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Prescription for Danger: 7 Harmful Shortcuts

You're busy. We get it. But cutting corners in an effort to do more in less time may do more harm than good. Here, seven common shortcuts that shortchange your health.

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Peter Ardito
Sarah Kehoe
Peter Tak
Peter Ardito
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You depend on the drive-through.

Nope, not the fast-food kind. Drive-through pharmacies are convenient, but if you hit one every time you get an Rx filled, you lose the opportunity to talk to a pharmacist about side effects, generic options, and what to do if you miss a dose. Plus you may be at a higher risk for a mix-up: The distractions associated with window service contribute to about six errors per every 10,000 prescriptions dispensed annually, according to a recent study. That works out to more than two million medication mistakes a year. "Always check your prescription at the pharmacy, especially if you're using a drive-through," says lead study author Sheryl Szeinbach, PhD, a professor at Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. Verify the medication name, dosage, and description -- for instance, "blue-and-white oblong capsules" -- as well as your name and address. Short on time? Use this rule of thumb from Szeinbach: "If you have questions about interactions, side effects, dosing, or insurance, or it's a new prescription, skip the drive-through."

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Your gyno is your only doc.

For the past six years Janelle Brannock, 35, has relied on her ob-gyn for nearly all of her health needs. "I'm pretty healthy. And on the rare occasions I got sick, I could never see my former primary care physician right away," the Peoria, Arizona, resident says. But even fit women should get checked for stealth health issues like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and skin cancer -- conditions that gynos don't typically screen for. "If your doctor isn't aware that she is your sole health care provider, you could also miss out on needed vaccinations, like tetanus," says John Spangler, MD, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Even if she does know, an American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that less than a third of ob-gyn practices stock and administer vaccines other than those for flu and human papillomavirus (HPV). "Patients need to discuss their individual needs, including vaccines, with a primary care physician," Dr. Spangler adds. Check with your insurance too; many companies cover only one or two ob-gyn visits a year. Ask friends or family for a PCP referral, or download the Pocket Doctor app to find docs in your area ($0.99, iTunes store).

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You sprint straight into the shower after your Spinning class.

We know: You have to get back to the office. But slamming on the brakes after a hard-and-fast workout is bad for your bod. "When you abruptly end a cardio session, your heart rate plummets and blood pools in your large leg muscles, which can make you feel light-headed," says exercise physiologist Kara Mohr, PhD. It takes about three minutes after you stop exercising for your need for this additional blood to lessen, so cool down for at least that long -- preferably a few minutes more -- to allow your blood flow and body temperature to return to normal. "Any movement that lowers your heart rate and decreases the intensity of exercise, including walking, slow bike pedaling, and standing lunges, is good," Mohr says.

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You snooze in your contacts.

Most tissues in the body contain blood vessels that supply them with oxygen and nutrients. The cornea? Not so much. It has to get nourishment directly from the air, which is harder when your peepers are covered by contacts. "During the day, when your eyes are open and blinking, oxygen still passes through your contacts. It's when your eyes are closed at night that the lenses can become suffocating," says Thomas Steinemann, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University. If you regularly doze with your contacts in, the lack of oxygen could lead to serious infec­tion and eventually scar or warp your corneas. (The exception: extended-wear contacts, which are designed to allow greater air flow at night.)

Even if you've been wearing contacts since childhood, there's a good chance you need to raise your "eye Q." A recent Optometry and Vision Science study found that almost 98 percent of lens users don't completely follow wear and care guidelines. "You may save money by wearing lenses longer than suggested, but you risk getting an infection as the old contacts become worn out," Dr. Steinemann says. Jenny Hepworth learned this the hard way. The 26-year-old New York City resident used to doze in her daily contacts at least three nights a week. "I'd get sleepy, or I'd forget about them," she says. Recently Hepworth fell asleep in her contacts and awoke with a painful infection that left her sporting glasses and squeezing prescription eye drops for a week. If you occasionally nod off with your lenses in, Dr. Steinemann suggests removing them and cleaning them with fresh disinfecting solution as soon as you wake, donning glasses for the next 24 hours to allow better air flow to the corneas, and calling your eye doctor immediately if your eyes are watering or if you notice any redness, pain, or sensitivity to light.

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You eat lunch at your desk.

The next time you unwrap that turkey sandwich while staring at your computer screen, ask yourself, Would I still be hungry if my meal were served on a toilet seat? Your desk may be teeming with about 400 times more bacteria than the loo, according to a 2007 University of Arizona study. It's no wonder: A recent Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics survey showed that a third of women rarely or never clean their work space. "Any productivity gained by eating lunch at your desk may be lost when you miss work because of a food-borne illness brought on by bacteria," says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Sanitizing your space with alcohol wipes or disinfectant spray before you eat is wise, but dining elsewhere may keep you healthier -- and slimmer. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that desktop diners are less likely to feel satisfied when working and noshing at the same time. They also reach for bigger snacks after lunch.

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You do your shopping online. At midnight.

About 60 percent of us stare at computer screens late at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. "I get e-mails about midnight sales and stay up late surfing the Web for clothes I don't need," says 27-year-old Jaime Nash, an account executive in New York City. "The next day, I regret losing sleep and wasting money." Most women between the ages of 20 and 40 need seven to nine hours of sleep a night; Nash is lucky if she gets six.

"The artificial light from computers, smartphones, and tablets decreases melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleepiness," says Leslie Swanson, PhD, a sleep specialist at the University of Michigan. Skimping on zzz's makes you more than cranky: It contributes to weight gain, a review of studies in Obesity found. So log off an hour before turning in, and spend that time doing something relaxing, like reading.

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You rely on technology to connect with friends.

When you're busy, one of the first things to go is spending time with pals or even chatting with them on the telephone; a recent study found that people text more than they talk. But maintaining close friendships can have a huge impact on your health. A University of California, San Diego, study showed that women who were at a high risk for developing heart disease lowered their odds if they had larger social networks.

Unfortunately, circles of friends are shrinking. A 2006 Duke University study found that Americans have a third fewer confidants for important topics than they did 20 years ago, and nearly 25 percent have no one with whom to discuss these issues, possibly thanks, in part, to a growing reliance on e-mail and texting. "Technology makes connecting with friends more efficient, yet it diminishes the quality of the relationship," says Karol Ward, a psychotherapist in New York City. That's why it's crucial to carve out time to converse, preferably face-to-face, with those who matter most to you. "Set a standing dinner date with friends and treat it as if it were an appointment that you wouldn't dream of canceling," Ward suggests. Or schedule phone chats with long-distance friends.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2012.

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