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Popular health and fitness myths debunked by doctors

Contrary to popular belief, high-intensity interval training is not for everyone. Dr Reginald Liew, cardiologist from Gleneagles Hospital, does not recommend this trending workout for beginners, as it can cause injuries such as pulled muscles or even
Contrary to popular belief, high-intensity interval training is not for everyone. Dr Reginald Liew, cardiologist from Gleneagles Hospital, does not recommend this trending workout for beginners, as it can cause injuries such as pulled muscles or even heart attacks.PHOTO: ISTOCK

Is HIIT for everyone? Is the keto diet safe for me? Experts weigh in on common health misconceptions.

At some point in your life, you have probably been served heaping scoops of greens because “they are good for health and digestion”. However, Gleneagles Hospital gastroenterologist Dr Gwee Kok Ann dispels the dated belief saying “it is nothing further from the truth because they are indigestible”.

Vegetables, especially raw ones, contain insoluble fibres like cellulose that cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes and digestive juices in your stomach or small intestine. The result? Excessive gas and bloating.

There are many misconceptions about our health that have been perpetuated from generation to generation and it’s time to separate fact from fiction once and for all. Read on as doctors debunk popular myths surrounding health and exercise.

STARTING ON YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY

Myth: HIIT is for everyone


High-interval intensity training (HIIT) workouts are not recommended for newbies who aren’t used to regular exercise, as it can cause injuries such as pulled muscles. PHOTO: ISTOCK

To get in shape, more and more people are jumping into high-interval intensity training (HIIT) workouts in the hope of building muscle and torching fat in a shorter period of time.

However, Dr Reginald Liew, cardiologist from Gleneagles Hospital, does not recommend this trending workout for newbies who aren’t used to regular exercise, as it can cause injuries such as pulled muscles. On a more serious note, sudden strenuous exercise can even cause a heart attack for those with underlying health conditions such as a weak heart muscle.

“[It is] better to ease the body into it — gradually [building] up your stamina and resistance, and making sure your body can take such a strenuous workout,” he says. “On a general note, it’s good to gradually increase your heart rate when you exercise, particularly for those who are starting to exercise for the first time in a long while, and not suddenly go straight for the hardest workout or push themselves, thinking they [get] the maximum benefit that way.”

STRIKING A BALANCE WITH EXERCISE

Myth: The more you exercise, the higher your testosterone levels

All men need some level of testosterone in their bodies. Not only does the hormone affect their sexual development, but it keeps their bones and muscles healthy as well.

From the age of 30, testosterone levels slowly dip at an average rate of one per cent a year. Excess abdominal fat around the waist can also cause a drop in testosterone levels. “The size of a man’s waistline is inversely proportionate to the amount of testosterone he may have… testosterone is stored in our body after it has been produced, and it tends to be trapped and made useless in our fat cells,” explains Dr Ho Siew Hong, a urologist from Gleneagles Hospital.

While regular exercise stimulates the production of testosterone to maintain hormone levels, excessive exercise can have the inverse effect, causing a significant decrease in testosterone instead.

“Anything extreme [leads your body] into a breakdown situation. If that happens, the brain will not stimulate more testosterone [production]. The factories in our bodies have certain natural limitations… exercise, in terms of stimulating natural testosterone production, also has to be moderated so [that] it’s at the level where it stimulates and not destroys,” says Dr Ho.

Myth: Too much testosterone makes you go bald


Although the correlation is indirect, there have been cases where excessive amounts of testosterone have led to hair loss — particularly male pattern balding. PHOTO: ISTOCK

Although the correlation is indirect, Dr Ho says there have been cases where excessive amounts of testosterone have led to hair loss — particularly male pattern balding.

Taking performance-enhancing testosterone supplements without supervision could also lead to a wide range of unwanted side effects, such as the thickening of blood, which tends to coagulate and form unwanted blood clots that can block blood flow to the heart or brain, leading to heart attacks or strokes.

“It is particularly catastrophic if a 20-year-old man desiring quick results in the gym takes excessive testosterone. [Over] a long a period of time, [it] can permanently affect his ability to produce good-quality sperm,” he says.

FINDING THE RIGHT FUEL FOR YOUR BODY

Myth: Exercising in the morning induces diarrhoea

Dr Gwee suggests that one potential cause of diarrhoea during or after exercise is ischaemia, a condition in which blood flow is restricted or reduced in a part of the body. Placing extra demands on your body through intensive exercise can affect blood flow to the gut, leading to inflammation in a key part of the digestive system.

Pre-workout eating habits can also influence bowel function. “One of my patients [typically] eats a lot of fruits at night, followed by a cup of coffee in the morning before his run. [This diet] builds him up for a good poo in the morning,” he says.

Many people typically experience morning bowel movements. Dr Gwee recommends that those who start their day with a workout wake up earlier for breakfast and to clear their bowels before leaving the house. Skipping both steps could lead to constipation.

Myth: The ketogenic diet is a long-term weight loss solution


Without a doctor or nutritionist’s guidance, the high-fat ketogenic diet could potentially lead to heart problems and even diabetes. PHOTO: ISTOCK

The ketogenic diet (keto for short) is gaining popular attention the world over. Many Hollywood celebrities are proponents of the strict dietary programme, which restricts your intake of carbohydrates and replaces it with fat. This reduction in carbohydrates induces a process called ketosis where your body breaks down stored fat instead of glucose.

In approximately one to two years, you may experience dramatic weight loss results. But doctors like Dr Liew do not recommend keto diets for the long run.

“[Cardiologists like myself] want people to have good heart health, and reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke. The keto diet hasn’t shown to [be able to] do that,” he says. Without a doctor or nutritionist’s guidance, the high-fat keto diet could potentially lead to heart problems and even diabetes.

Sustaining an extreme diet as you continue to deprive your body of the calories it needs could also pose an issue. He adds: “It might be better to take the standard recommended Mediterranean diet, where you have more vegetables, more fish, less red meats and less oily food.”