20 Surprising Ways You're Damaging Your Body


Of course, we all know smoking, eating junk food, and heavy drinking are unhealthy habits. But there are other surprising and subtle things you do everyday that can harm your mental and physical health just as significantly. From using certain headphones to putting off a trip to the bathroom to your choice of footwear, here are some of the shocking things you do daily that are damaging your body. And for things you can do that that will help, not harm, you in the long run, check out 13 Shockingly Simple Ways to Slow the Aging Process, Backed by Science.

You're drinking a lot of coffee.

In moderation, coffee is the stuff that dreams are made of. In excess, however, this caffeinated beverage "will stain your teeth over time" and "can significantly raise the levels of oral acidity and lead to erosion of enamel," says orthodontist Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, co-founder of New York's Beam Street. The orthodontist suggests "rinsing your mouth with water after finishing your morning coffee to prevent some of these side effects." And for those who want to avoid the popular morning beverage entirely, check out 25 Ways to Boost Your Energy Level Without Coffee.

You're chewing on ice.
Shutterstock/Ed Pal

Ice might be refreshing in a drink, but chewing on it is one of the worst things you can chow down on when it comes to your dental health. According to Kunen, chomping on ice "can significantly chip teeth" and is "damaging to enamel," so make sure that you're only consuming water in its liquid form. And for more things to be aware of when it comes your chompers, check out 13 Warning Signs Your Teeth Are Trying to Send You.

You're not paying attention to the ingredients in your skincare products.

"Not all skincare is clean," explains Anthony Youn, MD, a Michigan-based holistic doctor and author of Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon. "Although there are hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals banned in the European Union from use in skincare, the U.S. has only about a dozen [banned chemicals]. Therefore, our skincare products can contain potentially harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and even hormone disruptors. Choose natural and organic if you can." And for more on taking care of your body's largest organ, check out 20 Skincare Essentials for Women Over 40.

Or you're not washing your face after sweating.

Though over-cleansing your skin can do damage, you should always make sure to wash your face after a serious sweat session. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), letting sweat sit on the skin can irritate it and even cause inflammation, so hit the sink post-workout.

You're not doing resistance training.

You're pretty much setting yourself up for failure by only doing cardio when you exercise. Though doing cardio is a great way to shape your muscles and keep your heart healthy, "our bodies need resistance training to keep our bones strong," says Youn. In other words, you might just be inadvertently letting your body age prematurely by not engaging in resistance training. And for the things doing damage to your body's most important muscle, check out The 20 Worst Habits That Are Destroying Your Heart.

You're looking down at your phone all day.

Spending all day on your phone can lead to a host of health issues, one of which is a painful phenomenon called "tech neck." According to David Clark Hay, MD, orthopedic hand and wrist surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, we humans tend to "crane our necks in unnatural positions to work and play with our phones for hours on end"—and when we do this, we are putting our cervical spines in harm's way.

Or you scroll through social media for hours at a time.

Tech neck isn't the only aptly-named health issue caused by smartphone addiction. There's also "text thumb," the name given to the "thumb pain related to constant texting and smartphone use," Hay explains. Using your cell phone too much, he notes, "can lead to pain from the tug of war between the tendons flexing and extending the thumb." And for more helpful health information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Or you're using your phone right before bed.

The one place your phone definitely doesn't belong is in the bedroom. According to Youn, the blue light that is emitted from your phone screen "can interfere with the circadian rhythm of your body, causing your sleep to be disturbed." Considering an inadequate amount of sleep can lead to everything from diabetes and heart disease to hypertension and cognitive impairment, you can easily avoid damaging your body by storing your cell phone somewhere other than the bedroom.

You're using wireless earbuds.
Unsplash/Dugba Cauley-Hushie

Though cordless headphones are undoubtedly convenient, they also pose their own unique health risks. "Given how AirPods and similar devices fit snugly into the ear, they can create aural hygiene problems, which increase the probability of infections in the ear canal and impacted [earwax]," explains Brian Taylor, AuD, an audiologist with hearing aid technology company Signia.

And the more frequently you use your headphones, the greater your risk of hearing loss… but not because of volume, as you might have thought. "Use of earbuds can increase the likelihood of cerumen [AKA earwax] impaction—and when left unattended, this can cause hearing loss," Taylor notes. "For heavy earbud users, proper hygiene of the ear canal is necessary to prevent earwax occlusion or impaction."

You're heating your leftover pizza in the microwave.

Make sure to heat up your leftover pizza in the oven instead of the microwave. Why? Well, "nuking leftover pizza in the microwave heats the crust to a temperature that changes the carbs in the dough to polymers called advanced glycation end products (AGE) that are hard for the body to eliminate," according to William W. Li, MD, a physician, scientist, and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

You're spending too much time at the gas station.

Unless you live in New Jersey, where it's illegal to pump your own gas, odds are that you fill your gas tank yourself on a semi-regular basis. Unfortunately, according to Li, this common practice can actually damage the body.

"If you are pumping gas and smelling the fumes, you are inhaling toxic chemicals that can damage the DNA in your lungs," he explains. "The solution: stand downwind [when you pump], or go electric."

You're putting off going to the bathroom.

Especially during the workweek when every second counts, it can prove difficult to find time to go to the bathroom. However, it can seriously damage your body to put off emptying your bladder. "Holding your urine for an extended period of time actually weakens the bladder muscles," says S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. "And the longer the urine stays in your bladder, the more your body is exposed to potentially harmful bacteria."

You're drinking bottled water.

Of course, the importance of staying properly hydrated cannot be undersold. But if your vessel of choice for H2O is plastic water bottles, you might be damaging your body without realizing it.

"If you are drinking bottled water, you are ingesting microplastics that come off the bottle and its plastic cap," says Li. "Some studies estimate the average person consumes up to 100,000 plastic particles a year from bottled water and other foods packed in plastic. Drink water that is bottled in glass or from a clean well."

Or you're drinking too much water.

For certain people, drinking too much water can lead to some serious health issues. Take athletes, for instance. As Natasha Trentacosta, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, explains, "if they drink an excessive amount of water and dilute the sodium in their bodies," these individuals can experience hyponatremia, which is low sodium levels in the blood.

Similarly, "persons who have kidney diseases and are unable to regulate the excretion of the water in their urine" can easily end up over-hydrated. In serious cases, over-hydration can lead to seizures and comas, so make sure to consult with your doctor if you're among these groups of people.

You're carrying around a ridiculously heavy bag.

From Band-Aids to backup phone chargers, some of us carry everything we could possibly need for 10 days in our purses. But that's not exactly doing our backs any favors.

"Lugging a too-heavy satchel can lead to a host of health risks including strained muscles, numbness, tingling in the arm from nerve trauma, and unnecessary pressure on the spine or lower back pain," explains Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles. To avoid damaging your body, only carry with you the things you need and leave everything else at home.

Or you're storing too many items in your back pocket.
Shutterstock/Simon J Beer

If you're stuffing your belongings into your pockets and sitting on them instead, you're also causing yourself potential problems. "A thick wallet or large smartphone that is constantly carried in the back pocket of pants and repeatedly sat upon has been reported as a source of chronic low back pain," says Anand. "Health care providers have actually given this type of problem a name: wallet neuropathy."

"What happens when sitting on a large wallet or bulky cell phone is an abnormal twisting of the spine and a compression of nerves that extend through the buttocks and down each leg. These abnormal motions can result in dysfunction and pain over time."

You're not wearing socks.
Flickr/Direz Zender

Even if you aren't the biggest fan of how your boat shoes look paired with socks, you should throw some on anyway to avoid damaging your feet. According to podiatrist Stephanie Fields, DPM, DABPM, not wearing socks causes excessive sweating which, in turn, "causes the formation of blisters and the development of foot and nail fungus."

Or you're wearing the same pair repeatedly.

The only thing worse than wearing shoes without socks is wearing the same socks over and over again. Per Fields, doing this can lead to "the development of fungus and other diseases"—which is not only bad for your body, but it's rather unsightly, too!

You're wearing high heels every day.

High heels are like cigarettes in that they have the potential to destroy the body from head to toe. "High heels put the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren't limited to the feet," Sajid A. Surve, DO, co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health, explained in an article for the American Osteopathic Association. "It's not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck, and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body."

You're trying new diets every week.

In the long term, "yo-yo dieting can contribute to a loss of fat-free mass (muscle and bone)," explains Kate Milne, founder of Cardea Health Consulting, a Canadian firm that conducts healthy living research on older adults. "Loss of fat-free mass can lead to poor mobility, increased fall risk, and lower overall strength. In studies of those whose weight cycled, a higher ratio of fat … was found when participants regained some or all their original weight."