Should we really be walking 10,000 steps a day? Do ab workouts really give you a sixpack?
We investigate 5 top health beliefs right now and sift the fact from the fiction
It can feel sometimes that science is constantly changing its mind on all things dietary and health-based. An article declaring whole milk’s “triumphant comeback” caused a social media storm recently, whilst whether or not wine is good for you seems to be constantly in and out of the headlines.
Our collective understanding is getting more nuanced as our scientific knowledge grows. Here are 5 widely held beliefs and what science says now – so you can start to separate fact from fad.
You should walk 10,000 steps a day
You may be surprised to hear that this number wasn’t based on any science when it first cropped up in the 1960s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not good advice. A study released in 2022 found that walking may reduce the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, with returns diminishing after the 10,000-step sweet spot. Another study found similar results for dementia, with as little as 3,800 steps a day proving effective. If you can up your pace and walk faster to keep your heart rate up, the results will be even better.
Dieting will slow your metabolism
It’s a common trope that eating a very low-calorie diet, or even fasting, will trigger “starvation mode”, where the body slows metabolism as a way to keep you from losing any more weight. There may be small changes to someone’s metabolic rate when they lose weight or go on a diet. This is called adaptive thermogenesis – a process during which the body reduces its production of heat in order to conserve energy.
To lessen the chances of your metabolism slowing down due to dieting or weight loss, you should avoid rapid weight loss: gradual is better. Ensure that you are eating a wide variety of health fruit, vegetables, wholegrain and protein. Services like Balance Box can be hugely beneficial here as they take the stress out of portion control (as well as shopping and cooking)
You need to drink two litres of water a day
As with 10,000 steps a day, the recommendation to drink two litres of water a day, while reasonable advice, is not based on hard science. In 1945, the US National Research Council wrote: “A suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 litres daily in most instances … Most of this quantity is in prepared foods.” People often forget that fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water and are also valid ways to stay hydrated. Foods such as melon, cucumber, celery and courgettes are all excellent sources of water, as well as providing nutrition.
‘Everyone needs eight hours of sleep’
It’s easy to think of sleep as an individual thing: some people need eight hours, while others can get by on seven and how much sleep we need and when to sleep varies on our life stage and lifestyle. But in one of the largest ever sleep studies, launched in 2017, participants who reported sleeping the doctor-endorsed seven to eight hours performed better cognitively than those who slept more or less than that, regardless of age. Those who slept four hours or less performed as if they were almost nine years older. Lack of sleep can also affect testosterone production in young men and a review of studies published in 2010 suggests it can raise the risk of all-cause mortality.
To give yourself the best chance of a decent night’s sleep try to establish a sleep routine. Getting outside and exposing yourself to sunlight during the day, especially in the winter months might also help to regulate your circadian rhythm and help you to sleep better.
‘You should aim to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day’
Whilst many studies have found that roughly this number is associated with improved health, there is also evidence that up to 10 servings per day of these foods can be beneficial. In general, those who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower risks for cognitive decline and dementia, and diabetes, and may even experience decreased levels of stress. Remember that the more variety, the better.
If the idea of getting in a broad diversity of fruits and vegetables sound a little daunting then why not let Balance Box do all of the hard work for you. Balance Box always aims to offer a minimum of 10 plant foods each day to keep you on track for a healthy gut and thriving microbiome. Browse our menus now to find the best fit for you!