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Health myths busted by Abertay expert

31 March 2014

Many of us believe we need to exercise for an hour each day, drink eight glasses of water, eat five portions of fruit and veg, and take a multivitamin in order to live a healthy lifestyle. But is this really true? 

Health and exercise myths often become common beliefs, and next week Dr John Babraj - Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science here at Abertay - will be taking part in a myth-busting Q&A at the Edinburgh International Science Festival to help us get to the truth.

Here, he busts his top three health myths for us, giving us some good advice about how to live a healthy lifestyle in the process.

Myth One – you have to train for hours in the gym in order to get results

"This just isn’t true. We know from research that as little as one minute of exercise three times a week is enough to get you fit - as long as the intensity of that exercise is high enough. Which is great for people who don’t have time to spend hours slogging away in the gym.

"High-intensity training only works if you do short bursts of exercise though, so you need to break the minute down into short sprints. If you do one minute of continuous high-intensity exercise, you won’t see as big an adaptation in your body as if you did 10 six second sprints.

"The benefits of this type of exercise can be to athletic performance as well as to our health. It can improve your fitness by as much as 10 per cent in just two weeks for example, but it also improves your body’s ability to remove insulin from the bloodstream – which is important for those with diabetes – and it can help with functional ability in older people too. Which is really important for us, because more people are now living longer and we want them to have a good quality life."

Myth Two – you need to take a multivitamin every day

"There’s no benefit to taking a multivitamin every day. It’s not dangerous for you take them, but they don’t get absorbed by your body, so it’s really just a waste of money unfortunately.

"You can understand where this myth would have come from. Multivitamins contain the recommended daily allowance of a variety of nutrients, and some people are deficient in some of these for various reasons. So taking a supplement might seem like an easy way to address that problem.

"It doesn’t work though. Most people get the nutrients they need from the food they eat, so it might be that the amount of the vitamin that’s taken in by the body is too low for there to be any additional benefit to taking multivitamins, or it might just be that these micronutrients are not that important in terms of general well-being. This is debatable and researchers are still looking for conclusive evidence."

Myth Three – to build muscle you need to take in lots of protein

"We know from research that this isn’t necessary. It’s been well established within the scientific field that the body can only process a maximum of 1.2g per kilogram of body weight of protein per day, which is the equivalent of a normal-sized steak.

"So our diet is already full of protein which means we don’t need to supplement it with whey proteins and supplement drinks and protein shakes to improve how our bodies respond to exercise.

"There’s a major issue with the way protein is being taken within sport. The over-focus on it can lead to other macronutrient deficiencies, as well as mineral and vitamin deficiencies. But worse still, the protein drinks are just being excreted from the body and people are wasting money."

Let them eat cake: challenging health myths’ will take place on Monday, April 7 in Edinburgh’s Summerhall at 8pm. Tickets cost £8, or £4 for students, so if you’ve got a burning question to ask, this Q&A could be for you.

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