13 Health Rules You Can Break
There are certain health myths that are simply old wives tales.
Mother Wasn’t Always Right
You've heard them before: Eat your veggies. Get eight hours of sleep each night. Don't cross your eyes, or they'll stay that way. Many health rules are grounded in science and should be followed as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but others? Not so much. Here are 13 popular rules that aren't as hard-and-fast as you might think.
Don't Crack Your Knuckles
The myth is that this habit will cause arthritis. It may be annoying, but no medical studies prove cracking or popping your fingers will lead to arthritis. However, some doctors say cracking your knuckles repeatedly may hurt your fingers in other ways (besides driving your coworkers crazy), so it's best to avoid the habit. Ever wondered where the popping sound comes from? When you stretch your fingers you pull the bones, creating an air bubble around the joints. When the bubble bursts, it makes the cracking noise.
Don't Go Outside With Wet Hair
It may make you feel chilly (wet hair doesn't insulate well), but it won't make you sick. Colds are caused by a virus that is usually spread by droplets from someone's cough or sneeze. To avoid the virus, you're better off washing your hands often and avoiding crowded places or close contact with someone who's sick. What does make you more vulnerable to a cold virus: fatigue, stress, and certain bad allergies.
Don't Swim After You Eat
Sorry, Mom, but there's no evidence that this causes cramps, which could possibly lead to drowning. While it's true that eating diverts some blood to the digestive system, most experts agree your body can still provide enough blood and oxygen during exercise to keep cramps from happening. Eating a big meal may make you feel too full to knock out a bunch of laps, but it won't make you drown.
Drink Eight Glasses of Water a Day
As long as you're drinking enough so that you don't feel thirsty, you urinate often, and your urine is nearly colorless, you're probably getting enough water. And remember that magic "eight glasses a day" includes water you get from foods and other beverages, and those help you gain other nutrients, too. While water is necessary, some healthy alternatives to water include broth-based soups and water-laden produce such as grapes, cucumbers, and melon.
Avoid Reading in Dim Light
You may get a headache and strain your eyes, but experts say poor lighting will not cause permanent damage to your eyesight. Ditto for sitting too close to a television or computer screen. To reduce eye strain, sit at a comfortable distance and take breaks often—at least every 20 minutes.
Use Birth Control That Follows Your Monthly Cycle
Traditional birth control pills are based on a 28-day cycle. The pills have reproductive hormones you take for the first 21 days, followed by a placebo for the next seven days, during which you have your period. In the past, doctors sometimes adjusted the dosage for women with painful or heavy periods. But with the advent of extended-cycle birth control pills, you can skip your period altogether or have it just a few times a year. Talk to your doctor to see which option is right for you.
Sugar Makes Kids Hyper
It’s a common myth that sugar creates hyperactivity in children. This theory was tested in a variety of children, including those believed to be sensitive to sugar. Research found that although children consumed well over their average daily intake, neither table sugar or aspartame—an artificial sweetener—negatively affected the children’s behavior. Other research confirmed these findings.
The ’Five-Second’ Rule
We’ve all heard this one when someone scoops food off the floor, as if germs stand by with a stopwatch to wait to latch onto food. In 2004, a college student named Jillian Clarke tested this theory and found that it was nothing but a myth. However, her research found that food dropped on carpet attracted fewer germs (but more cat hair) than if dropped on a hard surface.
‘Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever’
This has been an English wives tale for centuries, but there’s no concrete evidence to support it. One study found that food and starvation both produced a response from the immune system. When it comes to illness, drinking plenty of fluids is key to a quick recovery. As a general rule, if you’re hungry—the way your body tells you it needs nutrition—you should probably eat.
Don’t Drink Caffeine or You’ll Be Dehydrated
People living in warm climates are usually warned not to consume too much caffeine because of its diuretic properties (a.k.a. it makes you pee), which could lead to dehydration. A 2002 study from the University of Connecticut, which has since been confirmed by others, showed that people who drank decaffeinated beverages only had a three percent difference in water retention, thus showing that caffeine and caffeinated beverages don’t cause dehydration.
You Need 8 Hours of Sleep a Night
Not everyone needs eight hours of sleep a night. Some people run fine on six while others can barely function without nine. In fact, there’s historical evidence that humans used to sleep in intervals: two hours at dusk, a two-hour waking period, and then a second sleep. The amount of sleep you need varies on a variety of factors, including illness, stress, physical activity, and more. As a good rule, if you awake feeling tired, you probably need more or better sleep.
Warm Milk Will Help You Sleep
Yes, milk contains tryptophan, the same sedative found in turkey, but you’d have to drink a few cows’ worth to knock you out for the night. The response people feel from it is entirely psychological, so it can help you fall asleep if you think it will. It has the same comforting effect as wrapping up for the night with your teddy bear.
Gum Stays in Your Stomach for 7 Years
Every child who has swallowed his gum has heard this one. Chewing gum, just like anything else you swallow, will get picked up by the fluids and other food in your stomach and move it through digestion. It doesn’t even take seven dogs years to get through. It usually only needs a few days at most, just like everything else.
Get Good Health Advice
While some of the older wisdom isn’t so wise, there are plenty of good health advice out there, from what foods your body needs to work its best to important exercise to keep you feeling young.
Explore our other slideshows to get the important, doctor-reviewed medical advice you need to make better decisions about your health.