7 Habits That Can Harm a Man  s Health

That weekend workout. The wallet in your back pocket. The mattress you sleep on. What do these have in common? They may adversely affect health and vitality. From too many beers with the guys to an inability to put down that smartphone, find out which common habits could be harming your health.

Bad Habit #1: Being a Weekend Warrior

Men who have office jobs and play sports on the weekend are prone to "weekend warrior syndrome," and its resulting injuries. "These men may be sedentary [inactive] at work and sedentary on weeknights. Then their wives give them a honey-do list, or they go out and play golf or basketball, and they play like they’re pro athletes," says John F. Spallino, MD, of the Laser Spine Institute, which has locations throughout the country. While injuries may be as minor as a pulled muscle, many can damage overall muscular and even cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) health. And men with jobs heavy on physical labor tasks are not immune just because they’re active; they may be at risk for muscular and back problems. Spallino says the repetitive motion of some tasks can place wear and tear on the joints and muscles.

Bad Habit #2: Sitting on Your Wallet

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza’s overstuffed wallet caused him to tilt when he sat? It’s not an exaggeration; we really do overstuff them. "You never see us put our wallets in our front pockets because we put too much in them," says Spallino. This "affects posture when sitting in a chair, and that misalignment can cause shoulders to slump, and lead to sciatica [pain in the areas near the hip and back of the thigh], or even chronic inflammation." And switching sides is a temporary solution: "The affected side will get better, but after a few months, it just happens on the other side."

Bad Habit #3: Commuting and Computing

The working world is not kind to our backs: We sit in cars to drive long distances to our jobs, and once there, we sit in front of computer screens for eight or nine hours. Then we go back to our cars and sit in traffic to get home. Sitting for prolonged periods can lead to improper posture, bad circulation, and back and neck pain. While our spinal discs are spongy and act as a cushion, if your circulation is poor, you’ll feel it. "You’ve got to move to get the circulation to the spinal discs," says Spallino. "During the workday, you should get up every 20 minutes to stretch and get that circulation going."

Spallino also suggests you keep ergonomics—work space design meant to reduce fatigue and discomfort—in mind when using the computer. For instance, use a comfortable chair that supports your lower back, adjust the top of your monitor so it is at eye level, and place the monitor about an arm's length away from you. And avoid leaning over your keyboard; it can cause neck and shoulder pain, and lead to long-term problems. Additionally, engage your core by drawing your belly button in toward your spine to protect the lower back while sitting.

Bad Habit #4: Smartphone Addiction

In June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No doubt the number is higher now. And no doubt doctors are hearing more about neck and shoulder pain. Leaning your head forward over a phone or a tablet while texting or gaming puts a lot of strain on neck muscles and shoulder blades. There is actually a term for this condition: "text neck." "After long periods of time without rest and stretching, that [postural strain] can actually lead to significant problems long-term with the neck and spine," Spallino says.

Bad Habit #5: Binge Drinking

Seven alcoholic drinks a week has been shown to lower risk of heart disease and diabetes in men. The key word being "week." You can’t save up all your drinks for Saturday night—your alcohol intake should be spread over the course seven days. Enjoy one or two drinks, tops, then call it a night.

One caveat: The average person underestimates how much he or she drinks, says John J. O’Neill, LCSW, LCDC, CAS, coordinator of addiction services at Menninger Clinic in Houston. "If someone says they only had two drinks, it is typically more like four. A drink is a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce distilled spirit. Yet a typical mixed drink may actually have two to three alcohol servings in it," he explains.

Binge drinking, which for men is five or more drinks on one occasion, is a sign of potential problems. And people who drink heavily (defined for men as 15 or more drinks a week) are at a greater risk for long-term physical problems, legal issues, relationship stress, injuries, and a host of other consequences.

If you or someone you love is unable to stop drinking or their alcohol use increases, it’s important to seek assistance. O’Neill says assistance can come in the form of working with an addiction counselor, attending 12-step or other mutual support meetings, consulting an addiction psychiatrist, or engaging in more intensive treatment, such as an in-patient alcohol rehabilitation program.

Bad Habit #6: Not Kicking Butts

For many activities, moderation is the goal. However, moderation and smoking are not compatible, says O’Neill; the evidence suggests that smoking any amount of cigarettes is harmful. "With over 250 harmful chemicals in a cigarette, the body is not equipped to cope with the devastating effects of consuming toxic substances," he says. The good news? Once you stop, your body will start to heal. O’Neill recommends that people interested in kicking the habit check out information from The American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and Smokefree.gov.

Bad Habit #7: Sleeping on an Old Mattress

Tossing and turning? Toss that old mattress out. Your bed is the most important factor when it comes to a good night’s sleep. "We spend one-third of our time in bed, and while we’re willing to spend a lot of money on an expensive car, which we spend very little time in, we don’t want to spend money on mattresses," says Spallino.

Here’s how to pick out a good mattress: Bring a friend or spouse (or both). After you’ve found one you like, lay on the mattress on your side, and have your friend look at your spine to see if it’s aligned correctly—you should be able to draw a straight line from your ear to your shoulder, and then to your hip joint on the same side of your body, Spallino explains. If you share the bed with someone, you should both get in the bed at the same time, and have a friend check your alignment.

Reviewed by Rafael Pajaro, MD.


John F. Spallino, MD, Laser Spine Institute.  

John J. O’Neill, LCSW, LCDC, CAS, coordinator of addiction services at Menninger Clinic, Houston. 

"Injury Prevention and Control: Motor Vehicle Safety." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last updated January 28, 2014. 

Lando L.J. Koppes, PhD, Jacqueline M. Dekker, PhD, Henk F.J. Hendriks, PhD, Lex M. Bouter, PhD and Robert J. Heine, MD, PhD. "Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies." Diabetes Care March 2005 vol. 28 no. 3 719-725. 

Arthur L. Klatsky, MD. "Moderate Drinking and Reduced Risk of Heart Disease." Alcohol Research & Health Vol. 23, No. 1, 1999 15-24.