Myths about healthy lifestyle busted

You have always been told that you need eight hours sleep a night and five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. But which of these oft-quoted stats are vital? We get you the true picture.

Keep cholesterol low

These days, it’s the ratio of ‘good’ (HDL) to ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol that doctors worry about. Of course, the more good you have, the better. LDL is known as bad cholesterol because any excess can build up in the walls of your arteries, restricting blood flow and forming arteryblocking clots, which can trigger a heart attack. High levels are linked to eating too much of the saturated fat found in red meat and full-fat dairy. HDL, however, is dubbed good cholesterol as it helps remove bad cholesterol from the blood and you can raise its level in your system by eating more ‘healthy’ unsaturated fats found in olive oil, dark chocolates, seeds and nuts.

Verdict: Outdated advice. Get your cholesterol checked and ask the doctor to explain your good to bad ratio.

Drink eight glasses of water healthy lifestyle

Despite numerous claims that we need eight glasses of water for healthy skin and kidneys, a review by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found not a single study to back this widely touted figure, which is thought to date back to a 1945 American nutrition report. It’s also worth bearing in mind that excessive amounts of water can actually be dangerous, even fatal by over-diluting the body’s sodium levels.

Verdict: Untrue. The body self-regulates fluid, so if you feel thirsty, have a glass of water. If you don’t, you probably don’t need one.

Aim for a 18-25 BMI

Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure of whether you’re carrying too much weight for your height and build. The current view is that under 25 is considered healthy, 25-30 is overweight and 30-plus obese. However, many experts now believe that waist size is a far more important indicator of your health than BMI. This is because the abdominal fat stored around your middle is unstable and wraps itself around your internal organs, raising your risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Verdict: Misleading. Switch your scales for a tape measure. If your waist is bigger than 94 cm for men and 80 cm for women, you are carrying too much tummy fat — even if you’ve a healthy BMI.

BP should be 100 plus your age

Or so the saying used to be, but these days 120/80 is now considered optimal, whatever your age. The Blood Pressure Association argues that, ideally, everyone should aim for a reading of 110/70. This is because high blood pressure — the pressure at which blood is pumped around the body — puts extra strain on your arteries and heart, which is a major cause of heart attacks and the key cause of strokes.

Verdict: Outdated advice. Get yours checked once you hit 40. Once you know it’s high, it’s easy to treat.

Get 15 minutes of sunshine everyday

As well as being important for healthy teeth and bones, vitamin D is needed to maintain a healthy immune system and deficiency has recently been linked to a wide range of serious conditions, from heart disease to depression. Indeed, so concerned are experts about vitamin D deficiency that it’s led to a change of advice on sun protection.

Verdict:

Sound advice. Get early morning sun for 15-20 minutes on a daily basis to replenish your vitamin D reserves.

You need to exercise for 30 minutes, five times a week

Various foreign health departments say that we all need to exercise for 150 minutes a week, breaking it up into five half-hour sessions. But Dr Michael Mosley, the man behind the 5:2 diet, thinks this advice is confusing, can be hard to achieve and that the more important message of “just getting up and moving around as often as possible” is largely ignored. This despite research showing, Mosley says, that the real ‘silent killer’ is sitting in a chair for too many hours each day. He’s a fan of high intensity training (HIT), which can mean just few minutes of high energy activities, a few times a week and not sitting still for long periods. Fitness expert, Danny Saunders agrees that making your daily routine naturally more active is what really counts when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight long term. Never underestimate the power of a short workout – just 15 minutes of moderate exercise each day can add three years to your life.

Verdict: Confusing. Focus on walking everywhere, moving as much as possible during the day and avoid sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time.