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Episode 18: Health by the numbers

In episode 18, producer Sarah Murphy and host David Willows welcome GSC writer Carley Parekh to the podcast studio to share the research behind her “Health by the numbers” article in (g)sc TALK.
And now for something completely indifferent

And now for something completely indifferent

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Episode 18 Transcript


[0:00:14.9] SM: Hello and welcome to another episode of GSC’s podcast, And Now For Something Completely Indifferent. Where we’ll be discussing the hottest topics and trends in Canadian health benefits. I am the producer and editor, Sarah Murphy.

Before we get started with today’s episode, we would like to remind our listeners that the views expressed in this podcast are those of the individuals speaking and not necessarily the views of GSC. We may talk about possibly controversial subjects. Therefore, reserve the right to potentially offend some listeners but are apologizing for it out front.

You can download this podcast from our website at or subscribe to it rom wherever you get your podcasts. We also encourage you to read our publications, The Inside Story and Follow the Script and GSC Talk, which you can also download from our website and please be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn. Now, let’s get started.

Today’s episode is hosted by David Willows, GSC’s Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer.


[0:01:14.1] SM: Hello David.

[0:01:14.4] DW: Hi Sarah. Have I been in a good mood this week?

[0:01:17.5] SM: You have been in an unusually good mood.

[0:01:19.8] DW: Yeah, because that’s not my brand really.

[0:01:22.2] SM: No, that’s not your brand, you’re moody.

[0:01:23.8] DW: Yeah.

[0:01:24.3] SM: Serious, hilarious but –

[0:01:26.5] DW: Erratic.

[0:01:27.0] SM: Erratic, yes, true, yup.

[0:01:28.9] DW: Why am I in such a good mood?

[0:01:30.1] SM: Well, you’re in a good mood because I think your favorite Toronto basketball team –

[0:01:36.6] DW: You can say their name, don’t hold back.

[0:01:39.2] SM: The Toronto Raptors.

[0:01:40.0] DW: That is correct.

[0:01:40.8] SM: Had a very good playoff run.

[0:01:42.3] DW: Two months.

[0:01:43.4] SM: Yeah, they did.

[0:01:44.3] DW: A glorious two months.

[0:01:45.3] SM: Yup.

[0:01:45.7] DW: Arguably the greatest two months of my life.

[0:01:47.8] SM: Wow. I hope your daughter and wife aren’t listening to this podcast.

[0:01:52.1] DW: They know.

[0:01:52.5] SM: They know, okay. Good, fair enough. Okay.

[0:01:55.6] DW: A couple of podcast ago, I think we dedicated a podcast for the first time to our friend and colleague Johnny who had saved us from a technological disaster with guests in the room.

[0:02:03.4] SM: Right.

[0:02:03.6] DW: I am making the executive decision to dedicate this podcast to the NBA and world champion Toronto Raptors.

[0:02:11.0] SM: Okay.

[0:02:12.7] DW: But not even them collectively as a team, I would like to go through each and every member of the coaching staff.

[0:02:17.9] SM: Really?

[0:02:19.0] DW: The team itself, the medical staff who kept the team in working order, especially throughout the spring.

[0:02:25.6] SM: Yeah.

[0:02:26.6] DW: If you could sort of maybe move back from the microphone I’d like to start.

[0:02:29.6] SM: I think you should not do that. That will take forever but if you want to give a couple of shoutouts to anybody specifically?

[0:02:35.9] DW: Nick Nurse. Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry.

[0:02:39.4] SM: Stop, that’s enough.

[0:02:40.0] DW: Okay.

[0:02:40.5] SM: That’s good.

[0:02:41.5] DW: Okay, dedicated to them.

[0:02:43.1] SM: Okay. This podcast is dedicated to The Toronto Raptors, I’m sure they will greatly appreciate it.

[0:02:47.8] DW: Masai Ujiri.

[0:02:48.0] SM: Okay, that’s fine.


[0:02:54.0] DW: Okay, on the studio today we have a first time, GSC podcaster, our colleague Carley Parekhk, Communication Specialist but for the purposes of our talk today, you’re a writer, right? You’re here because you wrote something.

[0:03:06.2] CP: I’m here because I wrote something.

[0:03:07.2] DW: Okay, do you mind if I call you a writer?

[0:03:09.3] CP: Sure, yeah.

[0:03:09.5] DW: Sounds kind of romantic and old fashioned actually. Communication Specialist sounds a bit corporate and vague and it’s like no, I write.

[0:03:16.3] CP: Yeah, I write. I’m not fast, I’m not a fast writer but I am a writer, a thoughtful writer.

[0:03:21.8] DW: This is not your performance review.

[0:03:23.7] CP: Thank you.

[0:03:25.2] DW: We got off on the wrong foot. Carley is the author of our most recent publication, one of our many publications called GSC Talk and we’ve never talked about GSC Talk on this particular podcast but it’s something we put together in the last couple of years which is really aimed, primarily we hope, at the plan member community in trying to engage them on some of our thoughts around different health issues.

But this one  we’re going to push out to the advisor and plan sponsor community as well, as it’s one of our favorite ones that we’ve written. It’s about sort of myths around health and personal goals and stuff. So tell us sort of a synopsis of this article and how you came to write it?

[0:04:05.0] CP: Yeah, I mean, truthfully, it came out of kind of a selfish place, in the sense that these are health myths that I have been familiar with for some time and I think I was just curious, you know, they say that there’s some truth in all of the myths that we hear and I was curious, is there truth behind these numbers?

I was looking at a few popular health numbers out there, specifically eight glasses of water a day which I think is probably the mother of all health myths, in that we’ve all heard that in some form or another.

[0:04:39.8] DW: Certainly for the last 10 years, I’ve seen a lot more people around with a lot of water.

[0:04:44.7] SM: Bottles.

[0:04:44.5] DW: Never quite understood that.

[0:04:46.2] SM: All of us have our glasses of water.

[0:04:49.6] DW: I don’t have eight though.

[0:04:52.6] SM: Well, it’s good news, the article tells you, you don’t need to.

[0:04:55.6] DW: Thank God.

[0:04:58.0] CP: Yeah, the other one, 10,000 steps a day, we looked at that one, that’s obviously sort of the fad number that’s out there right now. And then the other one and I don’t know how familiar people are with this one but it’s certainly one that I had heard a lot which is 21 days to form a habit. In the end, you know, it was sort of most false one, one sort of in a grey area. If it’s okay, I’ll just – I guess I’ll give you a quick synopsis of each of them.

Yeah, eight glasses of water a day definitely landed very much in the false territory. It turns out it kind of came out of, they’re not quite sure where, it was two different publications that said that you need around two liters of water a day which is true. But, actually, what it left out is you actually get most of your water, your fluids through just your regular diet and the drinks that you have. Pop, coffee, even alcohol, all of that counts towards those eight glasses.

I think what was interesting when I was researching this is that everyone has different, when you think about it logically, we’re all different sizes, we all live in different places, we all exercise different amounts. Even age can play an impact on how much fluid you actually need. A one size number for everyone just doesn’t make any sense. Another thing that I thought was really interesting when I was researching it is that, you know, our bodies and again, this kind of comes back to a place where it’s logical but our bodies regulate our fluid, there are mechanisms in our bodies to tell us, is your fluid low, is it too much?

If it’s too low, your body’s going to tell you that you’re thirsty, if it’s too much, you’re going to go to the bathroom. Your body has a handle on that and so this idea that you somehow need to monitor that fluid intake is for the most part, not true. I mean, in certain circumstances if you're exercising and obviously there may be special conditions where you have to monitor your fluid but for the most part, if we just kind of listen to what our bodies tell us, that’s all you need to do. That one definitely ended up false.

[0:07:04.3] DW: It’s become a habit for most people. Talk to us about habits.

[0:07:07.5] CP: Habits, yeah. It’s funny because, as I was going through the research for the habit one,  – there was a study that was conducted and one of the habits that people were trying to take on or create were to drink more water. I thought that was funny that in the end, it turned out that the habit one was not so true as well.

Not necessarily – it’s entirely possible that it could take you 21 days to form a new habit but there was a study that was recently conducted where they followed, I think it was 96 people. All these 96 people wanted to create a new habit of some variety – whether it was eat a piece of fruit in the morning, have more water, do 50 sit ups before you go to work – and they found it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for that habit to form.

Quite a big range there and in the end, what it really showed were a few things. One, that I mean, first of all, some people are just a little bit more habit resistant than others. But mostly that some habits are just harder to form than others, right? Drinking a glass of water in the morning is a much easier habit to become automatic than if you wanted to do 50 sit ups before you go to work, right? I don’t’ know about you but I’m never going to autopilot –

[0:08:26.0] DW: I would choose the water.

[0:08:27.4] SM: Exactly.

[0:08:29.2] CP: You're never going to autopilot yourself into like 50 sit-ups, right? I thought that was kind of interesting and then the last one was 10,000 steps a day which is a very popular one right now.

[0:08:41.4] DW: The FitBit craze, right?

[0:08:42.9] CP: The FitBit craze and all of the trackers have taken on this sort of 10,000 step mantra and what was so fascinating about that one was that – it’s actually – it started as a completely arbitrary number. It came out of Japan way back in the day, they created a pedometer and they just picked 10,000 because it was a nice number and that was all the thought that went behind it.

Now, FitBit has come back and said, you know, they’re trying to align it with the general recommendations around activity which I think is 150 minutes per week or — moderate or 75 of vigorous. They’re saying, you know, the average person just in their day to day life is going to take around six to 7,000 steps just you know, doing what they do and then the other 3,000 steps, if you’re incorporating around 30 minutes of moderate activity a day then that’s going to get you that extra three to 4,000 which will bring you to 10,000.

It does make sense. In the end, this one was actually my favorite because I really thought it was going to go either black or white, right? I think in our heads, we just have it that something is either true or it’s false. This one was really grey in the sense that they’re not wrong, FitBit’s not wrong. 10,000 steps, it’s not a bad measure of activity.

You know I think what it really came down to is that it can’t be the only measure of activity, right? Your step count isn’t going to account for your intensity, how intense are the exercises you are doing? Are you getting your blood pumping, your heart moving, all of that has benefits than just walking around a mall isn’t going to do.

Yeah, so another one was that counting steps is not an accurate way to measure other activities. So if you are doing yoga or if you are swimming or cycling or whatever, it is not really going to give you an accurate picture of what – how does that translate into the steps. But I think the most significant thing that came out of it is that inevitably when you put round numbers around this stuff people are always going to treat it like a ceiling. So people are going to get to 10,000 steps and they’re going to sort of wipe their hands and say, “Okay I am done for the day,” right? And the thing about activity is that more is always going to be more. It is always going to give you more benefits. So 10,000 steps, if you are only doing 7,000 right now, then 10,000 steps is a great place to aim for but if you are doing 10,000 steps there is no reason that you should just say, “Well, okay I am doing what I am supposed to do,” right? More is more.

[0:11:18.8] DW: Yeah that is the picture of health.

[0:11:19.7] CP: Right, exactly. It doesn’t present a clear picture of what health is so yeah, I really like that one because I just thought we like things to be black or white and that one is really just healthy is somewhat complicated but I think we all generally know what we should be doing at the same time and activity is good no matter what you are doing. Strength training is important for building muscle but it is not going to help your step count. So I just thought that that was sort of a nice conclusion to that one.

[0:11:48.6] DW: So have you in your life fallen, I use that in quotation marks, fallen for any of this?

[0:11:54.0] CP: I mean yeah, like you know definitely. To some degree at some point in my life I think the rational side of my brain tells me that drinking eight glasses of water a day is not reasonable. But I think these things become embedded in our culture to a certain extent and you know you hear people talking about them and if anything like the eight glasses of water a day one I think it’s funny because it is like we are all hydration obsessed.

We all just are constantly thinking about like. “Am I hydrated enough, how does my skin look? Is it impairing my cognitive abilities?”

[0:12:30.7] DW: I can barely work because that is all I think about, my skin.

[0:12:35.6] SM: And it’s glowing.

[0:12:36.3] CP: We have confirmed, it’s glowing yeah.

[0:12:37.9] DW: Thank you. All that water has paid off.

[0:12:41.5] CP: Yeah but I think all of them have a little – they have just permeated our culture to a certain extent that they –

[0:12:49.7] DW: Do you think it’s worse now? Like is the world of online and social media sort of given even expanded life to these do you think?

[0:12:57.6] CP: Well, I think all of them have been around for a while. So I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary the cause of these things spreading but I would say that it seems to have fan the flames. And you know when you look at this stuff, one of the things that really came out in the research that I thought was interesting is the cognitive background of why we love these numbers and numbers are just handy for our brains. We love them because they are easy to process.

We can put them in sound bites and they are easy to just sort of mention to someone, “Oh yeah, I heard you are supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day,” or whatever it is. So they are easy for us to digest and so we hold onto them because our brains prefer things that are simple to things that are complex. I would say that definitely the digital age has fanned the flames of these things because people will go online and they will be able to find answers that confirm whatever it is that they want to believe, right?

It is a little bit harder I think to get clear answers on things these days. I would also say that we don’t read that much anymore do we, right? We scan. We pick up articles and we’ll take the headlines and we’ll take the sound bites and then we move on rather than necessarily digesting the full complex context that their situated in. Yeah, I guess I would throw it back to you like have you ever fallen victim to these are these familiar to you as well? Have they?

[0:14:21.9] DW: I have certainly heard them. I am probably the hard cynic and I probably would have fallen for them to get serious for a second because I think this is a light topic and if you walk 10,000 steps that is not really harmful and I don’t think you’re harmed by eight glasses of water but I do sit here wondering whether the – like the anti-vaccination movement to get more serious would have life in 2019, if it wasn’t for social media and online because we have eradicated measles.

And it was a given in public health that people get their kids vaccinated and I wonder whether the flames are fanned because people can have quick access to communities and spread essentially falsehoods. In this case, more serious falsehoods than what we are talking about here. So I do think it’s a different world where some of these are harmless but some can cause I think concern and pain, over time.

I do want to say that one thing I did like about your article and let me just read some of the opening to it, "Trying to understand how to stay healthy can feel overwhelming at best. We are bombarded with often conflicting information about how to eat, how to exercise or even how many glasses of wine a day are good," and I appreciate that the premise is starting off that we can have wine every day.

We can certainly debate how much wine but that you put in writing that how much wine per day is appropriate. I appreciated that because I think I may have fallen. I have my times where that maybe are out there.

[0:15:38.7] CP: You’re welcome. So just doing my service for society.

[0:15:42.5] DW: You are having it right at the beginning of this article, thank you very much. I have to say Carley is a podcast obsessed person and this is her first podcast. It would be like your life has led you to this moment so I want to thank you for getting in the studio with us and sharing with us your writing here I think is one of our favorite articles. We encourage people to go online and read it. Read our mobile version, it is very cool — Char, our graphic designer certainly brings it to life in a certain way but I hope to have you back with the next GSC talk and we can start doing these little bit lighter fare than maybe we are used to in these podcasts where we get fairly heavy at times.

[0:16:17.1] CP: With like Ned and Peter. I know.

[0:16:18.9] DW: Yeah, I know.

[0:16:19.3] CP: Well and now with Peter leaving somebody’s got to challenge his position.

[0:16:23.3] DW: Peter’s retirement has left a –

[0:16:24.3] CP: Who is going to challenge Ned?

[0:16:25.5] DW: A spot on the bench. So Carley is rushing in to fill that, so thank you.

[0:16:28.7] CP: No, thank you for having me. It was great.


[0:16:35.9] SM: Thank you to our listeners for tuning in for another episode of And Now For Something Completely Indifferent, a Canadian Health Benefits Industry Podcast. To be sure to get future episodes, please subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts or visit our website at to download. As a reminder, we talk about these issues consistently in our publications, which are available on our website as well as on social media. So be sure to follow the conversation. For today’s episode, be sure to out our summer 2019 issue of GSC Talk.

Thanks for listening and we’ll talk again soon.