Location, location, location: Store owners aren't the only ones concerned with finding the perfect spot in which to situate their stuff. Researchers in a wide variety of fields know that how you organize your environment — from where you stand in fitness class to the place you choose to store your meds — has a surprising effect on everything from your weight to your chances of staying well. In other words, when it comes to how you feel, it's not just what you do, it's where you do it. Here, surprisingly bad locales for your health — and the best places to optimize it.
The worst place for your toothbrush: on the 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. "Unless you like rinsing with toilet water, keep your toothbrush behind closed doors — in the medicine cabinet or a nearby cupboard," Gerba says.
The worst place to set your handbag: the kitchen counter
Your fancy handbag is a major tote for microbes: Gerba and his team's swabs showed up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch on purse bottoms — and a 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. Put your bag in a drawer or on a chair, Gerba says — anywhere except where food is prepared or eaten.
The worst place for your sneakers and flip-flops: in the bedroom closet
Walking through your house in shoes you wear outside is a great way to track in allergens and contaminants. A 1999 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. 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.
The worst place to try to fall asleep: under piles of blankets
Being overheated can keep you from nodding off, researchers say: A natural nighttime drop in your core temperature triggers your body to get drowsy. To ease your way to sleep, help your body radiate heat from your hands and feet, says Helen Burgess, PhD, assistant director of the Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Don socks to dilate the blood vessels in the extremities — then take the socks off and let a foot stick out from under the blankets.
The worst place to cool leftovers: in the refrigerator
Placing a big pot of hot edibles directly into the fridge is a recipe for uneven cooling and possibly food poisoning, says O. Peter Snyder Jr., PhD, president of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, MN. The reason: It can take a long time for the temperature in the middle of a big container to drop, creating a cozy environment for bacteria. You can safely leave food to cool on the counter for up to an hour after cooking, Snyder says. Or divvy up hot food into smaller containers and then refrigerate — it'll cool faster.
The worst stall to pick in a public restroom: the one 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.
The worst place for a workout reminder: 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 percent. 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.
The worst place to sit on an airplane: 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. "The smoothest option is sitting as close to the wing as you can."
The worst place to pick up a prescription: the 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. 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.
The worst place to stand during your first few fitness classes: front and center
You might think that you'd want to be near the mirrors so you can check your form, but your sweat session will be more motivating if your view is obstructed, suggests a 2003 study at McMasters University. In that research, 58 sedentary women all exercised at similar intensity levels. But those who did it in a mirrored room reported feeling more anxious about their body's imperfections after their workout than women who sweated without mirrors distracting them.
The worst place for a nighttime reading light: overhead
These fixtures put out relatively bright light — enough to significantly delay the body's secretion of melatonin, showed a 2000 study. That can wreck your night, since rising melatonin levels are a major cue for your body to prepare for sleep. A low-power light clipped to your novel will let you read but leave the room dark enough for your brain to transition into sleep mode. Try the LightWedge ($25 to $35; lightwedge.com) or the "Itty Bitty" Slim Book Light ($40; zelco.com).
The worst place to keep medicine: 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. To stay out of the red zone, store your meds in a cool, dry place, such as the pantry.