8 Jan 2024

Professor Elaine Rush: wellbeing and fitness myths busted

From Summer Times, 11:10 am on 8 January 2024

Trying to lose weight without getting more exercise is a road to nowhere, says Auckland University professor Elaine Rush

"Just moving your body gains health and releases good hormones and things you do is better exercise, like going for a walk and a talk. And those sorts of things are worth a lot to your holistic health. Fellowship or being connected to other humans is probably one of the most important health things that we can do."

Professor Rush joins Summer Times to answer listeners' questions about well-being and exercise.

An Asian couple on a walk

Photo: Ketut Subiyano / Unsplash

Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at Auckland University

Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at Auckland University Photo: Supplied

Eat 5 vegetables and 2 fruits per day (instead of 5 total)

The Ministry of Health now recommends New Zealanders eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day to get the balance of all the nutrients that we need, Professor Rush says.

"I don't think we shouldn't say 'five fruits and veggies' anymore. We should say vegetables and fruit and five different colours of vegetables a day, too. It's no good having five servings of potato chips, they are not a vegetable."

Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

This amount of steps is "quite reasonable" but just a guideline, Professor Rush says, and women don't need to do quite as many steps as men.

"Men have more muscle to maintain for the body weight, women naturally have more fat."

The activities of daily life - washing the dishes, cleaning, running after children - do actually count as exercise, she says.

"Rather than saying 'I have to go out for a walk to gain these steps', what about making sure that the house is tidy? Or dancing and other activities that involve pleasure, too, because the thing about exercise, it should be fun."

Can apple cider vinegar or spices like ginger and cinnamon boost our metabolism?

It's more beneficial to focus on including a diverse range of foods in your diet, Professor Rush says.

"There is the placebo effect as well. if you think it's helping you but it probably is too. Cider vinegar can be refreshing. some spices actually do stimulate digestion. Tastier food stimulates more saliva, which makes the food easier to digest, etc."

Instead of detoxing, look at how you got toxified

"We have livers and kidneys that are designed to detoxify what we have. Why do you need detoxifying? Is it that you're not eating enough fibre in your diet and your microbiome isn't balanced?

"It's better to look at the causes rather than be the ambulance at the bottom of a cliff saying oh, I need to detoxify. You shouldn't have got toxic in the first place."

Is intermittent fasting a good idea?

"For some people, it works well, but for others that won't. We've got so many people with dysglycemia, on the way to unbalanced blood glucose, on the way to diabetes. [These people] have to be very careful about having long fasting periods. Probably it's better to have small meals more often with that sort of thing to keep your blood glucose and your body more stable.

"It is probably better to not eat immediately before bed because energy then goes to digestion rather than calming down and being ready to enter that state of Zen which is sleep."

Should women be mindful of when they exercise around menstruation?

"It's often hard for women to know what part of the cycle they're at. But immediately following having the period, bleeding, that follicular phase, it's been shown that elite athletes, women, do not perform as well as they would ask to be evaluated in the cycle. But it's very, very weak evidence. 

"You cannot predict [the outcome] for an individual. You can't say in general this happens ... I would recommend women to listen to their bodies. if they don't feel like exercising or they have period pains and those things, go with the flow. Don't try and force yourself because you can injure yourself if you exercise too much or inappropriately."

woman running

Photo: Andres Ayrton from Pexels


Only consider taking supplements if you're not getting a "healthy balanced diet"

"Given our current cost of living crisis and the huge cost of a healthy diet getting further and further out of reach of so many, I think there can be cases when a multivitamin can be beneficial.

"It's much better to get in the whole foods because there's other synergistic effects. But if you're not able to source those foods, there could easily be a case for vitamins and minerals. But the thing is they cost, too, particularly the ones that are quality 'cause quality costs."


Does lymphatic drainage massage result in fat loss?

"Lymphatic drainage is of course, very good, but it is normally brought about by muscle action, which squeezes both the veins in the lymphatic vessels against bone and helps return that fluid ... The muscular exercise that goes with lymphatic drainage and the stimulation with massage, which also increases blood flow and metabolism, can mean that you will increase your metabolic rate. But it's part of being healthy, it's not necessarily a part of weight loss."


The importance of breakfast will depend on your activity level

"When we used to say breakfast was the main meal of the day, there was a lot more manual labour both for women in the house and for men there was a lot more physical labour. Now there's not.

"We need to rather than look at quantity, look at quality and every meal of the day of helping balance the intake of all those macro and micronutrients and the phytochemicals, including fibre. Healthy bowel motions are so vital for health."


Do you really burn more calories by eating celery than what it contains?

"Just eating and digesting the food that we take in [burns] between 10 and 20% of the energy [it contains] because it takes quite a lot of work to shift those molecules from inside. 

"So yes, celery could do that. But it also has the advantage of having fibre which we don't have enough in our diet. We do need to eat these plant foods ... even though it hasn't got a lot of nutrients as such, it does have that fibre."


Strength and cardio - a balancing act

"I've just done yoga this morning and I find that very good for relaxing and keeping the range of movement. I think the exercises or the activities that you do need to be sure to move all parts of your body and both the aerobic - which means moving - and anaerobic which has to do with strength and flexibility, so a combination ... there's very many different ways of getting to that balance."