3 healthy lifestyle myths that beg to be debunked

Three healthy lifestyle myths
Image: @alice.grigoriadi

If you have been following a healthy lifestyle for some time, you will have likely accumulated habits that have become second nature, without even questioning their validity and benefits. Some such a priori wellness postulates have become embedded in our collective minds for so long ago that it would be impossible to track down their origins or purpose. Are they even valid anymore?

A concerted effort to look into these seemingly compelling myths has not been attempted by those advocating for them or their followers. This vicious cycle of old wives’ tales about a healthy diet and exercise continues, as they get passed around by word of mouth, reinforcing these beliefs. Many books have tried to set the record straight when it comes to separating facts from fiction.

10,000 steps a day

One of the most hyped-up rules of a healthy lifestyle is making 10,000 steps a day. I must admit, I am in part responsible for popularising this idea. Back in 2006, when I was a Health columnist at Cosmo, two major brands, Nike and Apple, released a collaborative product known as Nike+iPod, a gadget that tracks your steps, pace and calories. It was as trendy and glamorous as most Nike and Apple products are, but also pricey.

For this reason, there was a certain agenda to drive home the message that this new device was not just a fad but also a necessity. What came after was a blast of mainstream media coverage in glossy magazines around the world saying that those fast-paced 10,000 steps a day were the foundations of a healthy lifestyle, according to a case study conducted in the UK. We enthusiastically pushed this idea to the masses. Though, needless to say, nobody itched to verify the referenced study or indeed question its methodology.

The first significant study into the correlation between the number of steps taken a day and longevity was not launched until 2011. The study included postmenopausal women. It is likely that the results would have been different for younger women, and especially men. Even had such research been attempted in 2006, it would still mean that not enough time would have passed for us to assess the impact of walking on longevity today. A sample of elderly people is therefore more informative in this respect.

The pattern of findings in this study was predictable to start with, with those that walked less than 3,000 steps a day dying first. The risk was reduced by 41% for those that walked 4,500 steps. The risk of mortality from such core causes as cardio-vascular diseases, cancer and diabetes was reduced by 15% with every extra 1,000 steps made. This tendency continued up to 7,500 steps. However, no additional benefits were found from that point on, whether it was 7,600 steps or 10,000 or even 12,000.

Three healthy lifestyle myths that beg to be debunked
Image: @alice.grigoriadi

GMO-free food

According to recent surveys, there is a strong belief that genetically modified food is the most harmful to our health, followed by fast food.

For this reason, many manufacturers of what is essentially junk food or processed food feature prominent “GMO free” markers on their packaging, presenting it as a seemingly healthy option.

In many cases this is nothing other than a marketing trick. In Russia, production of genetically modified food is forbidden as of 3 July 2016. Meaning that all food that lands on the shelves of the supermarkets after that date is automatically GMO-free. In fact, it is only if it does contain GMO that the manufacturer is obliged to declare it. Genetically modified food is not grown in the UK. The UK has been subject to EU regulations until this year and although the growth and sale of such products has been permitted for imported foods, it has historically been subject to strict regulations. Until now, the general approach has been against the implementation of such products.

So, what is GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms? This is a term usually used in reference to plants and animals whose genetic code has been manipulated resulting in a mutation triggered by the latest technology. As futuristic as it sounds, this is by no means a symptom of our technologically advanced times. Mutation is a natural biological process and one of the key evolutionary tools.

An example of this is the all-familiar nectarine: a hairless peach, which is actually a result of an accidental mutation rather than selection as is often assumed. In truth, all cultivated plants today are a result of a mutation. It is just that those mutations were accidental and chosen at random. GMO is exactly that, except that it is done in a more targeted fast-paced way.

Greenpeace has spoken out against artificial organisms of this kind. Its activists have not only been preaching about the harm of GMO, but have also raided experimental crop fields. Some countries have banned the sale of such products or its manufacturing altogether. For this reason, the fears of any undercover production of such illegal produce are simply unfounded. For now, genetic engineering is still a complex and costly exercise.

2,5 litres of water a day

It is not that this figure has no foundations. It is just not as universal as that. First of all, as much as water manufacturers might wish for it to be so, the WHO-backed recommended portion does not limit this to bottled water alone but implies liquid of any kind such as tea, coffee, milk, soup and juicy fruit.

If you live in a moderate climate and are not engaged in intense manual labour, you will typically need 43 ml of liquid per kg of body mass per day. For a woman weighing 60 kg it would take 43x60=2,580 ml of liquid to keep hydration in check. This is where that 2,5 litres figure comes from.

The majority of us do not need to count our water intake to stay sufficiently hydrated.

If you weigh 50 kg, you can drink less. And if you weigh 80, you will need to drink more. Different rules apply to such categories as athletes, military personnel and, say, those experiencing a high fever. As more water evaporates from the body’s surface and lungs (through enhanced breathing), bigger volumes of liquid are required to compensate for it.

However, the majority of us do not need to count our intake to stay sufficiently hydrated. Thirst is our natural regulating mechanism. Adipsia (the absence of thirst during dehydration) is an extremely rare and is usually an inborn disorder.

The healthiest recommendation for everyone who does not suffer with adipsia is therefore to drink water when you feel thirsty and exactly as much of it as you want.

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