David Agus is an American physician and a New York Times bestselling author. He is a Professor of Medicine and Engineering at the University of Southern California.
There are many health and wellness misconceptions, but I think the biggest is that there is one way to be healthy. The truth is that there are many ways to ‘arrive’ at health, and making the right decisions based on your value system is key.
Misconception: The % RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) on the label of the food is what counts. Need to equal 100% or greater!
Truth: Eat real food, don’t read labels. The best way to summarize the sad need for this rule is to simply quote Michael Pollan from his In Defense of Food: “That anyone should need to write a book advising people to ‘eat food’ could be taken as a measure of our alienation and confusion.” Focus on consuming foods that are as close to nature as possible, which will also help you to avoid problematic ingredients that you could be unknowingly sensitive to. What constitutes real food? With the exception of flash-frozen fruits and vegetables, and as ironic as it sounds, anything that doesn’t come with a label or a FDA-approved Nutrition Facts label is likely to be “real”. If you walk the perimeter of your grocery store (produce section, butcher, fishmonger), you’ll find real food. Steer clear of most of those aisles lined with boxes and bottles and other food impostors that come in pretty packages. If you read a label that lists ingredients you cannot pronounce or define without a graduate-level textbook in chemistry, put it back on the shelf and walk away!
Misconception: Vitamins, supplements, and other “short-cuts” to health like juicing are good for you.
Truth: Multiple large, randomized studies (the gold standard in science) have now shown no benefit to a normal individual taking vitamins and supplements. Some of those studies have even shown harm. A recent CBS This Morning episode reviewed some of the newer data: Page on CBSnews.
Misconception:If you don’t have any medical conditions, meds don’t offer any benefit.
Truth: Data supports using medications like aspirin and statins as preventive strategies in people over the age of 40. If you’re over 40, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking a statin and low-dose daily aspirin if you’re not taking them already. These low-cost medications have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer, but they also have side effects you should weigh carefully. The discussions need to happen!
Misconception: The hour at the gym is enough exercise for the day.
Truth: An hour at the gym is fantastic, but that doesn’t cover you for the rest of the day. The data demonstrates that sitting for five hours a day is equivalent, on a health basis, of smoking a pack of cigarettes daily! It’s easy to underestimate how long you stay seated during the day. I was surprised to learn how sedentary I was after wearing a device (Nike Fuel Band) that measured my activity. Finding out that I had three hours of daily uninterrupted sitting motivated me to buy a wireless phone headset that allowed me to walk around during conference calls, resulting in a 35% greater number of steps taken per day. My prescription: aim for an hour of moderate exercise a day (short bouts count, too) and try and move (even just walking) for 3-5 minutes every half hour or so. We were designed to move!
Misconception: Eat when you are hungry.
Truth: Data shows that people who eat when they are hungry or graze during the day have increased diabetes and other medical conditions. Try to eat at about the same time every day including weekends, and nothing in between meals. It will make a big difference in your long-term risk for disease as well as your physical and mental performance in the short term.
Misconception: Flu shots aren’t necessary if you are healthy.
Truth: Everyone needs a flu shot! Having the flu triggers inflammation, which can set the body up for serious problems down the road, including cancer. The flu vaccine works without significant side effects. I want people to think of a flu shot in terms of not just how it affects their health today but what it means for their health a decade from now.
This question originally appeared on Quora.