From eight hours of sleep to 10,000 steps a day — we sort health myths from medical fact

MANY of us stick to snippets of wisdom to keep our bodies in fine fettle. But which are actually true?

Are we really losing at snoozing if we don’t get eight hours’ shut-eye a night? Are 10,000 steps a day several strides wide of the mark?

And should we really be swallowing the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day? One expert certainly believes we shouldn’t.

Tamara Hew-Butler, an exercise scientist in the US, says too much water could actually be unhealthy.

She explained: “Not to burst anyone’s water bottle, but healthy people can actually die from drinking too much water.

"My research focuses on overhydration and how drinking too much water affects the body.”

She says the amount each person needs depends on body weight, environmental temperature and physical activity levels, so a one-size-fits-all strategy is way off the mark.

Here, we bust other health myths to reveal what you REALLY need . . .

10,000 steps a day

THE magic number may be just 5,500.

The figure of 10,000 dates to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games when a Japanese firm began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter.

It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck.

But new research by Harvard Medical School in America compared the number of steps taken by 16,000 women in their seventies with their likelihood of dying from any cause.

Four years later, 504 had died. The average number of daily steps taken by the survivors was 5,500.

Eat five portions of fruit and veg a day

RESEARCHERS at Imperial College London found that while eating five portions of fruit and veg a day could reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke, TEN a day is better.

The research, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that eating 800g – or ten portions – gave the highest protection.

Lead scientist Dr Dagfinn Aune said if everyone consumed ten portions a day, around 7.8million premature deaths could be prevented worldwide every year.

Sleep for eight hours a day

SLEEP boosts your immune system and mental wellbeing and can reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But how much sleep do you need to reap the benefits?

It varies between individuals but the National Sleep Foundation says healthy adults require seven to nine hours a night.

Babies, young children and teens need even more and anyone over 65 should get seven to eight.

Those who get under six hours are 30 per cent more likely to develop dementia in old age, say University of Edinburgh experts.

Women should have 2,000 calories a day, men 2,500

PUBLIC Health England recommends women consume around 2,000 calories a day and men 2,500.

They advocate eating 400 calories at breakfast and 600 each at lunch and dinner. Snacks and drinks between meals should make up the difference.

The World Health Organisation has similar guidelines though some experts have said calorie counting could be harmful.

Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, says the relationship between calories and our bodies is complicated as we all burn them at different rates.

Limit yourself to 14 units of alcohol a week

ONE in five drinkers admitted drinking more during lockdown, according to a survey by Alcohol Change UK. But how much is safe?

In 1979 the Government advised men to drink no more than 56 units a week.

This was reduced to 36, 28, 21 and then, in October 2020, just 14 units for both men and women.

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said there was no “safe” level of drinking.

Male drinking guidelines vary hugely around the world, from 52 units a week in Fiji to just seven in Guyana.

Drink eight glasses of water a day

MOST experts now agree this is a myth.

The figure is thought to have come from a 1945 recommendation that said most adults need around 2.5 litres of water a day. This is around 1 millilitre for each calorie of food.

But paediatrician Aaron Carroll points out that most of this water comes from other sources – fruit and veg, beer, tea and coffee.

And exercise scientist Tamara Hew-Butler said the amount you need depends on your physical activity levels, body weight and environmental temp­er­ature, as you sweat more if it is hot.

Eat no more than 6g of salt a day

SALT is essential for a healthy nervous system and to keep muscles moving. But too much raises your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Government guidelines state healthy adults should have no more than 6g a day.

Campaign group Action On Salt says most of us eat 8.1g a day and if we reduce this by 25 per cent we would cut strokes by 22 per cent, heart attacks by 16 per cent and save 17,000 lives.

Prof Graham MacGregor, from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, says the evidence we should stick to 6g is “overwhelming”.

A ‘healthy’ BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9

YOUR Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to categorise your health. A high or low BMI may be an indicator of poor diet, low activity levels or high stress.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared.

The healthy range is regarded as 18.5 to 24.9. Anything under is underweight, above overweight. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

People such as boxers and rugby players have a lot of muscle and little fat, but may have a BMI that classes them as obese, despite being healthy.

Do 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week

THE NHS recommends we do 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week – or 150 minutes of moderate exercise for similar health benefits.

These figures are consistent around the world, with experts at the Mayo Clinic in America and the World Health Organisation giving the same advice.

The WHO says physical activity has significant health benefits for hearts, bodies and minds and one in four adults globally are not active enough.

We are also advised to do some strength exercises twice a week.

Get 15 minutes of sunshine a day

WE all know the risks of sunburn but according to the World Health Organisation getting between five and 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands and face two to three times a week can help our bodies to produce Vitamin D.

This vitamin promotes the absorbtion of calcium so is essential for bone health and good immunity.

If you are going to be out any longer than a quarter of an hour, or in extreme heat, make sure you apply a sunscreen with a high-factor SPF.

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