Etiquette: You know, those rules you must follow as a good, upstanding member of polite society. Some are kind gestures, like holding the door for someone or taking the time to write a thank-you note. Others are professional courtesies, like standing to introduce yourself or staying off your phone during meetings. There are even those you follow for no particular reason, like using silverware in the proper order.
And those are just a few examples. A quick Internet search reveals lists of rules for all kinds of situations you could encounter with businesses, gyms, airports, email, funerals, golf games, Internet comments — and the list goes on.
Aside from politeness, what's the point in keeping up with all these rules? It turns out that in addition to preventing society from spiraling into a never-ending series of awkward mishaps, many etiquette rules are actually good for your health. That's right — some refined behaviors can help you avoid illness or even live a longer and happier life. So say "please," remove your hat and we'll let you in on our list of manner miracles.
Be Careful Where You Pick
Most people know not to stick a finger up their nose while in public, mostly because of the embarrassment that follows if they get caught. It turns out, however, this etiquette no-no is not only bad for your social health, but it could put a dent in your physical health as well.
One study found an association between nose picking and nasal-dwelling Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes antibiotic-resistant infections. It turns out that pickers are way more likely to have S. aureus hanging out in their nose holes than those who aren't mining for nasal gold [source: Heiman et al.]. Simply touching your nose, not to mention digging through it, is also a great way to transfer more common bugs like the flu [source: New York State Department of Health].
But before you reach for the tissues, consider this: A University of Saskatchewan professor hypothesizes that picking your nose — and even eating the product — might actually benefit your health in the long run. According to the professor — and the hygiene hypothesis — that's because introducing some bacteria into your body can provide your immune system with infection-related information it can use to fight them off later [source: CBC].
Either way, digging through your nose is still something best done in private.
Swab Your Sweat
Gyms are usually the places people go to get healthy, but with all that sweat and heavy breathing, they're also places where germs can thrive. That's why wiping down equipment before and after you use it is not only a cornerstone of gym etiquette, it's also an essential step in keeping yourself in peak physical condition.
A common bug in workout facilities is rhinovirus, which is found on about 63 percent of all equipment [source: Rini]. It's the main cause of the common cold and is often transmitted by sneezing, coughing or touching germy, hard surfaces, where it can live for a full week.
If you want to reduce your chances of picking up these nasty little gym rats, take a minute before you start working out to wipe down the parts of the equipment you're likely to touch, like control panels, bars and handles. And don't forget to clean up after you're done, too — just in case you left some germs of your own. Gyms typically provide antibacterial spray and paper towels for its contagion-conscious customers, so simply locate these clean-up stations and sanitize away!
Don't Be a Double Dipper
You're at a party. A man walks up to the snack table, grabs a chip and dips it in a big bowl of salsa. A little weird, you think, since everyone else is just spooning a little on their plate, but it's not a huge deal. Then the unthinkable happens: He goes in for a second dip. With the same chip.
That's double dipping, and at most social gatherings it's considered a major party foul. Why? Because each second dip transfers germs from the eater's mouth to the bowl of dip. Exactly how many is unclear. A Clemson University student project put the number of bacteria transferred from mouth to dip at about 10,000 for every three to six double dips, while the television show "Mythbusters" estimated just five to 10 per one double dip. Either way, at least a little bacteria is getting transferred [source: Jarvie].
There are a few things you can do to spare your party guests from the double-dipping menace. Offer small bowls and plates onto which they can spoon dip or simply serve food sized for a single bite. That way everyone can go home happy and healthy.
Drink (Responsibly) and Be Merry
Parties are often a chance to relax, let loose and have a few drinks. Nothing wrong with that. But in some circumstances it's best to limit your intake for the sake of your personal and professional relationships — and that can be good news for your health.
According to etiquette experts, you should take your cues from the person drinking the least. That means if someone isn't imbibing, everyone else should limit themselves to three drinks so all guests are more or less equally coherent [source: Echlin]. Watching your consumption is particularly important at work parties, where excessive drinking can have professional consequences. A two-drink limit will keep you from saying or doing something you'll regret the next day in the office [source: Zimmerman].
What does drinking less have to do with your health? For one, alcohol's not the best use of calories. At 153 calories per 12-ounce (355-milliliter) beer, too much could begin impacting your weight [source: NIAAA]. There are also health risks associated with binge drinking, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines as four or more drinks for a woman and five or more for a man in a two-hour period. Not to be a buzzkill, but this level of drinking is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, neurological damage and other problems [source: CDC]. Moderate drinking, on the other hand — defined as two drinks for men and one for women per day — might actually be good for you [source: Harvard].
Don't Bring Your Germs to Work
You wake up one morning with a scratchy throat and a pounding headache. Each beep from your alarm feels like someone's hitting you in the face with a shovel as your nose drips like a leaky faucet. You are now faced with a decision. Do you stay at home or suck it up and go to work?
Certainly, there are some compelling reasons why you might go into work sick. Maybe you have a looming deadline and you don't want to let your coworkers down. Perhaps you hesitate to use your sick leave for something as basic as a common cold. Or worse, taking a sick day means you don't get paid.
While making the decision can be difficult, most health experts agree that sick employees should stay home. For one, you just won't be able to function well. You don't want your work to suffer because of your fatigue and grogginess, especially if you interact with people who might be turned off by your sickly symptoms. You're also likely to get other people sick, potentially bringing down the productivity of the whole office. The common cold, for example, is most contagious the first two days after you begin experiencing symptoms, so staying home for a bit could really slow the spread.
But most importantly for your own health, a day of rest could speed your recovery and allow you to get back to work at full strength much sooner than if you tried to push through.
Dial Down the Road Rage
It's a fact of modern life: There are bad drivers on the road. Some treat every trip like a Sunday drive, while others seem to think they're in the Indy 500. In response, slighted drivers will sometimes honk, yell and flash gestures that would make their grandmothers blush. But according to health experts, our bodies would thank us if we all just took a deep breath and let it go.
When we get angry, stress hormones cause our heart rate and blood pressure to increase. According to one study, this response can raise the risk of heart attack five times and stroke three times during the two hours after the outburst [source: Hammond]. If this stress continues day after day, you may experience additional problems including a weakened immune system, back pain, headaches, menstrual issues and infertility [source: Haupt].
So what can you do to reach driving Zen? For starters, give yourself a little extra time to reach your destination. That way you won't feel rushed and will be less likely to lash out at the slow driver in the fast lane. If you still find yourself getting annoyed, try singing songs or thinking positive thoughts to direct your mind elsewhere. Some drivers find it useful to think of driving as a team sport where everyone's trying to help each other get to their destination. If all else fails and you do find yourself in a confrontation, pull over and take a moment to calm down.
Don't Let Kids Use the Pool as a Toilet
Nothing says summer like a pool full of screaming kids. Unfortunately, splashing around with those kids are billions of microbes, or tiny organisms that can make us sick. These little party crashers catch a ride to the pool on hair, spit, hands, noses, mouths and — most disgustingly of all — pee and poop.
Sicknesses caught from swimming pool water are known as recreational water illnesses (RWIs). The most common of these conditions is diarrhea, which can be caused by a veritable who's who list of nasty germs including Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli. Chlorine helps control these microbes to a point, but they can still survive in the pool for a few minutes or even a few days — plenty of time to find their way into someone's body [source: CDC, RWIs].
Before you toss your swim trunks in a dumpster and cancel your family's pool pass, know that there are some preventive measures you and your kids can take to lessen the chances of infection for everyone. For starters, shower before you get in the pool and don't take a dip if you have diarrhea. Take kids out for bathroom breaks every hour, and if you need to change a diaper, don't do it poolside. Then, just try to swallow as little water as possible, and you can be sure to have a safe and healthy summer!
Sneeze Like a Vampire
It's Dracula's signature move: As the light interrupts his dim lair, he wraps his face in a cape, tucking his nose into the crook of his elbow. While the blood sucking does tarnish the vampire's reputation a bit, it turns out that he's spot-on when it comes to slowing the spread of germs.
One of the main ways that respiratory illnesses like the common cold, flu, whooping cough and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread is through coughing and sneezing. Ideally, you should use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, then immediately throw it away and wash your hands.
Sometimes you just don't have a tissue, though. In that case, resist the urge to use your hands and instead cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or the crook of your elbow, Dracula-style. That way you won't send any contaminated droplets airborne, and you won't spread them on everything you touch [source: CDC, cough].
How else can you stop the spread of germs? Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water — though you probably won't see Dracula doing much of that.
No Musty Guest Towels
Have you ever been to a party where the bathroom hand towel has been used so much it's become a smelly, moist wad? As a host you should offer a cleaner option, not just because that towel is gross, but because it's loaded with germs.
Hand towels are actually a great home for germs. They're usually pretty thick and hang in a moist location, meaning they take a long time to dry out. They also contain skin cells, which the germs can use as fuel. That means a few bacteria deposited on a towel can quickly multiply, leaving you at risk of picking up more each time you dry your hands [source: Braff].
To avoid turning your hand towel into a science experiment, wash it every three or four days using hot water and bleach when possible. If you are having a few guests over, set out a clean towel before they arrive. A larger party may require you to ditch the reusable towels altogether and opt for disposable ones instead — decorative sets are available at many bed and bath stores.
Keep Your Appetite in Check
The highlight of office parties is often the free food. But when fueling yourself for awkward conversation with coworkers, it's best not to get too carried away or your professionalism and health may suffer.
Many office parties have buffet-style meals or hors d'oeuvres. Often the plates will be small, but resist the urge to pile it high with food. In addition to preventing you from appearing gluttonous, restraint is also good when a dish is running low; try to leave some for others to enjoy if you can. If a dish is completely empty, it's OK to ask for more at a restaurant, but at a private party it's best just to keep quiet. Still hungry after round one? You can go back for seconds, as long as everyone else has gone through once already.
However, just because you can go back through the buffet line doesn't mean you should. Party food isn't exactly healthy: Think cheesy artichoke dip, salty potato chips, sugary desserts and bacon-wrapped, well, everything. Even the fresh veggies are usually paired with high-calorie, high-fat ranch dressing. Instead of eating more, consider mingling — it's a great way to build relationships with your coworkers, and you won't have to worry about your waistline or that big etiquette faux pas: Talking with your mouth full.
The expression 'mad as a hatter' predates the Mad Hatter in 'Alice in Wonderland.' So, where did the term come from?
Author's Note: 10 Etiquette Rules that Are Good for Your Health
Having grown up in the South, I was certainly aware of etiquette, but unfortunately I wasn't the best at following it. In fact, I don't think there's one rule in this article I didn't break at one time or another because, like most kids, I was too wrapped up in my own self-interest. As I've gotten older, though, I've slowly come to recognize the importance of etiquette and the positive impact it has on human relationships. Perhaps looking at how etiquette can benefit your personal health reintroduces self-interest into the equation, but hey, as least the end goal is the same!
More Great Links
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