No matter how many fruits and vegetables you add to your diet, how much water you drink or how often you get to the gym, you can still put your health in jeopardy during the dreaded cold and flu season. Come this time of year, bugs and viruses start sweeping workplaces and schools like a modern-day plague and even the strongest among us begin dropping like flies. Think of your immune system like your phone's battery. It starts out full, but one long day (lunch at your desk, drinks after work and then you stay up too late) can leave you depleted and primed to get sick. Here are seven seemingly innocent bad-for-you behaviors that are setting you up to be more susceptible to illness—and making it harder to get over a bug if you catch one.
Not (Really) Washing Your Hands
We're not here to lecture you. You know how and when to wash your hands, right? But here's the thing: now's not the time to phone it in when washing up. A quick rinse after going to the bathroom isn't going to cut it. Human skin has tons of bacteria living on it. And you pick up more and more with every handle, knob and button you come in contact with. This bacteria (along with other germs and microbes) can cause colds, step throat, pink eye, food poisoning and diarrhea. According to Harvard researchers, the longer you go without washing your hands, the bigger and stronger those colonies of germs become. Wash your hands (for at least 30 seconds) with soap and water or apply a hand sanitizer gel if you can't get to a sink.
Staying Up Late
You hear it all the time. How lack of sleep will fuck up your life. This is just another way. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found the white blood cell counts in young, healthy men who were sleep deprived rose at night and mimicked a response usually seen with stress (note: white blood cell counts rise when you're sick.) Even slight sleep deprivation hurts your ability to stay healthy. According to the Mayo Clinic, you're more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus when you're overly tired because infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
Biting Your Nails
Perhaps the nastiest habit on this list, but it's not dangerous is it? Actually, it can be as dangerous as it is disgusting. Our hands come into contact with all kinds of debris and pathogens, and that grime gets stuck under the nails. If you then put those germ-laden nails in your mouth, there's no limit to the bad stuff that could result—from common colds to a serious stomach virus. For example, Turkish researchers tested people for changes in the kind and amount of oral bacteria in their mouths if they chewed on their fingernails. A whopping 76% of nail biters tested positive for diarrhea- and vomit-causing bacteria, such as E. coli, compared to just 26.5% of non-biters.
Eating Lunch at Your Desk
This is a problem for a few reasons. If you can't get away for just 30 minutes to break from the day and eat your lunch, you're working too hard and likely stressed (which is already lowering your immunity). You also have to think about where you're eating. When was the last time you wiped down your desk? Because researchers at the University of Arizona found that keyboards and coffee pots are some of the most germ-riddled items in an office. They also found that when someone comes to work sick, about half of the commonly touched surfaces in the office will become infected with the virus by lunchtime. Get outta there while you still can!
Wearing Your Shoes in the House
What do you know about the ground you're walking on when you leave the house? Nothing. Which is why you don't want to track whatever it is you've stepped on—from old food particles and chemicals to pet excrement—into your home. Researchers from the University of Houston released a new study that found over 25% of all shoes carry a bacteria called Clostridium difficile, a dangerous bacterial strain that can cause diarrhea and other serious infections.
Using Your Phone in the Bathroom
We've all done it. But we really shouldn't. Use the time on the way to and from the bathroom for a quick hit of social media distraction—not during said bathroom break. Because you don't need a doctor to tell you that touching your phone between using the toilet and washing your hands is a bad idea. Toilet seats, handles, sinks and faucet handles are all covered in germs (including flu viruses and E. coli). Then those germs stay on our phones, which we put up to our faces or interact with when we eat.
Forgetting to Change Your Sheets
If you're not changing your sheets weekly, get in the habit because there's nothing sexy about a guy with dirty, smelly sheets. And here's another reason. Dust mites love a bed's environment. It's warm and dark, which is the perfect breeding ground for those microscopic mites, famed hygiene doctor Lisa Ackerley explained to the Daily Mail. According to Ackerley, while dust mites themselves are harmless to humans, their droppings and body fragments can often cause colds and trigger asthma.