Does the Math Add Up on Popular Wellness Recommendations?

Take two of these and call me in the morning is the most infamous prescription line. It’s hardly the only wellness recommendation we know by heart, but do we actually know where any of them come from? From 8 hours of sleep per night to 8 glasses of water each day, “they” are always telling us the numbers by which we can live a healthy life.

Does the math add up on popular wellness recommendations?base image credit – text added

Would you be surprised to learn that some of them are baseless? We looked in to some of the most popular number-based recommendations to learn which are making short cuts and which are overselling themselves. Maybe you’ll feel a little less pressure from now on.

8 glasses of water per day

Eight 8-oz. glasses of water is what we’re supposed to drink every day, or so we’ve been told. The Mayo Clinic affirms the recommendation holds because the “8×8″ rule is easy to remember. But it’s actually not quite enough! Those 64 ounces are equivalent to 1.9 liters. The Institute of Medicine says men need 3 liters and women need 2.2 liters. So drink up! The good news is “all fluids count toward the daily total,” says Mayo. Water, hot or iced tea, a sports drink, juice, or even a beer count toward your fluid intake. Intense exercisers and breastfeeding moms are just a couple examples of people who likely need even more than the  basic recommendation.

10,000 steps per day

This distance is about five miles, or the amount “they” say we’re supposed to walk every day. There’s no specific science or research to back it up. When used against the CDC’s fitness recommendations, they have Americans hitting about 7,500 steps per day. But given how sedentary most Americans are, it’s best that we encourage people to walk as much as they are willing to do. The average American walks just under 6,000 steps every day, so anything you’re walking beyond that is good for your overall health.

10 pounds gained during the holidays

That dreaded holiday weight gain that everyone makes such a big deal about? It’s really just about one pound. Yep, just one, according to Dr. Tom Rifai, Reality Meets Science LLC co-founder & Harvard Lifestyle Medicine course director for Nutrition & The Metabolic Syndrome. We recently spoke to him about what happens to our bodies when we overeat and he surmised that while a one- or two-pound gain during the holiday season isn’t that bad, it’s that “we never get rid of it.” Add up a couple of extra pounds year over year and you’ve got a problem.

60 minutes a day of exercise

An hour of physical activity everyday? Seems impossible sometimes but certainly not ridiculous. Well, if it feels like too much you’re in luck. The CDC recommends for American adults that we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. That’s 21 minutes a day, or 30 minutes most days of the week. Plus we need two days’ worth of muscle-strengthening exercises. Kind of like walking 10,000 steps everyday, just as long as you’re doing something it counts! Even the CDC recommends taking it 10 minutes at a time!

2,000 calories per day

Apparently this number came about as a short-cut the FDA made to keep food labels short and concise. According to this article by Marion Nestle, an esteemed and respected nutrition professor, author, and all-around expert, 2,350 calories was the more sensible total but it seemed too complicated to put on a label. Anyone worth their low-sodium salt knows that there is no one-size-fits-all calorie prescription. Based on your gender, age, weight, height, and other factors (like menopause and breastfeeding), your calorie needs will vary. A BMR or calorie calculator is your best bet to determine individual needs.

8 hours of sleep

Does early bed, early to rise really make you healthy, wealthy, and wise? We aren’t sure what sleep will do for your finances, but we know for certain that adequate sleep is imperative to overall wellness, not to mention the mental acuity to make you wise. The eight hour rule rings true, as the CDC recommends adults get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. The CDC and some research support that there is no magic number though, and much like calorie intake, every body is different and yours may need more or less hours of sleep.

Do any of these surprise you?

Never Too Late

Guest Post by ENELL Ambassador Allison Elliott-Shannon:

“Allison sucks! Allison sucks!”

That was pretty much the soundtrack to gym class for me, grades 1-8. In first and second grades I hid from the teacher because I thought jumping jacks were boring. Third grade was the high point of my P.E. career, as we learned the Virginia Reel year and I played on a competitive tee ball team; but I quit tee ball the next year when I found myself the only girl on the team, and was subject to much spitting and stomping of my hands by my teammates. That was the beginning of the downhill slide, and by fourth grade I was living in fear of being picked last for kickball /dodgeball/basketball/softball teams (which happened often).

Having a sadistic gym teacher, who encouraged kids to bully one another to toughen up the weaklings, didn’t help. By middle school, I would do practically anything to get out of running laps or having to serve in volleyball.

I had a brief flirtation with badminton, but otherwise I was solidly Not Athletic. My peers thought so, my gym teachers thought so, and I agreed. Add to my general dislike of sports that I was on the short side, with stubby legs and zero upper body strength, and it’s small surprise that my high school varsity letter was from the Academic Team.

With that background, it’s surprising that at the age of 35 I put hundreds of miles a year on my running shoes. I started running at 33, when my then-fiancé encouraged me to join him on the road. He told me he wanted a running partner, and perhaps I was swayed out of my right mind by love and our upcoming nuptials; I agreed to start training.

It was slow going at first. I would run to the end of the block then come to a halt, gasping for air. Slowly that block became two blocks, then a quarter of a mile, and so on until I reached a mile, then two miles, then 3.1. Over time, 3.1 stretched out into five, at which point I decided to start working on speed rather than distance. I can now do a heart-pounding 5k in a time that probably beats anything I could do as a thin-but-out-of-shape 20 year old. I ‘m not super fast for a runner, but I’m fast for me.

Running has been a physical challenge, yes, but even more of a mental one. I have learned things about myself: that I’m more motivated by positive rewards than by punishment, that I can go longer if I don’t know how far I’m really going, and that feeling mentally defeated is worse for me than any fatigue of the body. I have also learned, by talking to more experienced runners (including my fellow ENELL Ambassadors) that every runner has a voice in their head constantly telling them to quit; the secret of running is to say “I will do it” to your brain in an authoritative tone.


Finally, I’ve learned that running is about working with what you have in terms of your body. I don’t have long legs, my feet underpronate, and my bosom requires industrial-strength support. I look like nobody’s idea of a runner.  But through running, I’ve found a new confidence in my body. I’ve learned that the road is a judgment-free zone, where it’s just me and my heart rate (and often my husband, who slows down his speedy pace to stay with me). On the road there are no taunting peers, no cruel gym teachers, and no boys trying to spit on me. I’ve learned to take pride in my muscled legs. When the pedicurist looks at my broken-off toenails and asks “What happened?” I’m proud to say “I’m a runner.” My body is imperfect, but I’m making it stronger through using it to meet my goals.

When friends who see my ceaseless flow of social media posts about my latest distances say they are impressed by my running and wish they could do the same, I say with all sincerity “If I can do it, anyone can.” Because it’s true: if the girl who literally ran and hid from gym class can become the women who laces up her shoes and hits the road regularly, there is hope for us all. As the quote popularly attributed to George Eliot says, “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

About Allison Elliott-Shannon: Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest /  Instagram

allison-race2Allison Elliott-Shannon became a runner for the first time in her early 30s. Starting with a short run to the end of the block, she built on small successes over the course of about a year, until she completed her first competitive 5k. Now working on moving into the 10k range and improving her speed, she has been a fan of Enell since being introduced to the Enell Sport early on in her running program.

Allison is a marketing director, writer, and history nerd, and a native of the Kentucky Appalachian Knobs. She now lives in Lexington, Ky., with her husband and stepdaughter. She spends her workdays thinking of ways to help students and faculty engage with a large academic library system. Event planning is part of her day job, and also figures into her volunteer service for the Junior League of Lexington and the historic Bodley-Bullock House in downtown Lexington.

When she isn’t rambling about the Bluegrass state, Allison enjoys travel further afield. Recent trips have taken her to Charleston, S.C., Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City. She and her family are big fans of Disney Parks, and she managed to set foot in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland last year. Her current goal is to get back to Europe, to revisit the places she saw while living in London as a college student. She never met a historical marker she didn’t like, and seeks out historical tours of every city she visits.

Other minor life obsessions for Allison include: retro advertising, vintage jewelry, and the collected works of Jane Austen. Her favorite American novel is All the King’s Men, and she would love to own a vintage Ford Mustang. When procrastinating, she turns to Pinterest, Apartment Therapy, and the IKEA catalog for pleasant distraction. She also makes one heck of a pan of brownies.

Allison runs for her health, to spend time with her husband, and to challenge herself. Someday she will compete during the Disney Princess Half Marathon event.

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What Really Happens to Your Body When You Overeat During the Holidays

You polished off a second full plate of holiday food, maybe even snuck one more bite of baked mac ‘n cheese. You followed that with a sampler plate of the desserts . And you’ve done your share to deplete the wine supply. The effects are painfully obvious — heartburn, physical discomfort, bloat, maybe even a headache or some nausea. This is overeating at its finest, and nothing brings out the binger in all of us like a holiday meal.

What happens to your body when you overeat?

But what’s actually happening to our bodies when we over-fill a stomach that wasn’t made to hold much more than a liter of food? It’s everything already described and as much as “holiday heart,” a very real health phenomenon that can lead to death.

Dr. Tom Rifai, Reality Meets Science LLC co-founder & Harvard Lifestyle Medicine course director for Nutrition & The Metabolic Syndrome, walked us through what the body faces when it’s suddenly forced to process several thousand calories of breads, turkey, pies, and casseroles. He best explains this nutrient by nutrient.


Love or loathe, carbohydrates are an essential nutrient when they come in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, and whole grains. We love our refined, liquid sugar, and refined “white” starch sources of carbs though — the white bread, crackers, cookies, and pasta — and Dr. Rifai says that’s where much of our excess holiday calories come from. When we consume a significant amount of these “bad” refined carbs in a sudden instance, Dr. Rifai describes the stress the body undergoes.

  • The body has a significant increase in blood sugar.
  • Insulin’s job is to keep the blood sugar regulated at normal levels, but for non- or pre-diabetic people who are generally inactive or aren’t being active after a meal, an exaggerated insulin surge can occur, then blood sugar may excessively drop.
  • The body immediately spikes into a high insulin state.
  • This increases the blood pressure.
  • For pre-diabetics and diabetics who don’t make enough insulin, the blood sugar can’t be controlled, and rises significantly putting major stress on the eyes, kidneys and nerves. This can also spike blood and vascular pressure, as well as possible respiratory and joint inflammation.


Now, according to Dr. Rifai, high insulin levels have turned off the body’s fat burning abilities and is storing those fat calories as body fat instead of burning them. The carbs are not being burned very much either; in fact they are also being converted and stored as fat once our body’s limited capacity to store carbohydrates has been saturated. Worse? When carbs convert to fat, much gets converted to saturated fat. You’re both eating and producing saturated fat.

  • The saturated fat being out of balance increases cholesterol.
  • “While the liver would ideally be making and removing cholesterol in balance, the presence of high blood levels of saturated fat impairs this action leading to high blood levels of cholesterol carrying (LDL) particles, which then burrow their way into our artery walls causing plaques and artery inflammation to occur,” said Dr. Rifai.

What you’ve created within your own body is a “weapon of mass dietary destruction for the sedentary person,” Dr. Rifai grimly described. That WMD is the result of heavy carb + heavy fat + heavy sodium consumption (mostly in the processed foods, not sprinkled on food). He reminded how those concentrated amounts of salt, sugar, starch, and fats act like cocaine on the brain.


Turning now to how the body processes protein, and Dr. Rifai says many of us are simply not consuming enough (when you hold yourself to the RDA of 46 grams/day for women). He also says, “We don’t eat protein in an optimal way, which should be spread out throughout the day.” Protein doesn’t store in our bodies for future use the same way fat and carbs do. It’s a quickly utilized nutrient, making it ideal for post-workout recovery. And even if the body wanted to store some away, we’ve already stored so much excess carbs that our body is out of room. “So while some of the extra protein in the over-fed state may get converted into muscle, without exercise the quality of that muscle is in question, and much of the rest likely simply gets converted into body fat – and we know the damages of that,” described Dr. Rifai.

When we do eat protein throughout the day it may help stop or slow muscle loss and improve our feelings of satiety or fullness and energy, versus when we try to cram it all in at one meal. Dr. Rifai strongly urges not to skip eating breakfast and small snacks during the day ahead of a big holiday evening meal (or late eating event). You’ll end up overeating more than what you skipped, since you’ll be hungry and low on willpower. Plus, he cautions that a continued pattern of meal skipping followed by big eating results in a depletion of muscle mass in exchange for added body fat. No, it’s not a concern at just one meal, but it’s the legacy effect and ongoing history of this behavior that has detrimental muscle sapping effects.


Finally, after bombarding your body with fat, carbs, salt, sugar, and alcohol, your body has a pretty serious way of waving its red flag. “Hospitals staff up their ERs for the statistical likelihood they will get a glut of people the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas,” explained Dr. Rifai. All of that excess leads to:

  • Fluid retention,
  • Which leads to a heart arrhythmia that can trigger atrial fibrillation in the heart.
  • It can also cause a plaque to rupture in a heart artery and then a clot forms around a ruptured plaque, which is what causes most heart attacks and strokes. 

This is the exact scenario that killed James Gandolfini, right after a heavy meal of fatty and fried meats and alcohol in Italy.

Dr. Rifai isn’t trying to scare anyone, only to paint a real picture of what’s occurring inside your body when you get more than your fill at the holiday table.

“Have fun, have your indulgences, just be a better accountant. Pick one thing you really want. When the holiday is over, get rid of the extras. Let’s face it, pie isn’t really food,” recommends Dr. Rifai. Then, he says, there’s no guilt.

The Fall Food and Fitness Bucket List

I can’t believe it’s already November! was no doubt whispered by most of us recently. Time really does slip through our fingers faster than we can keep up, which means we can all too easily miss our chance to enjoy those seasonal delights we wait for all year. Make yourself a fall bucket list — we’ve included a few things to get you started — to help prioritize the things that mean the most to you this time of year. Remember to keep those bodies moving, even the fun stuff is an excuse to do something good for you!

The Fall Food & Fitness Bucket List

Rake the leaves. No joke, this is a serious sweat session. Struggling to fit in a workout and the yard work? Two birds, one stone right here! Save this for arms day and enjoy a roughly 300 calorie burn. Plus, the big pile at the end makes for some great fun and photo opps with the family.

Sip some cider. Go for the unfiltered, unpasteurized sibling of apple juice and enjoy an earthier, bigger flavor. On a nutrition label, the difference between cider and juice is negligible. So if you’re going to spring for this sweet treat of empty calories, go with the one that’s truer to the whole apple.

Do a turkey trot. These races happen every weekend through Thanksgiving and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be a part of at least one! Whether it’s a 1 mile fun run, 5K or longer distance, don’t let yourself fall in to the fall fitness slump. It’s not that cold outside…yet.

Sweat indoors. When it is too chilly to workout outside, try one of those studio classes you’ve heard about. PiYo — Pilates + Yoga — is all the rage and gives your body a serious burn. POUND is totally fun but a serious workout, too. Rock climbing walls will have you stronger by spring. And of course there’s always spin, barre, Zumba, and swimming if the classics are more your speed.

Eat pumpkin! You can’t hide from the most popular flavor of the season, just make sure it’s real pumpkin when you do indulge. The fake flavor in most treats is just garbage, but real pumpkin has a host of vitamins and minerals. Add pure pumpkin puree to oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt cups, pasta sauce, soup, chili, muffins, and more!

Eat from a mug. There is just something super cozy about enjoying a cup of soup, chili, or stew from a coffee mug instead of a bowl. Lighten a go-to stew recipe with pork tenderloin instead of beef tips, and cut the fat out of chili with ground turkey instead of ground beef. Whatever you’re making, stock it full of hearty veggies to feel full and satisfied.

Take a hike. Before the real winter temps move in, dress in layers, pack a light picnic, and head for the nearest trail, hill, or mountain. You’ll knockout your cardio for the day, not to mention take in some spectacular views of the colorful scenery.

Bake all day. Whether it’s pies, cookies, breads, or other treats, pile in to the kitchen — solo or with your favorite crew — and whip up all of those goodies you’re craving. An indulgence once in a while is totally OK, especially if you plan to share the treats with a local nursing home, homeless shelter, or other place where your generosity won’t go unnoticed.

Give back. The season of giving is upon us, so consider giving of your time and put your back in to it! Rake an elderly neighbor’s yard, deliver firewood, help winterize a school playground, deliver or prepare warm meals, or pick up a shift at the food bank during their busiest time.

Resolve to resolve now. Beat the rush and start your resolution now! Why wait two more months when you could have two months of progress under your belt by the time everyone else is starting. What a powerfully motivating way to start the new year.