones, another small device, or a laptop computer. We can take these devices to bed, flop out on a couch, or watch them while en route to work or school,” says Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center. “As a result it is affecting our spine health as I am seeing a growing number of patients with back spasms and neck pain.”
The Rx: “If you want to avoid the pain and strain on your spine and plan to sit for a long duration of time, make sure you take breaks. It really is that simple,” says Dr. Anand. “Stretching every day is an excellent way to prevent back pain and spasms.”
“Your mom wasn’t totally wrong; hunching can certainly be bad for your back. But the opposite is true too. Sitting up straight for too long without a break can also cause strain,” says Dr. Anand. “If you work in an office setting, make sure your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90 degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor, and you have proper lower back support.”
“Whether it’s concrete or paved asphalt, running on hard ground is incredibly hard on your joints and spine. Many distance runners say they feel a difference between the impact of running on cement sidewalks versus running on concrete roads,” says Dr. Anand. “But whichever you choose, you’re still running on a very hard surface. In fact, some studies have shown that people who run solely on pavement may have a higher incidence of back pain from running long-term.”
The Rx: “Vary your workout. Try to find a dirt trail to run on. Step off the path at the park and run in the grass. Running on softer surfaces like this will help in not jarring your spine with every footfall as much as running strictly on pavement can,” says Dr. Anand. “You’ll also benefit from getting stronger legs, as the softer ground gives more and requires more energy, strength and effort to push forward on.”
“We all have battled some sort of backache, headache, or knee pain in our lives and most of us simply pop a few over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to ease the discomfort we are feeling. Doing that seems harmless enough, right?” says Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist, pain management specialist, and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine. “I am seeing an alarming trend amongst people who think that buying and taking a variety of OTC pain relievers is a safe and effective way to alleviate their pain – faster. For many, the thought is that if one pill helps a little, two must surely help a little more and maybe three will help even more than that. This thought process, though well-intentioned, can quickly turn into a dangerous prescription.”
“Proper hydration means taking in about 30-50 ounces of water a day, but doing it periodically throughout the day. The signs and symptoms of overhydration are the result of our electrolytes being diluted,” says Natasha Trentacosta, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. “Hyponatremia may present with lethargy or altered mental status as the brain is sensitive to sodium levels in the blood. Nausea and vomiting, and loss of coordination may occur as well. If it continues and is not corrected, seizures or coma can develop.”
“Whether it’s colonoscopies, mammograms, pap and HPV tests, or skin cancer screenings, we often postpone tests that can save our lives,” says Paul Greene, Ph.D., the Director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. “Doing these screenings as recommended by your primary care physician is one of the smartest choices you can make to preserve your body and live a long life.”
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“One of the most common (but still dangerous) exercises I see performed in the gym is the dumbbell chest flyes. The dangerous aspect of dumbbell chest flyes that happens to many people is adding too much weight during the exercise,” says Joshua Lafond, founder and editor at HealthyGymHabits. “This can easily cause someone to overextend their shoulder joints and impede them from keeping their elbows at a safe, fixed angle. Improper exercise form can be detrimental to a person’s shoulder joint, which is one of the most sensitive in the body and can take months to heal if injured.”
The Rx: “Static stretching a cold muscle before exercise can result in reduced performance and increase the risk of injury. Incorporate dynamic stretches such as lunges and torso twists which involve movement,” says Chris Airey, MD. “This will improve circulation and increase your range of motion.”
“While sunscreen may seem unnecessary, especially in the winter months, it’s important to wear it on exposed skin all year round. It may seem excessive, but if you really want to protect your skin, sunscreen is the way to go,” says Kathryn McDavid, CEO of Editor’s Pic. “Leaving your skin exposed to the sun will lead to long-term DNA damage, which puts you at higher risk for skin cancer overtime. While the damaging rays that cause this damage are less present in the winter, they’re still there, so it’s essential to stay protected regardless of the season.”
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“Although they are meant to supplement whatever nutrient we are lacking, it’s not meant to substitute the natural sources of proper nutrition from our food intake,” says Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy. “In fact, taking too many vitamins and supplements can be more harmful than beneficial. These aren’t regulated by the FDA so there’s a risk of going overboard.”
“To clarify, sodas, coffee, and juices do not count towards your water intake. You should still be drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water a day,” says Dr. Tripathy. “Not doing so will make you dehydrated, which can cause peechanges, dry skin and mouth, headaches, and low blood pressure. It can also be fatal in extreme cases.”
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“One of the worst things you can do for your body is to not go outside which results in you not getting the recommended amount of vitamin D,” says Chris Riley, CEO of USA Rx. “A lack of vitamin D can lead to chronic pain, fatigue, sweating and depression but fortunately, you can get the recommended amount of it by simply going outside in the sun or taking over the counter multivitamins.”
“It is a common habit for people to assume a slouched posture when sitting, especially when they sit for prolonged periods. This unfortunately places the spine into a disadvantageous position and can result in back and neck problems,” says Dr. Jordan Duncan. “Sitting slouched often results in a forward head posture, increased disc pressure, and excessive tension on spinal ligaments. Each of these increases the likelihood of pain.”
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“A bad habit which might surprise people is the strong link between poor oral hygiene and severe heart disease. The simplest explanation is that lack of brushing and flossing, the development of gum disease or gingivitis, and putting off those routine dental cleanings can lead to systemic bacterial infections that can attack your heart valves,” says Eric Weiss, MD. “This doesn’t even include diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors associated with having too much of a sweet tooth. I encourage all my patients to see a dentist regularly and take care of their teeth.” And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.