Frozen peas on an injury and other health myths to ignore
As any parent, teacher, or accident-prone person will know, when a head gets bumped, it’s time to reach for the frozen peas.
However, putting ice on an injury may actually delay healing, according to the scientist who came up with the term RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Dr Gabe Mirkin came up with the acronym in 1978 and it quickly became the standard treatment for twisted ankles, bumped shins and sore muscles.
But Mirkin recently told an Australian newspaper that a cold compression could “delay healing”, despite being a “safe pain medicine”.
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As a result, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) now says medics should stop using ice for bruises and sprains, since there is little evidence it is an effective cure.
It’s not the first time Mirkin has backtracked on his RICE recommendations: in his 2015 book The Sports Medicine Book, he wrote that applying ice to an injury prevents inflammatory cells rushing to injured tissue, which then release the growth factor hormone IGI-1 which helps repair damaged muscles. With that in mind, here are four other pieces of long-standing health wisdom that may not be so wise after all...
You should wait half an hour after eating before you go swimming
Your mother probably told you this throughout your childhood, but there’s no scientific reason why you can’t go swimming straight after a meal. The theory used to go that digesting food draws blood to your stomach and away from your muscles, which are then more likely to cramp while you swim, which can increase your risk of drowning (hence why your parents probably told you not to do it when you were younger).
However, there is no evidence to support this theory and cramps during swimming are caused by tired or overused muscles, or by the swimmer being dehydrated.
A pint of water and a paracetamol before bed will prevent a hangover
“Hangovers cause dehydration in the body, which is where the advice to drink plenty of water comes from,” says David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, who has been studying hangovers for the past year.
“However, if you drink a pint of water before bed — having drunk several pints of beer or glasses of wine all evening — you’ll have to keep getting up in the night or wake very early to go to the toilet, which will impact your sleep and make your hangover worse. It’s far better to drink water during the evening, alongside your alcoholic drinks, instead.”
As for paracetamol, rather than taking the edge off your hangover, it may put extra strain on your liver, which is already busy trying to process the alcohol. “Ibuprofen is better because it’s an anti-inflammatory, and too much alcohol causes inflammation in the body,” says Prof Nutt.
You should aim to get eight hours sleep a night
“The ‘eight hours a night’ rule is a myth,” says Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep consultant and author of How to Sleep Well: The Science of Sleeping Smarter, Living Better and Being Productive.
“Sleep needs are very much like height — different for everybody and largely down to genetics. Just like there are short and tall people, there are ‘short sleepers’ who can get by quite happily on fours hours a night, and there are ‘tall sleepers’ who need 11 to feel properly rested.
“You cannot train yourself to need less sleep and if you frequently go without your required hours, it will impact on your health.” So how do you know what your required hours are? “Check in with yourself at 11am every day. If you feel awake and alert at this time, you’re getting enough sleep. If you feel groggy and could literally fall asleep given the chance, it means you’re not getting enough,” says Stanley.
Sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyesight
The recommended viewing distance of a 24in television is just under two metres. However, most TVs are now closer to 65in, which means our viewing distance should be over four metres. So, will our eyes pay the price? Not necessarily, says Meena Ralhan, optometrist and Optical Compliance Officer at Vision Express. “With large TVs, you’re getting more eye strain, fatigue, dry eyes, but it’s not going to give you any permanent damage.”
Our viewing habits, on the other hand, may cause more harm. Binge-watching show after (advert-free) show on Netflix causes us to blink less. And according to Ralhan, blinking allows your eyes to regenerate a tear film which is important to protect your eyes. So don’t worry about sitting too close to your TV, but do limit the amount you watch in one go.