Drink eight glasses of water a day, get at least eight hours of sleep every night and "eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away." We hear health and fitness guidelines like these all of the time, and while they mean well, they’re not always necessarily true.
There’s not much science backed behind the “eight glasses a day” advice. Instead experts say you should hydrate by following your body’s thirst cues. And while in general, more sleep will likely be better for your overall health, but the actual amount that each of us needs varies from person to person.
The bottom line is: as individuals, we each have very different needs when it comes to health and fitness. In every aspect of the arena, there’s no cookie cutter answer that works effectively for everyone, which means you have to experiment and find what works best for you.
Below are four more common health and fitness generalizations that are frequently believed to be true, and explanations that reveal why they’re actually just misconceptions.
1. Eating after 8pm will make it impossible to lose weight.
Why people believe it is true: Generally, bedtime is past 8 p.m. Any time the body is resting it is less able to break down the food we eat into useable energy (we aren’t using as much energy to sleep). Thus, we get fat.
Why it is a myth: Our bodies function kind of like a math equation. Remember algebra? Well, you don’t have to. It's elementary math. Calories in, calories out. In general, if you take in more calories than you usually expend you will gain weight. If you balance the eating with exercise so your ‘net’ calorie intake is less than usual, or you consume less calories than your baseline level, you will lose weight. The body doesn’t so much care if the calories are at a certain time. It’s a math equation, end of story.
For example it is commonly believed that a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories. Therefore, if you are generally maintaining your weight and you eat 500 fewer calories a day, by the end of the week you would lose 1 pound (500 x 7= 3,500). This is why the counting calorie method generally always works, and is the basis for weight watchers ‘points’ program and most other commercial diets. The hardest part is eating less, not what time you eat. You could conceivably consume only less calories than usual, but only at night and none all day and you would still lose weight.
2. You have to eat breakfast.
Why people believe it to be true: There is something about starting your day out, and your blood sugar at an appropriate level, and balancing the night of no eating with good nutrition in the morning.
Why it is a myth: Everyone is different when it comes to eating and definitely when it comes to blood sugar levels. Some people don’t feel like eating in the morning. Some people do. Some people feel when they are forced to eat breakfast they end up being hungrier all day.
The truth is each person is different. You don’t have to be a breakfast eater to lead a healthy lifestyle, or have a slim physique or be an athlete. Some great athletes and slim people have liquid for breakfast, a coffee, tea or water with lemon.
Do what works for you. If you are happier with little or no breakfast, save your calories for the times of day you like to eat and can enjoy it. Remember, it’s a math equation. It’s the number of calories you eat that affects your weight, not what time you eat them.
3. Exercise before bed is bad for you.
Why people believe it to be true: Often people can complain of disturbed sleep.
Why it is a myth: Again, this depends on the person. If exercise does not keep you wired, you may be one of the many that get more ready for sleep and more tired instead.
Actually, exercise before bed is great for the joints. It helps them receive some last-minute nutrition before the long time they will spend inactive. For those suffering from arthritis, joint pain or swelling, sore backs and other areas, this actually is preferable.
4. Running is a more effective exercise than walking.
Why people believe it is true: Remember when we talked about calories in versus calories out? Since running burns more calories than walking over the same time period, all things being equal, most people will say that is advantageous.
Why it is a myth: Although running burns more calories, it’s not always better for everyone. Why? Generally when we burn more calories we need more energy to be made by our cells. This usually means one thing: more hunger! Many people who run offset the extra calories they burn by adding new ones. With walking, because the impact on the body is not the same, we may be less likely to get hungry and thus be able to regulate our eating better.
Second, joints are less affected negatively with walking as opposed to running. So if you are overweight, have joint problems or an extensive family history of arthritis, walking may be a healthier option. It’s great for conditions like osteoporosis or osteopenia, and it is easier to squeeze your abs, glutes and legs to work on toning these areas as well!