Secondhand Health Hazards

PHOTO: Recent research shows that a slew of health problems and their side effects can be transferred from one person to another.

By now you know to avoid a roommate who smokes, lest her carcinogenic cloud take you down. But you might not know to avoid shacking up with a snorer. Here's why you should think twice: Recent research shows that a slew of health problems and their side effects can be transferred from one person to another, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity--meaning that friends' or relatives' medical issues, or their disregard for their own well-being, can rub off on you! Read on to learn the surprising ways unhealthy behaviors can spread.

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If you have a coworker with a bad case of desk rage, you might unknowingly pick up--and internalize--her tension, says Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at UCLA. The same goes for a partner who offloads his stress. When that happens, says Karney, "you may not have the emotional resources to help, and you end up just irritating each other and increasing both of your stress levels."

Research shows that transmitted stress makes for less-satisfying relationships, but more important, it can lead to spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, says Tracey A. Revenson, a psychology professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Catching a case of chronic stress can put you at risk for insomnia, muscle tension, and eventually, cardiac illness.

Keep your cool by trying not to take other people's stress-fueled actions personally, says Karney. Let them know their anxiety is rubbing off on you and suggest stress-busting activities that will benefit you both. For example, a recent study found that doing word puzzles may reduce stress by 54 percent.

Or, if an office mate's nerves are getting on your nerves, try suggesting a post-work sweat session. Almost nothing beats stress like exercise, which can limit your body's levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, just 20 minutes of moderate activity--walking, hiking, biking--three times a week can help buffer stress; the more often you work out, the bigger the benefits, says Jennifer Hurst, an associate professor of exercise science at Truman State University.

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