Being vigilant about your health is important – but can you overdo it? Karen Fittall investigates eight common and supposedly healthy habits.
Getting enough sleep...
You think: “The more the better for my health and wellbeing.”
In fact: Too much sleep is just as dangerous for your heart as too little.
The research says: Chicago-based researchers discovered that people who routinely get more than eight hours’ sleep are at an increased risk of heart disease and are two times more likely to have angina, where insufficient blood flow to the heart causes chest pain and may be a warning sign of a heart attack.
Know your limits: According to the scientists, the optimum amount of sleep for heart health is between six and eight hours a night. But if it’s a long life you’re after, stick to about six-and-a-half hours, with a team of Californian researchers finding that, compared to people sleeping for eight, the lesser amount was linked to greater longevity.
Washing your hands with antibacterial soap
You think: “It’s healthier because it kills more germs.”
In fact: Long-term exposure can cause health problems, putting teens at an increased risk of allergies and negatively affecting adults’ immune systems.
The research says: “It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good,” says the University of Michigan’s Allison Aiello, who made the finding. According to the study, using antibacterial soap may contribute to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which says living in overly hygienic environments limits exposure to microorganisms necessary for the development of a healthy immune system.
Know your limits: Research confirms that while soap is crucial for loosening dirt and carrying bugs away, antibacterial versions are no more effective than plain soaps at removing bacteria. What is important is the time you dedicate: clean hands rely on spending at least 20 seconds washing them and another 20 drying them.
Being a supportive partner
You think: “The more supportive I am, the better for our relationship.”
In fact: Depending on the type of support, it can do more harm than good.
The research says: “The idea that simply being more supportive is better for your marriage is a myth,” says Associate Professor Erika Lawrence, author of a study that discovered how receiving more support than desired is a greater risk for an unhappy relationship than feeling unsupported.
Know your limits: While ‘esteem-based’ support, such as encouragement, is well received, support that is advice-based is the most detrimental when dished out in large doses.
Exercising as much as you can...
You think: “There’s no such thing as too much exercise.”
In fact: Excessive exercise may harm your heart and your fertility.
The research says: Swedish researchers say avid endurance racers are at an increased risk of arrhythmias, or unusual heart rhythms, and according to scientists from Boston in the US, too much vigorous exercise can delay pregnancy in some women.
Know your limits: In terms of your heart, it’s the number of endurance races you put your body through that matters, with the research showing how people who had completed seven over a decade were 30 per cent more likely to experience arrhythmias than those who’d only done one. Fertility may be affected in healthy-weight but not overweight women doing more than five hours of vigorous exercise, like running, a week.
Taking more supplements than you need, ‘just in case’
You think: “They’re natural so it’s impossible to overdo it.”
In fact: Large doses of some minerals inhibit the absorption of other nutrients, and even a small amount of iron over the recommended daily intake (RDI) can cause nausea. And because the body stores fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), supplements can potentially tip you over the limit.
The research says: The University of Adelaide’s Professor Julie Owens says pregnant women who take a daily folic acid supplement and eat foods fortified with the vitamin may be having more than the 1000mcg limit. If this occurs in late pregnancy, it can increase a baby’s risk of childhood asthma. “It’s probably well-educated women concerned about doing the right thing, but the guidelines for folic acid consumption in pregnancy should be adhered to.”
Know your limits: A blood test is the only way to be sure you’re lacking in something, but if you’re going to take a supplement without expert advice, make sure it contains no more than the RDI of any nutrient (visit www.health.govt.nz). “Sometimes you may need increased doses of certain nutrients for therapeutic benefits but that should be recommended by a health professional,” says Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella. “You shouldn’t treat yourself.”
For more more healthy tips pick up the September issue of Good Health magazine or subscribe at magshop.co.nz.