Ever feel like the next news story is going to warn you that reading health news can make you dizzy?
One day you should drink 8 glasses of water a day. Then, a study says you should just drink when you're thirsty.
A story says you should get more exercise, but too much could hurt you.
Being overweight can be bad for you, but diets can be dangerous.
What to believe? It's sometimes tough to know.
Following health news can either make you feel like you're going crazy or give you false hopes.
But it's important you follow the news. That's because health and medicine are complicated, and the more you read, the more you'll gradually understand, and the more likely you'll be able to ask good questions when you're faced with an issue or concern.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of health and healthcare news:
Don't expect to get the final word on anything. That's because research is incremental. Consider every topic something like a great book. Each chapter takes you a little farther. It's the nature of research that big questions have to be bitten off in small, measurable nibbles. But that doesn't mean reading today's story is a waste of time. You'll get familiar with the terms, the issues and current thinking.
Understand that most research doesn't prove cause and effect. In other words, just because exercise is shown to be associated with fewer health problems, it may not mean the precise reason is known yet. But that doesn't make the research useless. Somewhat loose associations are still valuable, and if you keep reading over time, you'll see how future studies build on earlier ones to start cornering an answer.
When you read terms you don't understand, try to take the time to look them up in Wikipedia or another accessible, readable source. By building your knowledge of key words and biological processes, you'll get more out of health news because you'll understand it better.
Look for the bottom line, the take-aways. Most health news will tell you the implications of the news and what you should consider changing in your life, if anything, based on the research.
Think long-term. Look for trends in the news that you can apply over the long-run. If there's a deadly food outbreak from cantaloupe, consider where you're buying your fresh fruit and vegetables and whether you're washing them properly. If a story says stress may be killing you, think about how you can simplify your life, make time for what you love to do and get more exercise.
Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN, is the founder of the blog www.bodboss.com, which is “dedicated to helping people learn to be the CEO of their own body and better guide their own health care.” Besides her hands-on work as both a nurse and supervisor in hospitals, Barbara has written articles that have been published in a number of national magazines and newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @bbgrayrn.