By Neeraj Chawla
Ever asked Google about a mild pain or discomfort, only to find a list of 10 different disorders that you suddenly may be suffering from? In the modern age of technology, it can be truly difficult to know exactly where to look for reliable information that addresses most of these concerns. But fret not, as Masala attempts to debunk and clarify some widespread myths pertaining to individual and community health, which will better our everyday lives.
Myth 1: Sugar is bad for you
Moderation is the most sustainable long-term method for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Sugars, which fall under the umbrella of carbohydrates, are essential in diet and are found in more foods than you might think; from whole fruits and starchy vegetables to rice, breads and noodles. Your body’s enzymes metabolise carbohydrates into glucose, which are the basic units of energy for bodily function. In fact, the human brain uses about 20 percent of our daily glucose to maintain its energy-demanding functions. Of course, too much sugar can increase the risk of developing health-related issues and gaining weight, but when was too much of anything good for you?
So more than trying to completely cut out carbohydrates, it’s imperative to refocus your diet towards complex carbohydrates; that is, carbohydrates that contain long, nutrient-dense chains of sugar molecules that are metabolised over a longer period of time and provide a more consistent energy source. Whole grains, legumes and vegetables are examples that fall under this umbrella. Simple carbohydrates, which are easily metabolised and provide an immediate source of energy, fall on the opposite end of this spectrum. Though some are naturally occurring, such as fruits and milk, the majority of stereotypically “bad sugars” fall under this category, including candies, baked goods and sodas. These are the sugars that you want to reduce in your daily diet, but not necessarily eliminate completely, because we all deserve the occasional treat.
Myth 2: Because you’re healthy, you don’t need a seasonal flu shot
There is a reason why an annual flu shot is recommended for everyone over six months of age by the World Health Organization (WHO). Influenza is a very contagious respiratory condition, which means that everyone is at risk, no matter how healthy they may be. Yet since the flu is so common, people tend to dismiss its importance.
Flu viruses evolve every year, and so the vaccines constantly change too. Thus, whatever vaccine you got last year will not make the cut this year. In Thailand, the flu season usually begins with the monsoon season (July to October), but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. More than protecting yourself from the flu, these immunisations protect those around you too, especially for at-risk age groups (young children and the elderly); this is the basic concept of herd immunity. Essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but this can only be achieved when at least a certain portion of a community receives their seasonal shot. Influenza vaccinations are clinically proven to be the most successful method of preventing the transmission of influenza as well as reducing morbidity, and are nothing to be afraid of.
Myth 3: Vaccines cause autism
Staying on the topic of immunisations, it’s important to dismiss another common notion: Vaccines do NOT cause autism. This myth originated from a fraudulent research paper in the late 1990s that claimed that the incidence of autism spectrum disorder was dependent on the timing of a child’s vaccinations. Since then, extensive scientific research has repeatedly shown that this is not the case, but merely a coincidence. Simply put, vaccines are a preparatory course for the immune system.
Injections contain a weakened strain of foreign invaders that stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies designated towards short-term recovery, as well as memory cells designed for long-term immunity. If and when the virus of interest does in fact infect the body, these memory cells can then be recruited to swiftly produce antibodies and eradicate the virus before it causes significant harm. Though mild allergic reactions or heavy-feeling arms are possible side effects, vaccines are effective on both the individual and community level.
Myth 4: Drink eight glasses of water every day
It’s far more complicated than it seems. Caloric and water intake requirements are dependent on a multitude of factors that are not limited to weight, including overall lifestyle, diet and surrounding environment. Also remember that there are many ways to fulfil your daily water intake; in fact, about a fifth comes from food consumption, especially if your diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and other beverages. It also depends on how much you sweat, which is dependent on physical exertion and exposure to heat, because it’s critical to replenish lost fluids throughout the day to maintain optimal bodily function and energy levels.
Various studies have accordingly explored the eight-glass rule and struggled to confirm this notion. Though it can still be a useful rule of thumb, adequate water intake isn’t necessarily achieved by those eight glasses. Some people need less water and some need more. For the most part, listening to your body is a sufficient method that most of us use anyway. Trust your body, and drink if you sense thirst, have a dry mouth or dark urine. Don’t let dehydration take over, as this can lead to impaired mood, fatigue and headaches.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to carry a bottle of water around with you, especially considering the scathing humidity and hectic lives that many of us experience here in Thailand on a daily basis.
Myth 5: An hour of exercise a day is sufficient to stay healthy
Though it’s definitely better than nothing, an hour at the gym for four or five days a week isn’t a valid excuse to do and eat whatever you want for the remaining 23 hours. A sedentary lifestyle can easily reduce the benefits of a workout, especially since you can only burn so many calories during exercise.
More than the duration of a workout, maintaining a high level of intensity is vital (and can be effective for even a short 30-minute routine), yet can be difficult when you don’t have a personal trainer constantly pushing you. After recognising the benefits of focused personal training sessions, I recently downloaded the HASfit app to guide my own workouts at home and improve my daily physical habits, rather than just doing what I thought felt right. This is just one of many readily available applications that provide an intense but effective range of exercises that also help maximize the after-burn effect (the continued burning of calories after a workout). Your lifestyle habits after a workout strongly influence the impact of this often-overlooked effect.
Furthermore, devices such as smart watches can be very useful in reminding you to maintain adequate activity levels throughout the day. Beyond the gym, walking for even a couple minutes in the middle of every seated hour, working at a standing desk, or even eye exercises can be beneficial, especially considering our technology-reliant lifestyles. Always remember that every decision matters, right from the moment you wake up in the morning.
Myth 6: Small meals throughout the day are better than three big meals
Just like Myth #4, it’s more complicated than it seems. One person’s ideal dietary structure will differ from someone else simply because of individual differences in their daily habits, environment and genetics. What’s most important is to figure out what your long-term health goal is, and what method is most sustainable for you. Never be afraid to seek advice from a professional too.
Many people quickly shed weight by completely cutting out carbohydrates and/or fats, which definitely works, but they find it difficult to maintain that discipline and level of mental satisfaction over an extended period. Instead, it’s important to develop a more consistent eating pattern that agrees with your natural tendencies. Just like waking up at the same time every day can often help you sleep better at night, it can be beneficial to adopt a stable dietary routine. But that doesn’t mean you need to strictly stick by it every day; it’s more about discovering the happy medium between eating well and feeling good.
Myth 7: Mental health is not a common issue in our community
Mental health problems are far more prevalent than you may think, and often overlooked in collectivist Eastern societies, including our Thai Indian community. The attention and resources dedicated to improving mental and emotional health is something that Thailand is clearly lagging behind. In an article on the Bangkok Post in 2012, then Deputy Health Minister Dr. Surawit Khonsomboon claimed that approximately one in every five Thais qualify as suffering from a mental illness, but a significantly smaller portion of people proactively seek help for it. Though this figure may not be the same in the Thai Indian community, it would be presumptuous to completely deny it too.
The stigma that mental health issues will result in violent tendencies or a lack of productivity means that people would rather deny than accept it, especially if it holds true for a family member or close friend. Widespread mental issues such as social anxiety, mild depression or deficits in attention are so common yet can be extremely difficult to identify. It’s true that the world is full of external pressures to be successful and popular, but it’s also true that the help is out there. Never lose faith that the people around you will continue to support you no matter how small or serious an issue may be, so don’t hesitate to seek the aid that you and your loved ones deserve.