It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t that long ago when doctors recommended smoking to their patients. And, knowing what we know now about the consequences of smoking, that era serves as a reminder that what’s considered healthy changes as time passes and technology improves.
It can be hard to keep track of all these changes, so we’ve rounded up some of the recent health surprises that busted our preconceived notions of what it means to be healthy.
Flossing isn’t as effective as we thought
It turns out that all of those lectures my dentist gave me were pointless, because there’s very little evidence to support the idea that flossing prevents gum disease.
In this article, NPR talked to researchers and dentists who pointed out the main problem with flossing studies – they’re too short. Gum disease evolves over the course of years, but most flossing studies only last for a few weeks or months. It’s just not enough time to really know the full benefits of flossing. Longer studies are more expensive, creating a real barrier to understanding flossing’s relationship with gum disease.
And now flossing is no longer recommended for daily health by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is issued by the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture every five years. It’s not even mentioned once.
Does this mean you should stop flossing all together? It’s up to you. It’s not like flossing is bad for you. At the very least, it helps remove the grime out of your teeth, which is a big benefit in itself, at least for your social life and interpersonal relationships.
Running makes you smarter
According to this study published in June, our body makes more of the protein cathepsin B when we exercise and, the more cathepsin B we have, the better our brains function. So it’s not that you should choose exercise over hitting the books. It’s that exercise supports and increases the effectiveness of intellectual stimulation. This NYTimes article breaks down the science behind the study.
If anything, this study illustrates the connectedness of the mind and body. Being your best healthy self requires a holistic approach, because brain health and physical health aren’t separate. And seeing them as so only gets in the way of better health.
Biting your nails is kind of good for you
Research shows that biting your nails is good for you for the same reason that it’s disgusting to watch: it exposes you to dirt and germs. This pediatric study found that children that bit their nails and sucked their thumbs were less susceptible to allergies. And just having one of those habits meant that children are 40% less likely to have allergies as adults.
This research seems to support the thinking that constant exposure to allergens, bacteria, and viruses in your formative years strengthen your immune system, making you less prone to get sick as an adult. This is also known as the Hygiene Hypothesis.
But this doesn’t mean that everyone should start biting their nails and sucking their thumbs in public the name of fighting allergies. Boost your immune system on your own time… for everyone’s comfort.
These health updates showcase the importance of seeing health as a spectrum, instead of dividing certain activities into “this is good” and “this is bad”. The perfect idea of health doesn’t exist, and what is considered healthy changes everyday. This isn’t the most comforting news. It would be great if things just stayed the same and there was a perfect path to optimal health. But that’s what makes it so fascinating and interesting.
But, if there’s one constant, it’s that health is deeply personal. It always comes down to doing what’s right for you. So if you want to keep flossing, floss away. And if you don’t, now you have a good reason not to. And, in the same way that researchers and scientists are constantly finding new revelations about health, take the time to understand your own body. What you find might just surprise you.