Here’s What Happens To Your Body If You Don’t Walk 10,000 Steps A Day

How many steps do you walk on an average day? And does it really even matter? Well, here’s the thing, it actually does. Thanks to new research by Harvard Medical School, we now know a lot more about what might happen to your body if you don’t walk a certain distance. But the number of steps that you need to reach may be quite different from the goal of 10,000 that’s ingrained in our minds.

When it comes to staying fit and healthy, we’re obsessed with numbers. There’s the now-famous “five-a-day,” for instance, which refers to the portions of fruit and vegetables you should eat on a daily basis. Then there’s the suggested eight glasses of water – or two-liter rule. And many will be familiar with other recommended restrictions, too, such as the 14 units of alcohol per week for men and seven for women.

What about the other health-related figures we can now keep track of, too? There’s the number of calories we burn, for example, and our heart rates and blood pressure scores. And we’ve also long been obsessed with how much we weigh. So it seems a natural step – if you’ll pardon the pun – to start considering how many physical steps we take per day, too. After all, devices these days make it so easy.

Perhaps the most simple product on the market is the humble step counter, or to give it its official name, a pedometer. The consistently impressive sales of these devices – 125 million were dispatched around the globe in 2017, for instance – seem to suggest that people just can’t get enough of tracking how far they walk.

Unsurprisingly, then, pedometers are now everywhere. Popular brands include Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Apple, Samsung and so many more besides. And then there’s the Japanese device called the manpo-kei, or the “10,000-steps meter” as it translates. Any guesses what it does?

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The history of the manpo-kei is very much entwined with the origins of a popular belief: that 10,000 steps a day is the magic number. That is, for maximum health benefits, we all should be hitting this daily target. And now, much like five-a-day and two liters a day, 10,000 steps has become another universal health mantra.

Believe it or not, but the concept of the manpo-kei goes all the way back to the 1960s. Tokyo was due to host the Olympic Games in 1964, and in the build-up to that popular event, Japan embarked on a health kick. Perhaps for the very first time on a nationwide basis, the benefits of exercise were promoted.

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In particular, the Japanese population began to focus on the fact that daily activity was one of the best means to ward off all manner of health nasties. Obesity was set to be an issue for the first time, too, so there was that to consider. Plus, there was also a growing belief that exercise would help fight afflictions such as hypertension and diabetes – a theory we now know to be true.

The solution is as straightforward today as it was back in the 1960s: walking. Yep, the easy movement was identified as the most practical means of staving off lifestyle diseases. Almost everyone can take part, it costs nothing and can even be incorporated into existing daily activities. Plus, you don’t need a coach or any equipment – unless you want a pedometer, of course.

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But why measure steps, exactly? Well, “Steps are a basic unit of locomotion and as such, provide an easy-to-understand metric of ambulation.” That’s according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, anyway, which is the body responsible for putting together physical activity recommendations and guidelines for Americans.

But that’s not all. The Advisory Committee also points out, “Steps can be at light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity levels, providing a range of exertion choice to promote walking at all ages and for all levels of fitness.” In short, you can perform the activity at different intensities. Think running in comparison to walking, for example.

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The Advisory Committee also states, “For these reasons, the measure of steps per day has the potential to significantly improve the translation of research findings into public health recommendations, policies, and programs” And that’s essentially why pedometers have become so prevalent since Japan’s manpo-kei device from the ’60s.

As we’ve already said, manpo-kei literally translates as “10,000-steps meter” in Japanese. But where did this number come from? Why 10,000? Surely it was based on detailed research? You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a crack team of scientists behind the scenes who, after years of dedicated study, had finally reached their “eureka” moment. But there wasn’t. It turns out it was all just clever marketing. You feel betrayed, we know.

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In truth, a Japanese company called Yamasa came up with the idea of 10,000 steps to sell its step-counting product to the population. And goodness it worked. Here we are, more than half a century later, and millions of people are working towards this daily fitness goal. Now, that’s the power of a good promotional campaign!

But that still doesn’t answer why they picked the number 10,000. University of Tennessee’s head of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies, David Bassett shed light on this. He told The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., “There wasn’t really any evidence for it at the time. They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy.”

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The good people of Japan loved the idea, and pretty soon, everyone else did too. Think of how many of your friends and family own a Fitbit, for example. More generally, though, these devices are collectively known as “wearables” – no matter the brand. And research by the company Gartner suggested that 500 million people would have had one strapped to them in 2020.

But why the craze? It can’t just be about the desire to hit that magic 10,000-step target, can it? At its core, this obsession with the number of steps we take really all boils down to the dangers of inactivity. Being inactive simply isn’t good for us, and while our knowledge of that fact has only increased, modern life has somehow conspired against us.

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For a start, we now have luxuries of which our forebears could only have dreamed. We can drive wherever we need to go, and we have all manner of gadgets and machines to take care of previously tough, physical tasks. Add to that the fact that many of us now perform jobs that involve sitting at a desk all day, and in terms of getting those steps in, it’s all a bit of a recipe for disaster.

Sedentary lifestyles are dangerous, but for many, that’s what our day-to-day living now looks like. The fact is, unless you actually put in the effort to walk, jog or run, most of us will simply not need to move our feet much on a daily basis. And so getting active in the 21st century is very much about motivation rather than necessity.

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But just how harmful is being inactive? Well, according to the Johns Hopkins University website, there are many ills connected to inactivity and being unfit. The first is the higher chances of developing high blood pressure, which is, of course, bad for the heart. Plus, exercise can help prevent people from contracting type 2 diabetes.

But that’s not all. Again, according to Johns Hopkins University, inactivity may make you more susceptible to contracting various types of cancer. And on the flip side, if you’re overweight, regular bodily movement lessens the chances of suffering from obesity-related diseases. For elderly people, a little regular exercise can prevent falls and helps them to carry on completing everyday tasks with ease. Plus, it’s a known fact that being active can lift a low mood and dispel feelings of anxiousness.

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And in terms of inactivity demographics, the Johns Hopkins website has some interesting facts. The first is that lack of movement does, as perhaps one would expect, become more common as someone gets older. Another, perhaps less obvious point, is that men tend to be more active than women. Interestingly, though, these figures do vary depending on where you’re from in the world.

As it turns out, you see, some people simply live longer in certain countries. These areas – such as Ikaria in Greece – have been coined “Blue Zones.” So, what is it they’re doing better than the rest of us? Well, it seems their diets are healthier, they have more sex over 50, they drink wine, sleep in the day and, crucially, they do a lot of walking.

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This, then, conveniently brings us back to this idea of the 10,000 steps – a target that has become seemingly so set in stone that it is practically ingrained. In a 2019 BBC article titled “Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day?” Claudia Hammond wrote, “If you are going to count steps, the magnitude of your goal matters. Most tracking devices are set to a default goal of 10,000 steps – the famous number that we all know we should reach.” But surely this isn’t a one-size-fits-all sort of situation?

Hammond then dug a little deeper into the 10,000-step obsession. She said, “You might assume that this number has emerged after years of research to ascertain whether 8,000, 10,000 or maybe 12,000 might be ideal for long-term health. In fact, no such large body of research exists.” Well, it may not be a large body, but there are finally some revealing research results into which we can sink our collective teeth.

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In 2019 a report was published in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the idea of steps and their impact on mortality. Dr. I-Min Lee, who took part in the research, is a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine. She also works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as an associate epidemiologist, and along with her colleagues, Dr. Lee was determined to see whether there’s a scientific reason to strive – or stride, we should say – for 10,000 steps.

In their research, the Harvard Medical School team focused on older women; their average age came out at 72. Noting down the group’s steps for an entire week, the experts then measured outcomes over the course of a period spanning more than four years. And as far as the 10,000 steps rule was concerned, the results were enlightening.

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First up, the research team found that nowhere near 10,000 steps were needed to lessen the chances of dying – at least in this particular demographic, anyway. The magic number here was 4,400 steps per day. And that was in comparison to 2,700, which by most calculations would be considered typical of a sedentary lifestyle.

So the good news here is that if you are a 72-year-old woman, you don’t need to aim for a number anywhere near as high as 10,000. In fact, less than half that number proves to be valuable in terms of achieving a longer life. But then you may well wonder if going above that 4,400 number can add even more value. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting.

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Yes, going above 4,400 steps does seem to further the benefits. But what about that magic number of 10,000? It’s the very figure that inspired the name of the Japanese manpo-kei. And it’s a number that has been adopted by heavyweights such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the American Heart Foundation and even the World Health Organization in terms of a recommended daily target. But is it a distance we should all be aiming to achieve?

According to Dr. Lee’s team’s findings, the benefits of increased steps continue to grow before eventually plateauing. If you are a 72-year-old female, then, the magic number is 7,500. And you don’t need to be a math whizz to work out that this number is significantly lower than the fabled 10,000.

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As with all research studies, there are a number of variables in play. Death comes about due to all manner of factors and combinations of individual genetic and lifestyle characteristics. Diet is something to consider, for example. And measuring the results over four years clearly doesn’t factor in what happened in the previous X number of years that these particular research subjects were on the planet. And then there are those Blue Zones, of course.

The research by Dr. Lee and her team also attempted to consider stepping intensity. This relates to the fact that a step at high intensity – sprinting, for example – is not necessarily the same as a step taken at a gentle walking pace. Yet the research findings suggested that “stepping intensity was not clearly related to lower mortality rates after accounting for total steps per day.”

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And once again, these research findings applied to only one study group: older women. The number of steps that benefit you specifically will, of course, change depending on any number of demographic considerations, such as your gender, age and pre-existing health. But at least these Harvard Medical School results can change the conversation.

The fact of the matter is, the very idea of doing 10,000 steps is at best a shot in the dark. And it always was. “There’s no health guidance that exists to back it up,” Mike Brennan told The Guardian. And as Public Health England’s national lead for physical activity, he should know. Yet because so many wearable pedometers have been programmed with a 10,000-step target, that goal has been – and still is – widely propagated.

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Research studies certainly haven’t helped up until now, either. “This number [10,000] keeps being reinforced because of the way research studies are designed,” Catrine Tudor-Locke, a professor at the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring based at the prestigious University of Massachusetts Amherst told The Guardian.

Until Dr. Lee’s team delved a little deeper, it had all been about proving the value of 10,000 steps. Tudor-Locke continued, “So, the study might find that 10,000 helps you lose more weight than 5,000, and then the media see it and report: ‘Yes, you should go with 10,000 steps,’ but that could be because the study has only tested two numbers. It didn’t test 8,000, for example, and it didn’t test 12,000.”

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It seems regularly hitting the 10,000-step mark would do you as much good as hitting considerably fewer: 7,500, for example. Plus, it pays to consider that many people are simply intimidated by the prospect of hitting five figures. And so they may well give up. There is, however, a much more practical approach.

Tudor-Locke probably summed it up best. She said, “We know that sedentary lifestyles are bad, and if you’re taking fewer than 5,000 steps a day on average this can lead to weight gain, increase your risk of bone loss, muscle atrophy, becoming diabetic and this litany of issues,” she told The Guardian. There is a massive caveat, though.

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Tudor-Locke hit the nail on the head, and at the same time validated Dr. Lee’s team’s findings, by saying, “There seems to be an obsession about 10,000 and how many steps are enough, yet it’s more important, from a public health point of view, to get people off their couches. The question we should really be asking is: how many steps are too few?” So, is that what you’re asking yourself, or are you simply going for that pre-programmed – in more ways than one – 10,000 mark?

If the answer’s yes, and you’re determined to reach 10,000 steps per day, it’s likely you’ll also be thinking of other simple ways to improve your overall health. Sounds familiar, right? Well, then, this popular trend could be right up your street. Yep, people are going crazy for lemon water and the remarkable impact it has on the body. So next time you prepare a drink to carry with you on your daily hike, it’s worth keeping all of the potential benefits in mind.

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If you usually reach for a cool soda or beer on a hot summer’s day, then you’re certainly not alone. But perhaps you should be switching your choice of beverage to lemon water – something that millions are thought to sip every day. Why? Well, although it’s an acquired taste, lemon water is becoming increasingly popular across the planet – and that’s perhaps because of the surprising impact it has on the body if you drink it for a week straight.

As its name suggests, lemon water is a very simple combination of just two basic and easily attainable ingredients, and making it is as easy as pie. Simply pour a glass of clean, safe-to-drink H2O – tap water in most developed countries is fine – and then carefully squeeze about half the juice from the yellow-colored fruit into the liquid.

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And as well as being easy to make, the drink is also relatively cheap – particularly if you live in a warm enough climate to grow and maintain your own lemon tree. That’s likely at least part of the reason why it’s such a popular thirst-quencher in Asia. But the effects of the sour concoction may account for its increasing ubiquity, too.

Yes, as we previously mentioned, drinking lemon water can have quite the dramatic impact on the human body. And while some of these changes are more or less immediate, others are reported to take hold after only a week of consuming the beverage several times a day.

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So, what exactly does lemon water do to us? And what happens if you go the distance and incorporate this drink into your life for at least seven days? Well, content marketing guru Bill Widmer has revealed some of the things you can expect if you choose to take on the lemon water challenge.

In a piece for the website Lifehack, Widmer picked out some problems that the juicy concoction is alleged to flush away. And, apparently, one of these issues is tiredness. The expert wrote, “If reaching for a cup of coffee every few hours is becoming your norm, you should really consider drinking lemon water for a week to cleanse your system.”

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Widmer even suggests forgoing your joe altogether, adding, “While the first two days are going to be a little tough due to caffeine withdrawal, by the end of the week you should start feeling a lot better than you have in a while. Stop reaching for your coffee mug and start squeezing lemons to get more energy in your day.”

The second thing Widmer covered was getting sick. He noted, “If a runny nose and constant cough occur every other week for you, lemon water can help! The natural vitamin C in lemons will help your immune system fight off viruses and bacteria. Drinking more water will also help cleanse your system and remove bad toxins from your bloodstream.”

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And according to the marketing specialist, lemon water may even help you stick to that diet. “Thanks to lemon acid and pectin, infusing your water with this fruit will help your stomach feel fuller for longer periods of time,” he explained. “Pectin is a natural chemical found in many [types of] produce, so feel free to combine lemon with some water to give your stomach a little more substance to digest. You can have lemon water before any meal to keep you from feeling overly hungry.”

Even if you’re eating in moderation, though, you may still experience tummy troubles. Fortunately, lemon water can help those, too – or so Widmer has claimed, anyway. He explained, “Drinking lemon water for a week can cleanse your system of toxins and other harmful bacteria, and [it] also has a similar molecular structure to your stomach’s digestive juices. Lemon water will trick your liver into creating bile, which helps move food throughout your digestive tract. This is why any indigestion, bloating or gas is alleviated with the consistent consumption of this drink.”

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The next item on Widmer’s list was the bane of many a teenager’s life: acne. He revealed, “Lemon produces antioxidants [that help] prevent your skin from breaking out. Additionally, lemon helps your body produce collagen, which is known to smooth out wrinkles in the skin and promote skin elasticity. Drink lemon water for a week, and you’ll see some major changes in your face!”

And if you want to get in shape, lemon water may be the key. How? Well, Widmer has clarified this, too, writing, “The acidic nature of lemon juice combined with the juice’s negative[ly] charged ions give your body a boost in energy. This energy boost means your metabolism will kick into higher gear. In addition to [giving you] a faster metabolism, the pectin will keep you fuller for longer periods of time – again helping you kick those detrimental eating habits.”

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Finally, Widmer argued that lemon water helped with psychological issues – including mood swings. He expounded, “Lemon consumption has been found to reduce stress levels and improve moods. If you drink lemon water for a week, your improved energy levels will combine with the natural stress relief properties of lemon juice and result in optimum and controlled mood levels.”

So, if you’ve previously been on the fence about lemon water, those many supposed benefits may just encourage you to make the leap. But we shouldn’t just take Widmer’s word for it, as other folks have been doing some investigating of their own into the effects of the fruity beverage.

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Nicole Yi knows better than many about this, too, as she once consumed lemon water for seven days straight. And in 2018 Popsugar’s former associate editor for fitness penned a piece for the site revealing what exactly she had experienced during her week-long experiment.

Yi began her article by writing, “With perks [such as] digestion aid, weight loss and kidney-stone prevention, lemon water sounds like a miracle elixir. So, when I found out that the benefits of lemon water actually weren’t all hype, I knew I had to put it to the test myself.”

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Yi continued, “For one whole week, I added half a lemon sliced – any less won’t yield enough vitamin C – to my water and drank it from morning till night, refilling as needed throughout the day.” And while the journalist “didn’t wake up each morning with glowing skin and a flat belly as [she had] expected,” she did notice one unanticipated benefit.

Specifically, Yi observed, “During the week of my experiment, I was surprised to see how much more water I was drinking each day. Most of the time, my problem with plain old water is that it’s too boring to drink. But lemon added enough flavor to make things interesting, encouraging me to reach for my infused glass more and more.”

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Yi found that her H2O intake close to doubled, in fact, going from around 20 to 32 ounces per day over the length of the challenge. However, she went on, “This little experiment also came with an unexpected side effect: I began to feel slightly nauseous in the mornings when I drank the lemon water on an empty stomach.”

Yi continued in her Popsugar column, “I don’t typically eat breakfast — mostly due to force of habit, not because of intermittent fasting — and I refused to give up my cup of coffee for this experiment. That plus lemon water on an empty stomach until lunch was a recipe for stomach irritation. This might be due to the acidity of the coffee and the alkalizing effect of the lemon, but I can’t be sure. While it wasn’t enough to keep me from continuing, I’d definitely line my tummy with some food before trying this again.”

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Summarizing her experiment, Yi concluded, “I don’t recommend drinking lemon water all day, every day for an extended period of time for the sake of preserving your teeth enamel. But if you’re seeking an easy way to reset healthy habits, try starting your morning off with a warm glass of lemon water to replenish your body and give yourself a boost of vitamin C. And if you’re just as bad as hydrating, it may be worth infusing your water with different fruits to see if it makes a difference like it did for me.”

Freelance writer Gianluca Russo similarly took on the lemon water challenge, drinking a glass of the stuff every morning for a week after rising out of bed. He also noted his newfound habit’s apparent effects in a 2019 article for the website Insider. And it seems that Russo had only positive things to report.

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Russo explained how the regimen had improved his skin, writing, “First off, upon the completion of my one-week lemon water challenge, I noticed my skin was almost flawless, [with] no breakouts, no excess oils [and] no new blemishes. I also found that, to the touch, my skin was much softer and appeared to be much brighter. Essentially, the lemon juice created a natural highlight on my face.”

Russo continued, “I also found that the lemon water helped with my breath. Having been cursed with bad breath, mornings have always been a particularly difficult time for me. However, I soon found that the lemon water improved this, [as] the fruit’s citric acid helps to break down and fight bacteria in the mouth.”

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After the writer had completed his seven-day routine, though, his acne reportedly began to return – suggesting that maybe the lemon water had made a difference. Furthermore, he noted, “At the end of the week, I also found I was much less bloated. Lemons are a natural diuretic and help the body let go of any extra salt it’s hanging on to. In turn, this decreases bloating.”

And while Russo didn’t manage to spot any more immediately discernible health benefits, he did suggest that drinking water may have boosted his immune system, as he hadn’t felt ill during the experiment. Even so, he admitted, “I found each day that I became thirsty faster in the mornings. I also found that if I didn’t quench this thirst, a weird aftertaste was left in my mouth.”

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But while such anecdotal evidence is all well and good, what do the experts say about the pros and cons of lemon water? Well, Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in England, meaning the subject is well in her wheelhouse. And she has given her thoughts on the matter in a piece written for BBC Good Food’s website.

Before analyzing the many claims that have been made about lemon water, however, Lewin outlined the basic facts about lemons themselves. She wrote, “Lemons and other citrus fruits are well known for their colorful pitted skins and tart, refreshing taste. Lemons contain citric acid and have a high vitamin C content.”

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But consuming lemons for health reasons is not a new practice, as Lewin pointed out. She went on, “Lemons have been used for centuries and have been highly regarded in the past for treating scurvy – a now rare condition that can develop through lack of vitamin C. Vitamin C is often claimed to support the immune system; however, studies have been inconclusive.”

So, does getting a regular supply of vitamin C through lemon water prevent you from contracting a cold? Well, while Lewin cited a study that suggested this isn’t the case, this investigation nevertheless found that the vitamin “may shorten the duration of symptoms [as well as halve] the common cold risk in people exposed to short periods of extreme physical stress – for example, marathon runners.” Lewin added, “Lemons also contain protective antioxidants called flavonoids.”

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The nutritionist also took a look at the supposed benefits of lemon water that have been touted by writers such as Widmer. “Headlines have linked drinking lemon water to many other health claims, including weight loss, improved digestion, ‘alkalizing’ effects on the body, improved skin and detoxification,” she wrote. However, Lewin went on, “The research, especially human studies, to support these health claims is minimal.”

It’s not all bad news for those convinced of lemon water’s advantages for health, though. As Lewin attested, “Some evidence has linked vitamin C and flavonoids to improvements in skin. Vitamin C is known to help the body produce collagen, which contributes to the integrity of skin.”

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And although it contains naturally occurring sugars from the fruit, lemon water is viewed by Lewin as a good bet for quenching both thirst and hunger. She wrote, “It’s possible to mistake thirst for hunger, so if you have been advised to lose weight, try having a glass of lemon water first when you feel hungry to see if you’re really just thirsty. If you usually opt for fizzy or sugary drinks, lemon water would be a lower-calorie and lower-sugar alternative.”

Naturally, then, as lemon water is predominantly made up of H2O, it is also excellent for hydration. Lewin stated, “Dehydration is common and can present with headaches, dizziness and tiredness. It’s important to make sure that you consume enough fluid while exercising or in hot weather. The [British National Health Service] advises drinking six to eight glasses of fluid – ideally water – a day.”

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Lewin additionally acknowledged the assertions that the beverage can assist with stomach issues, writing, “Some people find drinking a glass of lemon water, particularly first thing in the morning, aids digestion.” Yet she stopped short of suggesting that the drink was a miracle cure, saying instead that any positive findings to this end were “mainly subjective, and reports are anecdotal.”

Furthermore, Lewin questioned the legitimacy of the claims that lemon water should be consumed immediately upon rising. She opined, “The effects of lemon water will not change regardless of whether you drink it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you like the taste of lemon water, it could be a good choice for first thing in the morning, as we often wake up a little dehydrated – especially if you’ve had alcohol or salty food the night before.”

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And the nutrition expert denied that lemon water assists in the detoxifying process. She revealed, “There is currently no evidence to suggest that lemon water has an alkalizing or detoxing effect on the body. The liver is responsible for eliminating toxins from everything we eat, drink and are exposed to in our environment, so no amount of lemon water is going to ‘detox’ our bodies. There is also no truth to the claims that lemon water balances pH levels.”

A number of these findings were backed up by Joe Leech, who in a May 2020 article for Medical News Today similarly questioned the veracity of some of the claims made about lemon water. Leech hinted, however, that the flavonoids in the fruit could potentially reduce inflammation, while lemon’s citrate may heal or prevent kidney stones.

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Yet the writer was largely skeptical about some of the perceived benefits to consuming the drink, writing, “There are many other health claims surrounding lemon water, but most do not have any scientific evidence to support them.” He also refuted suggestions that lemon water could aid substantial weight loss, effectively alkalize the body, help fight cancer or, perhaps most bizarrely, raise IQ.

So, we’ve covered the potential positives to sipping lemon water, but are there any drawbacks we should know about? Well, perhaps just one. In her article for BBC Good Food, Lewin highlighted the consequences that long-term lemon water drinking could have on our teeth, explaining, “Fruit juices and acidic liquids can impact the enamel of teeth, so it is best to dilute concentrated lemon juice with water or drink through a straw.” Altogether, then, while lemon water is not quite the magic potion many would have us believe, it is a perfectly healthy and refreshing thirst-quencher that can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet.

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