We've taken a look at some health dos and don’ts, and assessed the reality behind the claims.
We live in a world where misinformation is rife. Fair elections are dismissed as crooked, the world is run by a secret cabal of lizards; nothing is so absurd that some people won’t believe it. This is true nowhere more than in the realms of health. Covid-related conspiracies include the idea that 5G masts caused the virus, that the vaccine makes your testicles explode, and that Bill Gates now controls us all. I don’t believe the last one – but then again, that’s exactly what Bill would tell me to think. Hmm.
Less dramatic, but no less pervasive, are a number of health myths that have become so widely accepted as to be almost universal. At buddyboost we know it’s important to know the facts so we have taken a look at the received wisdom about certain health dos and don’ts, and assessed the reality behind the claims.
Claim: You need five portions of fruit and veg a day.
Okay, first off, this isn’t an invitation to ditch the green stuff and embrace a diet of fry ups and pizza (sorry!). Fruit and veg are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. It’s just that the five figure is somewhat arbitrary. Research suggests that benefits of consuming fruit and veg increase all the way up to ten portions a day, but even as little as 2.5 portions will reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. But more is definitely merrier.
Claim: You should try to get 150 minutes of exercise every week.
We’re not all destined to be gym bunnies or ultramarathon runners, and it’s important to recognise that we really don’t need to be. But the World Health Organisation – and pretty much every other health body you can think of – recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week. That can be anything from a brisk walk to a bike ride, yoga to swimming. Basically, anything that gets your heart rate up.
The benefits of exercise are extensive, but the headlines are that it reduces the risk of all-cause mortality, and is good for addressing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. A recent study by Glasgow Caledonian University for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, involving 136,000 adult participants, suggested that regular exercise reduced the risk of early death by up to 80%. buddyboost’s programme of 26 minutes exercise every day is built with the figure of 150 minutes a week in mind. Do your 26 minutes for six out of seven days, and you’ll hit your weekly target. If you manage 7 days a week even better!
Claim: You should drink eight glasses of water a day.
The idea of drinking lots of water for health reasons has always been vague on the science. Of course, it’s a good idea to drink water in order to avoid, you know, dying. But the idea that it helps you flush out toxins, or improve kidney function, is without scientific basis, as shown by a randomised trial of 631 patients with kidney disease in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And while it’s true that we do lose fluid through sweat and, indeed, breathing (which is definitely recommended), much of the fluid we need comes from our food, not to mention coffee or tea, fruit juice etc. If you’re thirsty, drink water, but you don’t need to worry about guzzling down litres of the stuff if you don’t feel the need.
Claim: Exercising in the evening will prevent sleep.
In the busy modern world, plenty of people find that they get to the evening without having had time to exercise. But received wisdom suggests that exercising too close to bedtime will stop you from getting your much-needed Zs. Not so, according to a 2018 study published in Sports Medicine. Indeed, the researchers examined 23 studies into the subject, and found that not only did evening exercise not prevent sleep, it helped people fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep. The only coda is that you should try and avoid intense physical exercise one hour before bed, as that may delay sleep’s arrival. So if you’ve left it too late in the day a yoga class might be better than HITT!
Claim: You should try and spend time outside every day.
Spending time outside is the most efficient way of getting vitamin D. Vitamin D is important in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It is also good for the immune system, and for preventing heart disease, and has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression. It also helps regulate the circadian rhythm, promoting better sleep. Bearing in mind the benefits of exercise outlined above, if you can do it outside, you’re killing two birds with one stone. [Legal note: buddyboost does not condone the killing of birds.]
Claim: Swimming soon after eating can give you cramp.
We all remember the agonising wait on holiday, watching the clock tick down for an hour after lunch before our parents would let us back in the pool, to prevent us developing cramp after eating. In fact, there is no evidence to support this claim at all. Indeed, there is not a single case of drowning that has been attributed to cramp after eating. The American Red Cross issued a scientific advisory review in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education about it. The review concluded, “Currently available information suggests that eating before swimming is not a contributing risk for drowning and can be dismissed as a myth.”
Claim: You should brush your teeth twice a day.
Yep. Of course you should. You only get one set of gnashers, and it pays to look after them. Plus, nobody wants to be assaulted by your coffee breath. But the benefits go considerably further. A South Korean study has shown that brushing your teeth at least three times a day is associated with lower risk of atrial fibrillation, heart failure, type-2 diabetes and strokes.
Claim: You should do 10,000 steps a day.
As with the five fruit and veg, it’s not exactly that the advice is wrong, so much as just a bit arbitrary. Of course, getting out and getting steps under your belt is good for you, but the 10,000 figure is simply a convenient and satisfying number. In fact, a study of 2110 adults over 40 showed that taking 7000 steps every day resulted in a 50% lower risk of premature death. But the stats didn’t differ much between 7000 and 10,000 steps. On the other hand, if your goal is to lose weight, then it is recommended that you do more than 15,000 steps a day.
Claim: You can train your body to need less sleep.
Research has found that a lack of sleep takes a toll over both the short- and long-term, demonstrating that your brain and body can’t just get used to getting less sleep. It might feel that you’re dealing with it better, but actually, that is almost certainly due to you becoming more used to the effects of sleep deprivation than needing less sleep. According the Sleep Foundation, “persistent sleep deprivation affects daytime performance, harming decision-making, memory, focus, and creativity. With time, insufficient sleep can wreak havoc on diverse aspects of health including metabolism, the cardiovascular system, the immune system, hormone production, and mental health.” Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. There is a genetic mutation that means a small number of people can function perfectly normally on considerably less sleep, but as the mutation occurs in roughly one in every 4 million people, it’s fair to say these examples are definitely outliers.
Claim: Carrots help you see in the dark.
My mother always told me that eating carrots would help me to see in the dark. Mind you, she also told me eating broccoli would help me grow thick and lustrous hair. I’ve always eaten broccoli, and I was bald by my mid-20s. Sadly, she was wrong about the carrots too. It seems that the carrot myth emerged during World War II. When the British had developed radar, they wanted to keep secret from the Germans how they managed to intercept their night-time raids so successfully, so the Air Ministry issued a press release stating that the RAF’s aces were eating lots of carrots to help them see in the dark.
Interestingly, carrots are high in Vitamin A, which helps the body to synthesise rhodopsin, a pigment in the eyes that operates in conditions of low light. As such, a vitamin A deficiency can cause ‘night blindness’. But in normal, healthy individuals, eating carrots will not help you see in the dark.
According to WHO
In adults and older adults, higher levels of physical activity improves:
risk of all-cause mortality
risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
incident site-specific cancers (bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, oesophageal adenocarcinoma, gastric and renal cancers)
incident type-2 diabetes
prevents of falls
mental health (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression)
measures of adiposity may also improve
If that’s not motivated you to do your 26minutes today I don’t know what will!