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Are spurious health claims the new fake news? As lockdown stretches on, many people are thinking about getting a bit healthier. I say ‘thinking’ because no matter what some people would have you believe, the actual stats show we Brits are loading up on food and booze, buying things at all times of the night and not getting fitter en masse. There’s a big difference between watching Joe Wicks and actually getting off the sofa. I confess to being an exercise dodger too.

So many of us are turning to the next best thing – the tidal wave of ads for products that will help us be better. You might raise an eyebrow at Gwyneth Paltrow and her spurious grasp of science on her eccentric lifestyle website. But even a hardened cynic can fall under the spell of a product that promises to sort out that one thing you are sensitive about.

The range of health products out there, from friendly bacteria to fat busters and organic testosterone pills, is frankly exhausting – and we don’t have enough column inches to cover the long-standing battles over the merits of both arguments. But here are a few tips on how you can spot the scams – and how you can also save some cash by actually getting healthy.

Check the science bits. Even when it comes to humble old vitamins, the jury is still out on whether vitamins in pill form actually do anything useful. Countless scientific papers have questioned everything from vitamin c doses to fish oil capsules for kids. Regardless, vitamins don’t magically make you healthy. Detoxes don’t really work and there’s no real science behind many of the miracle pills and supplements in your local health food shop. Be cynical, speak to your doctor and check to see what research has been done before handing over your hard-earned cash.

Don’t trust unknown online resources. If you’re looking in to the benefit of, say, smart drugs or the latest herbal extract with health benefits, you will find countless websites that concur with whatever you want to believe. However, technology is such that anyone can knock up a semi convincing website in next to no time and for free. Just because it looks good doesn’t mean its trustworthy advice. The same goes for popular pages. Lots of people want to believe a pill can make them thin – but that doesn’t mean it exists or is safe. Be honest with yourself. If you want to believe, you’ll find confirmation. Disappointingly, the Advertising Standards Authority has repeatedly had to fine firms and ban adverts for blatantly breaking the rules. So just because an ad or poster says its true, doesn’t mean it is.

Beware subscription traps. Many firms offer free trials and send you drugs or health and beauty products for a limited time at a bargain rate. However, when your time is up, you may be suddenly debited hundreds of pounds for a little pot of useless cream. This is by far the most common form of shopper scam I see. Many of these firms are based abroad and are hard to contact. Most people feel foolish and give up, making it a profitable scam to run. This is the ‘subscription trap. But you can fight back and win. Tell your bank to cancel the payment authorisation (called a CPA or continuous payment authority) that allows the firm to bill you immediately – they are required to do this straight away. Next, claim the money back through your bank on the grounds you did not authorise the payment. You’ll need to sign a waiver for the money to be recalled. If you’ve been sent goods return them by traceable post if you can though this is often not possible. Try to notify the firm you are terminating the subscription too.

Gyms make their biggest profits from the people who pay a monthly fee but rarely turn up (most of us, basically). Think of it as a ‘lazy tax’. This is even more relevant now that we’re not able to go. Most gyms will have contacted you with a few options. You may get incentives to stay signed up and paying money or you may be able to get a payment holiday. Do respond soon though – you’re missing out on savings. If you’ve not heard anything, get in touch and ask them what options are open to you. Not so long ago, gyms had an awful reputation for restrictive contracts but things have improved a bit. Some offer pay-as-you-go or by-the-month fees. Others still have contracts where you have to give a few months’ notice if you want to leave. So it may be easier to walk away if you are now exercising at home.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to involve excessive prices. Find cheap and simple recipe ideas of the internet and don’t get carried away with weird and unnecessary ingredients. Jack Monroe has a ton of recipes and advice online for cooking on a budget. And even if money isn’t tight, you can cut down on waste by using up everything in the fridge before it goes off. Generic, non-brand goods are often made by the same companies that provide the expensive ones, so aim for the cheaper option. Eat seasonal food and shop at your local market if it’s open – you’ll get better deals. And frozen veg is a much cheaper alternative if cash is tight.

Home gym it. You’ll save a packet by getting in to the habit of doing a few exercise plans at home. You can get things like skipping ropes, hula hoops, workout videos and more from resale websites or from friends and family for very little. There are free apps which help you get motivated (sofa to 5K is one example) or give you tips on technique. You can also find more detailed exercise plans online for zero pence too. Don’t sign up to the many paid-for apps out there unless you’re already exercising and are hardcore about it. Free videos on YouTube will get you started. Stick to a routine before you start spending.  

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