For years, we've heard the same advice touted over and over—that certain health rules are so established that you would be a fool not to go the extra mile to follow them. But new research reveals that some of these health rules don't have much science behind them as you might think. And who wants to put out the extra hustle or suffer through the extra worry when you don't have to?
Take walking for example: It's great for muscles, bones, joints and moods. But trying to fit in 10,000 steps can be a chore—and it’s not necessary. Turns out the mantra is a marketing ploy developed by a company selling pedometers. The step strategy that is proven to boost health? Taking a 15-minute walk in nature: Researchers in the journal Scientific Reports found that doing so improved memory and reaction time more than walking indoors.
Keep reading for answers to the most common questions about health rules—and what to do instead to feel your best.
Do I need to get 8 hours of sleep every night?
This is one of the most-recommended health rules, and yes, getting enough sleep halves the risk of diabetes, memory lapses, chronic pain and more. But you may not need a full 8 hours, say UCLA researchers, who found that people feel best when they get between 6 to 8 hours of shut-eye nightly—everyone's individual body clocks determine what’s best for them. To find your sleep sweet spot, move your bedtime 10 minutes earlier or later each night until you find the sleep time that allows you to wake up easily just before or as your alarm rings.
Do I need to eat 8 servings of vegetables a day?
There's no doubt about it: Trying to load up on the advised eight servings daily can truly feel daunting. Good news: A study of 135,000 subjects published in The Lancet suggests that while a vegetable-rich diet does protect against heart disease, cancer and other ills, the benefits peak at three servings daily. And study co-author Aletta Schutte, Ph.D., says you’ll get the biggest boost if you munch some of your veggies raw, since many of the health-boosting nutrients in vegetables are heat-sensitive.
Do I need to lift weights for 30 minutes to build muscle?
Don't worry about dedicating a solid block of time to work out. Breakthrough research in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports suggests contracting muscles tightly for as little as 3 seconds each day (picture doing one slow, deep squat, then one slow, smooth push-up) switches on genes that fast-track muscle growth, boosting strength by 12% in one month.
Do I need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
The notion that you must guzzle 8 to 10 glasses of water every day to stay healthy is a myth, say Dartmouth Medical School scientists. Yes, your body needs 8 cups of fluids daily, but it gets a lot of that liquid from food. To stay hydrated, they advise aiming for 4 glasses of liquids daily and sipping them when you feel thirsty. Bonus: Other research reveals that caffeine is not dehydrating, so your a.m. latte and afternoon iced tea totally count!
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.