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6 Beliefs That Sabotage Your Health

Think that health advice applies to everyone but you? It's time to reconsider.

When it comes to health advice, it can be easy to assume the rules don’t apply to you. After all, you run around enough with your grandkids to qualify as exercise, right? And you know smoking can lead to lung cancer but a puff once in awhile can’t be that bad. Or could it? Here we tackle six of the most common health beliefs that could put you at a greater risk than you may know:

1. “I only smoke socially, so I’m fine.”

Lighting up “only” when you’re out with friends for drinks on the weekend or reaching for a single cigarette after a rough day is like playing Russian roulette. You simply don’t know when that one additional cigarette puts a cell over the edge and it begins growing out of control and makes lung cancer, says Dr. Ray Casciari, chief medical officer of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.

“So how do you know how much you can get away with? You don’t,” notes Casciari. Reviews of dozens of studies of light and intermittent smokers show a 500 percent increase of lung cancer risks in women and increased heart disease, various cancer risks and overall general poorer health-related quality of life. Snuff out all butts to stay safe.

2. “I only need six hours of sleep a night.”

Getting by on little sleep may sound virtuous, but it could actually be costing you your health and well-being. Several studies have demonstrated a strong link between sleep duration and mortality, says Dr. Allen Towfigh, a board-certified sleep medicine doctor with Weill Cornell Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital. Those who sleep fewer than seven hours per night have up to a two-fold greater risk of death and diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you find yourself getting less than this, take a look at possible reasons, which may include anxiety, late-night TV watching or a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

3. “I never go outside, so I don’t need sunscreen.”

If the last time you applied sunscreen was during last year’s beach vacation, you may be doing more damage to your skin than you know. Driving, gardening, running errands and other daily activities expose you to damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays even when it’s cloudy or raining, says Dr. Sarah L. Taylor, associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C. “UV light is present anytime it’s not dark (e.g. night),” she adds. Protect your skin with an SPF sunblock of between 30 and 50 any time you go outdoors, Taylor suggests.

4. “I skip potato chips and eat veggie chips instead.”

Veggie chips may sound like an easy way to get in your daily servings of vegetables, but in reality they’re not much better than potato chips. A typical serving of veggie chips contains 150 calories — similar to a serving of potato chips — and possesses little more than small amounts of vegetable powder or puree mixed in.

“The calories still add up,” says Amy Goodson, a dietitian for Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine. You’re better off choosing a piece of fruit or a salad with real vegetables along with a lean protein such as yogurt or cottage cheese to keep you full longer.

5. “I run around all day long. I don’t need to exercise.”

Even if you feel as if you’re on the go constantly, you’re likely falling short of the level of exercise you need to maintain optimal health. “Unless you’re a farm worker, ‘running around all day’ just isn’t enough to keep your body fit, strong and at a healthy weight,” says Jessica Smith, a certified trainer and creator of the Walk On DVD series. “Plus, your fitness focus should not only be on maintaining what you have, but also improving it.”

Smith recommends strength training on three to four non-consecutive days of the week and including some cardio activity three to four days a week.

6. “A few drinks at night helps me sleep better.”

Unwinding at the end of the day with a glass of wine sounds like a good way to relax. And that’s exactly how it works at first. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol initially helps you feel relaxed and leads to a feeling of drowsiness, says Towfigh. “However, once alcohol begins to wear off, your centers of alertness come back online and you get a rebound effect, which causes you to wake up from your slumber and have a difficult time falling back asleep,” he notes. A glass of wine with dinner should be fine, but any more than that can significantly impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

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