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Health Worries That Shouldn’t Worry You

One day you hear that coffee is horrible for you. The next day you hear that it’s great. One day you hear that vitamin D protects against cancer. The next, researchers say the supplement could increase the risk of death.

Every day we’re bombarded by often-conflicting information that makes healthy living sound harder than it needs to be. According to Alice Domar, MD, co-author of Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health, healthy habits should contribute to — not distract you from — your enjoyment of life.

Dr. Domar, as well as many other medical experts, feel that being “pretty healthy” instead of perfectly so, is the goal that most people should try to attain. In particular, there are several common health worries that doctors feel you really shouldn’t go crazy worrying about.

Germs, Germs, Germs!!!
Relax: You slather yourself in hand sanitizer and shoot dirty looks at anyone who sneezes in your direction. But all the hand washing in the world won’t keep you entirely germ-free. According to Philip Tierno, PhD, author of The Secret Life of Germs, microbes are everywhere — and they’re supposed to be. Dr. Tierno says that only 1 to 2 percent of the microorganisms you encounter on a regular basis are potentially harmful. Many even help keep you healthy.

A health tip: According to Tierno, you don’t have to wash your hands every time you touch a doorknob. Clean them — ideally with soap and water, or an alcohol-based sanitizer if you can’t get to a sink — after using the bathroom, before eating, and before touching your face, he says.

I Have a Family History of Cancer (or Diabetes, Heart Disease, etc.)
Relax: With recent headlines linking faulty genes to diabetes and skin cancer — two diseases that we associate with bad health habits — it might feel like there’s nothing you can do to outsmart your DNA. But your genes play little or no role in 95 percent of all diseases, according to Muin Khoury, MD, PhD, director of the National Office of Public Health Genomics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A health tip: A 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can cut your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes by a whopping 80 percent. Not smoking, having a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and veggies, and lean protein, and low in saturated fat, red meat, and refined grains and sugar can go a long way to keeping you healthy.

My Fat Doesn’t Want To Go Away
Relax: A little padding might actually be good for you, says Domar, who points to studies that suggest women who live the longest are those whose BMIs are in the “overweight” category. And all fat is not created equal. A review in the International Journal of Obesity found that extra weight in the rear or thighs might actually protect against heart disease and diabetes.

A health tip: There’s skinny and then there’s healthy. Researchers found that as long as your BMI is under 27.4, your weight isn’t likely to cause health problems that could steal years from your life.

My Produce Is Full of Pesticides
Relax: Don’t shun vegetables just because you can’t afford to buy organic — the health benefits of produce far outweigh risks of pesticide exposure. That’s not to say that pesticides are good for you. But the amount of pesticides that you ingest from 5 to 10 servings of veggies a day are not likely to cause cancer. On the other hand, eating a diet completely devoid of produce could.

A health tip: Whether produce is organic or not, you should always clean it before eating. Not only will this remove a fair share of pesticide residue, it can also help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, like salmonella and E. coli. Wash produce under running water; soaking it could actually spread bacteria to other areas of the fruit or vegetable. Scrub firm produce like apples and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.

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