Standfirst: In the fast-moving world of health trends, it’s easy to get confused with what’s good for you and what isn’t. We take a look at five of the most common, exploring their origins and a discovering a bit more about them
“To stay hydrated, you should drink 8 cups of water a day”
Well, it’s definitely a good guide - but it is only a guide. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine1 says a healthy female adult should be consuming 11.5 cups of fluid a day, while a healthy male adult should be 15.5 cups.
Given that around 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from our food, this means drinking ‘8 cups’ serves as a good general guide for women, however it falls a little short for men, who should be drinking around 12 cups (cups are classified as 8-ounce vessels or 240ml).
But other factors play a role. If you exercise a lot, live in a hot and humid climate, are pregnant or breast-feeding or suffering from fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, you will need to drink more to replace lost fluids. Diet also plays a role – you could off-set some of those cups by taking on fluid through milk or juice, or eating foods with a high water content such as watermelon, or spinach.
Putting it in perspective: Drinking 8 cups a day is a good number to have in your mind, it’s important to also pay attention to your body, responding to thirst and the colour of your urine (if it’s not clear, then you need to drink more) to ensure you’re hydrated.
“Did you hit your 10,000 steps today?”
Achieving 10,000 steps a day is talked about as a magic bullet to make you healthier, slimmer and fitter. It hails from Japan, where in 1965 a company marketing a device to record your steps named their creation a Manpo-kei, a rough translation of which is a ‘10,000 steps meter’)2.
Partly because the maths behind 10,000 steps is sensible (to most it’s five miles and over an hour’s walking) it has become the default daily ambition for anyone who has ever bought a fitness tracker. Hit that target five out of seven days, and you’ve smashed the UK’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
But, 10,000 steps is a lot of steps to make in a day, especially for those in desk jobs, although, according to a 2019 study)3, the benefits broadly level off after hitting 7,500 steps.
Putting it in perspective: 10,000 steps is a positive number, but don’t be overawed by it. Use it to make small lifestyle changes such as walking to the shops rather than driving or taking the stairs instead of the lift. If you’re coming in at the 4,000-5,000 mark, stay motivated, it’s still good for your health.
“Everyone needs 8 hours of sleep a night”
A good night’s sleep is something we all benefit from, but eight hours is not the magic number for everyone, it’s quoted because it’s the average of the range of time recommended for all adults to get, which is between 7 and 9 hours a night)4.
And those people that, after 5 hours a night, feel absolutely fine? While it may be true that they ‘feel fine’, scientists suggest this is because they have become accustomed to the negative effects of reduced sleep)5.
Whilst sleep deprivation is to be avoided, so too is an excess of sleep, as studies have shown that the risk of being overweight, and even obese, increases in people who sleep longer than average.
Putting it in perspective: Adults should aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep but no more than 9, unless recuperating from a period of sleep deprivation. But within those guidelines, the best advice is to sleep for however long you feel you need to function at your best. And if you feel the need for a daytime nap, don’t shy away from it. Keeping a nap to approximately 20 minutes is a sensible time for an extra 40 winks)6.
“Always eat your 5-a-day”
This idea comes from the farming community in California in the 1980s as they realised it would be beneficial for both growers and public health – the State Department for Health Services in California was waking up to the role diet could play in preventing cancer and heart disease.)7
Now, over 20 governments around the world promote the idea in some form. In the US, 9 portions is often quoted; Australia it’s 2 + 5 (2 portions of vegetables, and 5 of fruit)8; for the UK (and the World Health Organisation), it’s 5)9.
Fruit and vegetables provide dietary fibre which helps maintain a healthy intestine and digestive system, lowering the risk of bowel cancer. Plus, they’re a great source of vitamins and minerals and can help lower the risk of a stroke, heart diseases and other cancers.
Be mindful of portions. The National Health Service in the UK advises that a ‘portion’ of plums is two plums, but for pineapples it’s just a slice. For juices and smoothies, the rule of thumb is they count as one portion, no matter how many you consume in a day.
Putting it in perspective: With the difference in opinion, it’s best to look at eating 5 portions as a solid baseline, with any further fruit or vegetables a good idea where and when available.
“Fasting is the fastest way to weight loss”
The idea of Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a simple one: to structure your daily eating in between periods of fasting. It doesn’t stipulate what foods you should and shouldn’t eat, hence its popularity.
There is some science behind IF, by not eating for an extended period of time, insulin levels go down which in turn allows fat cells to release sugar which is then burnt up (as there aren’t any other calories in our system due to fasting).
There are various approaches. One strategy is to fast for 16 hours, restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12 – 8 pm. This is known as the 16/8 method.
Then there is the 5/2 diet, where for two non-consecutive days a week you consume 500-600 calories only, but eat normally for the other 5 days. There are more intense strategies too, such as fasting for 24 hours straight, once or twice a week.
Putting it in perspective: Ultimately, although many chose their own route to weight-loss, the best way of maintaining a healthy weight is through developing a routine that’s sustainable and involves keeping active on a daily basis and eating a balanced, healthy diet.
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