We're taking these tall tales to task to separate fact from fiction, finally.
Myth 1: Eating breakfast fires up your metabolism.
We've all been told not to skip breakfast if you want to lose weight because it kick-starts metabolism. But recent studies have found that eating breakfast didn't always result in weight loss or a lower body mass index. In some studies, eating whole-grain cereal like oatmeal was a good breakfast choice for weight management, but if you're planning to load up on a starchy white bagel with cream cheese, research suggests a healthier choice is to skip breakfast altogether. Of course, staying active and incorporating muscle-building resistance training will ensure that your metabolic rate stays strong.
Myth 2: The best way to lose weight is with exercise.
You won't shed pounds by just exercising. Think of it this way: You need about 300 minutes of exercise a week (or five one-hour sessions) to see even two to three pounds of weight loss a year from working out, explains Ottawa-based obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. What's more important is improving your eating habits. "Spend more time in the kitchen prepping healthy food than on the treadmill," advises Dr. Freedhoff. But don't skip the gym; being active is undeniably beneficial for overall health and crucial for combatting other ailments. Follow the 80:20 rule: Dedicate 80 percent of your effort to making healthy food choices and 20 percent to hitting the gym.
Myth 3: Alzheimer's is an old person's disease.
Julianne Moore's portrayal in Still Alice of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's shortly after her 50th birthday left us all a little stunned by her young age. "Alzheimer's is a disease we need to pay attention to when we're younger—even as early as our 20s and 30s—not when we're older," says Dr. Vivien Brown, a Toronto-based family physician and author of A Woman's Guide to Healthy Aging. "By the time you have symptoms, you already have changes and plaque in the brain, which means years of damage," she says. You can't reverse the damage, but you can decrease the risk and its progression. Take action to prevent dementia by making healthier lifestyle choices when you're younger: Don't smoke, pay attention to your blood pressure, minimize stress, get enough sleep and make time for exercise and meditation. "Games and mental math exercises can create better brain reserve, so that when the brain experiences stress, it has the ability to adapt."
Myth 4: Running is bad for your knees.
Running often gets a bad rep for causing knee damage—but the stigma surrounding its perceived negative impact on joint health has run out of steam. An extensive two-decade study from Stanford University in California that began tracking more than 500 older runners (now in their 70s and 80s) found that those who ran were better off than those who didn't. A more recent study by Provo, Utah's Brigham Young University and Utah Valley Sports Medicine and Orthopedics found that running can lower inflammation in the knees. But before you sign up for your first half-marathon, do some strength training and build the muscles around your joints.
Myth 5: A gluten-free diet is healthier for everybody.
Overhauling your diet with gluten-free everything has become de rigueur for the perceived health benefits. Eliminating gluten is a panacea for people who have celiac disease and related intestinal inflammation, but there is little evidence to support the case that the rest of us would benefit from restricting gluten. In fact, recent studies suggest that going gluten-free may lead to an elevated risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes from cutting beneficial grains from our diets. So don't break up with bread and pasta, but opt for whole grains instead of refined ones.
Myth 6: Eating late at night will make you fat.
Do you reach for potato chips and candy when tucking into your late-night Netflix binge? Those high-fat, high-sugar foods are likely sabotaging your weight-loss goals. But if you're occasionally munching on a calorie-controlled snack later in the evening, then you're probably in the clear; a small (150-calorie) healthy late-night bite doesn't have to lead to weight gain. More important than the time of day that you eat is what and how much you consume. If you need to nosh late at night, then don't overdo it and snack smartly (think apple slices and cheese or a slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter).
Myth 7: Acne ends with adolescence.
You survived your teenage years unblemished and with nary a pimple to keep you at home on a Friday night. But now that you've comfortably settled into adulthood, you're suffering from a case of pizza face. You're in good company. "Forty percent of women aged 20 and up will get acne," says Dr. Julia Carroll, a Toronto-based dermatologist. The root cause is usually hormonal, but it can be genetic. The difference now is that breakouts can be more challenging to manage. "Adult acne tends to be more cyclical, and our skin can't always tolerate traditional acne treatments, which can be quite drying," says Dr. Carroll.
Myth 8: You need eight glasses of water a day.
H20 gets a gold star for its overall no-calorie hydrating power along with myriad other benefits. "We can't survive without water, and it can help guard against constipation and kidney stones," says Dr. Jordan Weinstein, a nephrologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. However, the strict recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day—which may have originated with food guidelines from 1945—has become accepted as scientific maxim with very little evidence to support it. The amount of water you need depends on levels of your activity and the degree of water loss related to sweat or the gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Weinstein. "Our daily intake should take into account all fluids, including juice and milk, and even some foods, such as fruit and vegetables," he says.