Is your toothbrush on your bathroom sink? So was mine, until I found out that proximity to the toilet makes this locale pretty unsanitary (you can read the gory details below). In fact, experts say that how you organize your environment-from where you stand in an exercise class to the aforementioned toothbrush-has a surprising effect on everything from your weight to general well-being. Here, nine surprisingly bad locales for your health-and the best spots to optimize it.
1. To Keep Your Toothbrush
The worst place: Bathroom sink
There's nothing wrong with the sink itself-but it's awfully chummy with the toilet. There are 3.2 million microbes per square inch in the average toilet bowl, according to germ expert Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. When you flush, aerosolized toilet funk is propelled as far as 6 feet, settling on the floor, the sink, and your toothbrush.
Best place: "Unless you like rinsing with toilet water, keep your toothbrush behind closed doors-in the medicine cabinet or a nearby cupboard," Gerba says.
2. To Stash Sneakers and Flip-Flops
The worst place: Bedroom closet
Walking through your house in shoes you wear outside is a great way to track in allergens and contaminants. One study found that lawn chemicals were tracked inside the house for a full week after application, concentrated along the traffic route from the entryway. Shoes also carry in pollen and other allergens.
Best place: Reduce exposure by slipping off rough-and-tumble shoes by the door; store them in a basket or under an entryway bench. If your pumps stay off the lawn, they can make the trip to the bedroom-otherwise, carry them.
3. To Post a Workout Reminder
The worst place: Stuck on your Post-It-laden fridge
A visual nudge can help-but only if you notice it, says Paddy Ekkekakis, PhD, an exercise psychologist at Iowa State University. In one study, a sign urging people to use the stairs rather than the nearby escalator increased the number of people who climbed on foot by nearly 200%.
Best place: Put your prompt near a decision point, Ekkekakis says-keep your pile of Pilates DVDs next to the TV; put a sticky note on your steering wheel to make sure you get to your after-work kickboxing class. Just remember: The boost you get from a reminder is usually short-term, so change the visuals often.
4. To Sit on an Airplane
The worst place: The rear
Avoid this section if you're prone to airsickness, says retired United Airlines pilot Meryl Getline, who operates the aviation Web site fromthecockpit.com. "Think of a seesaw," Getline says. "The farther from the center you are, the more up-and-down movement you experience." Because the tail of the plane tends to be longer than the front, "that's the bumpiest of all," she says.
Best place: "The smoothest option is sitting as close to the wing as you can," says Getline.
5. To Pick Up a Prescription
The worst place: Pharmacy drive-thru
In a survey of 429 pharmacists, respondents ranked drive-thru windows high among distracting factors that can lead to prescription processing delays and errors, says survey author Sheryl Szeinbach, PhD, professor of pharmacy practice and administration at Ohio State University.
Best place: If you don't want to give up the convenience of a rolling pickup, be sure to check that both drug and dose are what the doctor ordered.
6. To Set Your Handbag
The worst place: The kitchen counter
Your fancy handbag is a major tote for microbes: Gerba and his team's swabs found10,000 bacteria per square inch on purse bottoms-and one-third of the bags tested positive for fecal bacteria! A woman's carryall gets parked in some nasty spots: on the floor of the bus, beneath the restaurant table-even on the floor of a public bathroom.
Best place: Put your bag in a drawer or on a chair, Gerba says-anywhere except where food is prepared or eaten.
7. To Use a Public Bathroom
The worst place: The stall in the middle
The center stall has more bacteria than those on either end, according to unpublished data collected by Gerba. No, you won't catch an STD from a toilet seat. But you can contract all manner of ills if you touch a germy toilet handle and then neglect to wash your hands thoroughly.
Best place: Pick a stall all the way to the left or right to minimize your germ exposure.
8. To Keep Medicine
The worst place: The medicine cabinet
It's not uncommon for the temp in a steamy bathroom to reach 100°F-well above the recommended storage temperatures for many common drugs. The cutoff for the popular cholesterol drug Lipitor, for instance, is around 77°F.
Best place: Somewhere cool and dry, such as the pantry.
9. To Put Fruit Before Washing It
The worst place: The kitchen sink
Of all the household germ depots, the kitchen sink sees the most bacterial traffic-even more than the toilet, says Kelly Reynolds, PhD, a professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona.
Best place: Keep fruit on the counter until you run it under the water. If that perfect blueberry drops while you're washing it, pop it in the trash-not your mouth.
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