Downsides To Supposedly Healthy Habits


5 min read
Healthy Habits

We’ve heard all the warnings and exhortations. Do “X” so you will be more healthy, so you’ll live longer, and stuff, and whatnot. Of course, it’s very hard to do. It takes real willpower to take a healthy activity, like jogging or eating most of a salad, and make it part of your regular routine. But it’s worth it, right? After all of the struggle and strife, after you’ve given up your fun vices and your more interesting friends, you can look in the mirror and feel proud.

Or at least you can until you read this article and discover that a bunch of your new “healthy” habits are nonsense, and hear that pride farting out of you like air from a leaking balloon.

Sorry.

Fitness Trackers May Be Actively Hurting Your Fitness

Fitness Tracker

Fitness trackers keep track of how long you’ve been working out, and your heart rate, and the number of steps you take in a day, all while coming in a conveniently small, conveniently $200 package which you’ll lose in a drawer in a month. And that sounds pretty harmless, even useful. Who doesn’t love data? Well, what if the data isn’t accurate?

A study of a pair of Fitbit products found that they miscalculated heart rates by up to 20 beats per minute, and that they got worse as the exercise got more intense. You may recognize intense exercise as the time when it’s most important for a tracker to get an accurate reading, since you don’t really need that much monitoring when sitting on a beanbag chair cramming Cheetos in your mouth and yelling at Wheel Of Fortune. A second study found an average error rate of 14 percent – 14 percent being the difference between a healthy activity and a “go into the light” activity. That margin makes the product not only useless, but dangerous to someone who has heart disease and needs to know precisely how much their ticker is ticking.

OK, but what about their main purpose, reminding you to exercise every day? Another study found that while wearing a fitness tracker does make people take more steps in a day, every step is as begrudging as a child choking down Brussels sprouts. Exercise stops being fun and becomes a chore you hate. And well, that both sucks and is entirely predictable, but isn’t the end result still good? Exercise is good for you regardless of whether you like it or not. Except, as you’ve probably now guessed, fitness trackers don’t appear to help you stay fit either. Yet another study took 470 overweight young adults and put them on a low-calorie diet and exercise program. Half self-reported their exercise, while the other half used a tracker. And the group with the trackers lost less weight.

The issue seems to be that people who see a statistic on how much they exercise promptly decide that they deserve a reward, and that said reward should come in the form of chocolate cheesecake. Another possibility is that while trackers motivate you to hit goals, they also discourage you if you fail to hit that goal, which makes it harder to stick to the process. By keeping the results of exercise nebulous, you don’t have those damaging highs and lows – it’s just a thing that you do so you don’t die. Or so you can attract higher-quality mates.

There’s Next To No Evidence To Support The Benefits Of Flossing

Dental Floss

We’ve all desperately flossed on the eve of a dental appointment and watched blood flow from our mouths like the elevator in The Shining. But all this time, it turns out that we should have been saying “No, because I’m not one of the sheeple enslaved by the siren song of Big Floss propaganda.”

While the government used to recommend daily flossing, probably because politicians’ wallets were stuffed full of bills scented with mint and cinnamon, that recommendation was dropped in 2016, largely because there’s no scientific research that supports the practice. In fact, despite all of the claims about how flossing fights gum disease, eliminates plaque, and prevents cavities, the available evidence was dubbed “weak,” “very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and open to “a moderate to large potential for bias” by Uncle Sam, and he hasn’t flossed since 1931 and is getting along fine.

Almost every study on floss has been funded by the companies that manufacture it, and they’ve been about as rigorous in their methods as a remedial junior high science class, littering their studies with sample sizes that were too small or that took place over too short a period of time. One study reached a conclusion about the awesome power of flossing after its subjects flossed once. And outside of manufacturer-funded studies, the science simply isn’t there. Now, it would be irresponsible of us to claim that Johnson & Johnson thugs have been muzzling scientists with research disputing them. So we’ll just suggest it instead.

All of this doesn’t mean that flossing is bad for you. More rigorous research may prove that it helps, and if nothing else, it’s great for getting rid of that one piece of popcorn that got stuck in your teeth five minutes into a 183-minute movie. But don’t feel bad or let anyone give you grief if you happen to go without it for a few days. Your mouth isn’t going to devolve into a plaque-filled wasteland.

Standing Desks Do Work – In Conjunction With Exercise

Standing Desk

America is a proud nation of sitters. We sit in our cars, on our couches, at bars, at the sits-ateria, all of them.

But it’s at the office where sitting hits hardest – eight hours a day of nerves getting pinched, cardiovascular problems developing, bodily fluids clotting, and your body generally becoming flabby and useless, all while you work on a spreadsheet that organizes all of your other spreadsheets. That’s why standing desks have become trendy. If you stand while working, your body will be immune to all of the problems caused by sitting! But that is “science” according to people who are not scientists.

According to scientists who pored through 16 years of health data on over 5,000 people, how and how often you sit is far less important than the activities you do when you’re not sitting. The sands of time don’t start dropping faster when you’re plunked in a chair, and “sitting time was not associated with all-cause mortality risk.” Sitting isn’t inherently the issue; the problem is that after work is done, instead of going to the gym and eating a healthy dinner, we have a tendency to order pizza and zone out in front of Frasier.

It’s being stationary that’s bad for us, regardless of what that stationary posture looks like. Far healthier to just sit comfortably while working and then do some actual exercise, as opposed to standing in the hopes that will keep the Grim Reaper away with no other lifestyle changes. So you either need to find a way to work at an exercise bike desk, some kind of knife-fighting desk, or The Desk Of Agony. Or you could cut 45 minutes from your weekly TV regimen in favor of some rec league basketball. Whatever’s easiest.

Pretty eye-opening stuff, isn’t it? Well, there’s more where that came from. We’ll try to open your other eye in another article exposing more health myths.

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