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The 7 Worst Health Habits Ever

It may surprise you that one of the worst health crimes you're committing is as small as forgetting to take your contacts out at night. Here, tips to bounce back fast from long days in high heels, fast food, and more.

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Falling Asleep with Your Makeup On

What's the big deal? If you're lucky, sleeping in a face full of makeup will only leave behind a pimple or two. But make it an all-the-time thing and you're asking for clogged pores and a breeding ground for bacteria to run wild on. The worst culprit? Foundation, according to Elissa Lunder, MD, FITNESS advisory board member and owner of Dermatology Partners, Inc. in Massachusetts. In some cases, Dr. Lunder has even seen people develop milia -- small, hard bumps that form on the skin. And while she says sleeping in eye makeup won't cause your lashes to fall out or give you pinkeye (whew!), dozing in mascara can cause eye swelling. But don't stop the suds at your face! Forgetting to wash your brushes can lead to staph infections as well as aid in spreading cold sores or other illnesses. Um...gross?

Break it: If you had a late night and find yourself waking up to raccoon eyes, wash your face with a normal cleanser and a washcloth. Steer clear of facial scrubs, which will only irritate the skin more, says Dr. Lunder. If you're guilty of this beauty blunder more than once a week, stock up on pre-moistened makeup clothes, which Dr. Lunder says is better than nothing. Since the bathroom sink is filled with fungus, mold, mildew, and bacteria, make sure your brushes are on a clean towel, and aim to wash them once a week in hot, soapy water. If you have a cold sore, toss any sponges or products (like lipstick) that came in contact with it.

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Wearing Flats to Work, Then Changing into Heels

What's the big deal? "It's a common misconception that flat shoes are good for your feet," says Megan Leahy, DPM, a podiatrist at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute in Chicago. "The ballerina-style shoes that roll up and fit in your purse are even worse because they offer no stability or cushioning." A common ailment Dr. Leahy sees when women wear flats that don't offer enough support is plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the thick tissue at the bottom of the foot. Sky-high heel wearers can also face problems, ranging from foot sprains to broken ankles after taking a tumble in them. Wear the wrong shoes for too long and Dr. Leahy says it may lead to prolonged pain, physical therapy, and even cortisone injections.

Break it: It may not win you an award for street style, but Dr. Leahy recommends wearing supportive athletic shoes to and from work. After wearing heels all day, take some time to do a few calf stretches against a wall, especially before hitting the gym. This will relieve some of the tightness in the foot. If pain occurs, take a break from your heels as much as you can and invest in Dr. Scholl's For Her High Heel Insoles ($9.99, drugstores nationwide) for extra heel cushioning, or shoes with built-in arch support, like Cole Haan shoes that are built with Nike Air technology.

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Dozing Off in Your Contacts

What's the big deal? Waking up with your lenses in is a bigger issue than just dry eyes. "I've treated hundreds of infections over the years and 95 percent of them are due to people sleeping in their contacts," says Robert Cykiert, MD, a New York–based ophthalmologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. "You have anywhere from a 300 percent to 1000 percent increased risk of developing serious infections of the cornea by sleeping in contacts." He's seen it all, from bacterial infections that cause cornea scarring and result in permanent vision reduction to more severe cases where an infection leads to having to get a cornea transplant. Sleeping in your contacts also makes you more susceptible to giant papillary conjunctivitis, where you develop an allergic reaction to contact lenses.

Break it: Keep your peepers in pristine condition by practicing good hygiene. Always wash your hands before putting your lenses in and use new disinfectant solution every time you take them out. "I've seen people add new solution to their old, used solution," says Dr. Cykiert. "It's like taking a bath and using the same water the next day." Just by practicing these two simple things you reduce your risk should you happen to fall asleep wearing your contacts, since you won't have bacteria trapped on your eyes all night. If you wake up and your eyes are irritated, wear your glasses the following day to give yourself time to recover. If symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, see an ophthalmologist. And if you still have trouble remember to clean your lenses properly, get daily disposable ones that you wear for one day and toss at night.

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Forgetting to Floss Daily

What's the big deal? Brushing cleans the front and back of your teeth but your toothbrush has a hard time reaching foods that get stuck in between. Marc Liechtung, DDS, a dentist at Manhattan Dental Arts in New York says that any food that gets stuck between your teeth has a chance at turning into bacteria that can eat away at the enamel and cause decay. Not only can this cause cavities, it can also lead to gum disease, root canals, and even tooth loss.

Break it: While proper nutrition helps (aka laying off the sweet stuff), Dr. Liechtung says to brush three times a day if possible, always down and away from the gums. As for flossing, do it right before you go to bed so there's no food to do any damage while you sleep. For those not keen on flossing, try a Waterpik, an oral irrigator that clears away food using a water jet.

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Chowing Down Fast Food Too Often

What's the big deal? If you find yourself speeding through the drive-thru every day, you may want to supersize your workout plan instead of that combo meal. Twice a month is not a big deal, says Kathy McManus, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and director of the department of nutrition at Brigham Women's Hospital in Boston, but do it too often and you're prone to weight gain and a slew of health issues. That's because fast food is low in nutrients and high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium. The majority of breads are refined and most meals are scarce on the veggies. True, there are proteins, but they are usually breaded and fried, and portion sizes are out of control. "Studies show you can actually become addicted to salt, sugar and fat and develop cravings for them," says McManus. "Fast food has all of these things combined."

Break it: McManus says to start by taking a baseline inventory of how much fast food you are eating by writing it down for two weeks. Next, reduce your trips by one to two times a week. Take easy steps, such as bringing a bag of apples to work for the week if you tend to eat fast food around your 3 p.m. snack time. And spend some time online for better options. A lot of restaurants let you build your own sandwiches and salads so you can have more control over your calories.

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Guzzling Too Much Alcohol

What's the big deal? We look forward to our after-work happy hours, but pounding down several in one sitting can result in the obvious hangover and possibly some other unpleasant side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive drinking may disrupt menstrual cycling and increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery. The CDC found that women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex with multiple partners, which could lead to increased risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Not only is a woman's risk of liver disease higher than a man's, the CDC also reported that alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast among women.

Break it: So how much is too much? McManus says the moderate level of alcohol consumption for women is about a drink per day. If you're worried, write down how much you drink in a two-week span and then reduce that amount over time if it's a bit excessive. "Try planning when you're going to be drinking at the beginning of the week," she suggests. "Or if you know you're going to be out for a while, have a mocktail first, then order a cocktail."

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Not Exercising Enough

What's the big deal? Not hitting the gym enough can impact more than the size of your jeans. Patricia Moreno, FITNESS advisory board member and author of The IntenSati Method, says your workout not only helps ward off worries, fatigue, and weight gain, it also can shift your mental state. "How you do anything is how you do everything," she says. "If you're not taking care of your body, it will reflect in other areas of your life." This translates into how you eat, how you keep your home, and even how you let other people treat you. "I think people say they don't like to exercise because they're subconsciously wrapped up in guilt and shame," she says. "People have all kinds of excuses for why they can't work out: I don't look good. I'm too fat. It's going to be hard. Or I don't have the time. But the problem with believing those things is, the excuses you use not to work out are the same ones you'll use everywhere in your life."

Break it: Try Moreno's at-home test: Can you stand up from a sitting position without using your hands? If you can't, start doing squats. Can you hold a plank for one minute? If not, it's time need to get moving and build up some muscles. Use this step-by-step guide to beating the couch potato syndrome:

  • Step 1: Determine the lifestyle you want to live. Ask yourself, "What am I willing to do this week?" Even if it's just walking for five minutes, start somewhere, write it down, and stick to it.
  • Step 2: Make yourself accountable. Post your fitness goals on Facebook so that everyone around you knows about it, and then increase your goal over time.
  • Step 3: Get into the habit of doing something every day. Branch out and try surfing, take a dance class, go for walks, climb up the stairs -- anything that will get you moving on a regular basis.

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, January 2013.

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