We're all trying to do our best when it comes to staying healthy. But it seems that sometimes it's a losing battle—we try to eat right and exercise, yet we're still not feeling our best. Turns out there's a lot of other things we are doing to ourselves that aren't helping—from not getting enough sunlight or sleep to just not coping well with stress. Those factors, even if they feel like they are out of our control, are possibly ruining our bodies. Or, at least, are why we feel so rotten sometimes! Read on for 8 ways you're ruining your body, according to science—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
You're Not Getting Enough Vitamin D
We love the sun during the summer. We relax at the beach or take a dip in a pool. But the sun is about more than seasonal fun. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in countless important functions in the body. Not getting enough can raise your risk for depression, a weakened immune system, and other diseases. And if we're not getting enough sunlight from time outdoors, that's where what we eat comes in. "Focus on getting adequate vitamin D from foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, or fortified milk and juice," said Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices.
Of course, we shouldn't stop getting Vitamin D from sunlight, but that may not be cutting it. 'If you think you aren't getting enough Vitamin D from food or sun exposure, you might consider supplementation," said Burgess. You can talk to your doctor or dietitian about the best vitamin D supplementation for you.
You're Getting Junk Light
Let there be light! Except, wait. There may be an issue with that. Surprisingly, the light bulb may be one of the biggest health hazards ever invented! Go figure. "The hazards come partly because artificial light has 'artificially' allowed us to manipulate our light exposure, which disrupts the fundamental relationship between all life-forms and the sun," said Dr. Steven Gundry MD , a top cardiothoracic surgeon and medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine.
Light is the fundamental driver of our circadian rhythms, which regulates all of our metabolic functions. "The relative increase and decrease of blue content in daylight is an important signal to the circadian clock system in your body, which cues all kinds of energy-making or energy-conserving activities," said Dr. Gundry. Blue light causes the body to produce stress hormones, and disrupts our melatonin productions and our natural body rhythms. To reduce your exposure, don't stare at your phone a few hours before bedtime, or buy blue light blocking glasses.
You're Under Too Much Stress
What's the quickest way to sabotage your health but mentally and physically? Without a doubt, stress. And the most stressful part is…it's not so easy to deal with it. Stress comes in many forms but our brains see it all in a similar way, especially external stressors like your boss yelling at you, or the sudden deadline, or even chronic pain. "These all stimulate your adrenal glands to release hormones to try to combat the stress but in the meantime leads to more inflammation, weight gain, muscle loss and impaired immune function," said Dr. Ralph Esposito, a naturopathic physician with Athletic Greens, who recommends adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and Eleuthero to help the body adapt to these stressors. "These adaptogens are tools to fortify your stress resilience, but lack of meditation, quiet moments and downtime can be equally as powerful stress tolerance tools," said Dr. Esposito.
Meditation has been carefully studied using monks and controlled groups to learn how this simple practice can change the way we think and feel about life. "It helps you to feel more energized and focused," said Yvette Rose, a holistic health coach as well as owner and founder of Joule Goddess. According to research, there seems to be a positive health impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction. Plus who doesn't value an excuse to unplug and relax every so often?
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You Aren't Moving Around Enough
Moving around is about more than commuting to work and back home. It means actually getting off the couch or your chair and getting your heart rate up. "The heart needs to be challenged and not due to anxiety and stress but through exercise," said Rose. Getting your heart to beat faster and come back down trains it to work more efficiently. A 2017 study revealed that active women had higher levels of health-promoting microbes compared to sedentary women. Sitting too much compresses our digestive system, known to cause bloating and constipation.
You Are Eating Too Much Sugar
Sugar is delicious, whether in a dessert or a glass of lemonade. However, it's a dangerous ingredient in many ways. Sugar causes the skin to look dull, bloating, and contributes to weight gain and anxiety as well as poor gut microbes. "A 2018 study found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame alter gut microbial communities and can lead to glucose intolerance in both mice and humans," said Rose.
You Are Not Spending Enough Time in Nature
Getting out of the house and experiencing some fresh air is about more than taking a break and moving around. Nature itself has its own unique way of having a therapeutic effect. Avoiding the outdoors, sunshine and the sounds of nature can negatively impact our mood, and mindset. In fact: "Studies investigated the benefits of forest bathing (taking in and being in nature) on stress levels, and decreased worry," said Dr. Esposito. This falls in line with many traditional medicines like traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, just now science has some way to test and measure it!
You've Got Bad Bedtime Habits
It may be tempting to browse social media in bed, but that's a dangerous habit. Try not to use your smartphone, TV, laptop, etc. at least an hour before bed. "There are a few reasons for this, but one of the major ones being studied now is the blue light emitting from the screens of our TVs, computers, and smartphones we watch at night is keeping us from falling asleep normally," said Dr. Brynna Connor, MD, Healthcare Ambassador at NorthWestPharmacy.com.
According to Harvard Medical School, blue light produced by electronics boosts attention, reaction times, and mood. "While these effects can be great for when the body needs to be alert, at night it can become a problem since it suppresses the production of melatonin, and melatonin production at night is what helps put you to sleep and gives you quality sleep," said Dr. Connor.
While tech companies have recently been adding "blue-light filter" software to their laptops and smartphones, looking and interacting with these devices isn't just an issue with blue light. There's also the anxiety that comes along with social media intake, and maybe media intake overall at night. "I know we all want to be as informed as possible, but the anxiety that the endless stream of information can cause before bed isn't a recipe for quality sleep according to research," said Dr. Connor. Try not to watch the news or engage on social media an hour before bed. Replace that with a distraction-less environment, like taking a hot shower. Hot showers have also been shown to reduce stress and aid in falling asleep, with or without anxiety, according to Dr. Connor.
Going to bed with technology by your side, falling asleep while watching TV, going to bed super late can all also mess with your circadian rhythm. "According to studies Dr. Michael Ruscio shared, a lack of quality sleep contributes to many health conditions, including heart disease, obesity metabolic syndrome, poor brain function and of course, fatigue," said Rose.
You Aren't Drinking Enough Water
We are constantly being reminded to drink more water, and it's about more than staying hydrated and controlling our appetite. Much of the human body is made of water, and our cells require it to function. "A diuretic causes your body to urinate out more water, and two of the top few beverages consumed among Americans are coffee and alcohol — two strong diuretics," said Dr. Esposito.
Without taking in enough water, and coupling that with losing more water with coffee and beer you're setting your cells up for failure. Not to mention significant vitamin and mineral loss. "Without enough water intake and too much water and mineral loss, studies suggest a decrease in cognitive performance and impacts psychomotor and memory skills," said Dr. Esposito. So drink eight glasses a day, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.