Debunking Fitness Myths
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By this month, the New Year is well underway. For many, this is a time of reconciliation with various health conditions in which we are generally assessing whether we feel good about and in our bodies. Capitalizing on refreshed post-holiday motivation, many of us have started or restarted our efforts to include more exercise into their routines. In this post, I will examine some of the prevailing fitness myths to help you formulate a healthful, skillful, and realistic approach to your exercise.
Myth #1: If I only have 10 minutes to exercise, it’s not worth it.
Truth: Three 10-minute exercise sessions equals one 30-minute session. All exercise counts.
Comments: More frequent sessions will keep your metabolism and energy higher and may be more sustainable than trying to devote larger blocks of time to exercise.
Myth #2: Stretching alone will make you more flexible.
Truth: Stretching may produce more flexibility in the short term as well as relaxation and greater body awareness.
Comments: Stretching is much more effective when paired with self-myofascial release, especially for the chronically tight or facilitated muscles that most of us have.
Myth #3: I exercised today; therefore, I can eat whatever I want!
Truth: You can always eat more than you burn.
Comments: Eat strategically to fuel and recover effectively from exercise. Make sure you have a snack or moderate-size meal 2-3 hours before a long or intense workout. Eat something containing protein and good carbohydrates within 30 minutes within finishing your workout to optimize your recovery.
Myth #4: I am too old to ____ [get stronger, look good, develop flexibility, try a new activity, start running/cycling].
Truth: You are never “too old” for these things. Avoid using age as an excuse. Check out my August post for real-life examples of people living and exercising well. In addition, there are people in their 80’s who do triathlons and marathons! You may, in fact, be “too old” to get by without exercising!
Comments: I have observed that we have a grace period of sorts until around age 25 or 30. After this time, we must put in some effort to maintain good health and functioning. Changes through normal aging without exercise intervention include the following:
- Reduction in endurance through the decreased efficiency of the heart
- Decrease in bone density leading to loss of stature, osteoporosis, and increased risk of fractures
- Reduction in flexibility and balance
- Decrease in circulation to the extremities and the body’s ability to extract oxygen from the blood
- Decrease in HDL (“good” cholesterol)
- Increase in LDL (“bad” cholesterol)
- Increase in triglycerides
- Decreased ability to process sugars
- Decline in muscle strength: 15% per decade after age 50 and 30% per decade after age 70
- Decreased speed and amount of recall, greater reaction time
Exercise positively impacts or reverses all of these. For example:
- Resistance training can result in 25-100% strength gains.
- Up to 1/3 of age-related decline in aerobic capacity can be reversed with 6+ months of aerobic training.
- Exercise encourages the growth of brain cells as well as neuron regrowth in the area of the brain involving memory, learning, and emotional regulation (the hippocampus).
- 3 weeks of bed rest deconditioning more profoundly impacts work capacity than 30 years of aging.
Myth #5: I can change my body shape and composition with lots of cardio.
Truth: Cardiovascular exercise burns calories, supports weight loss, and increases endurance, but does not necessarily shape what you have.
Comments: Body shape and composition, genetic influences aside, are primarily influenced by resistance training due to development of lean muscle and metabolic changes. Core and flexibility training also help you make the most of what you have.
Myth #6: Running is bad for your knees.
Truth: Inactivity, training errors, and muscle imbalances can negatively affect your knees.
Comments: Running may not be the best choice of exercise for you under certain circumstances such as advanced arthritis or a knee replacement. These conditions aside, all of the following can contribute to knee problems:
- Increasing speed, distance, intensity, or frequency too quickly
- Inadequate recovery
- Improper footwear
- Inadequate strength and flexibility, particularly in the hips and thighs
- Lack of core strength
- Poor body mechanics, posture, and running form - in particular, hunching forward, overstriding, and/or misalignment between the hip, knee, and ankle joints
Myth #7: It is always better to wear cushioned, motion-control shoes for all my fitness activities.
Truth: Over-cushioned, motion-control shoes tend to inhibit natural foot motion and can cause or reinforce problems.
Comments: Often, it can be better to allow for natural foot motion through the most minimalist shoes you can get away with for a given activity. We need to be able to allow the forefoot and toes spread in order to access the dozens of muscles in the feet, and to feel the ground for stability.
Myth #8: Health coaching is primarily for women.
Truth: While women are more likely to seek out health coaching, both men and women can benefit from it.
Comments: Men also need and deserve to the find support, accurate information, and accountability that health coaching provides.
Myth #9: Strength training will make a woman too bulky.
Truth: Women would need hours in the gym and steroids to bulk up.
Comments: Women lack the hormone profile that would enable them to easily build bulk. A woman who engages in resistance training, even with heavy weights, will develop muscle strength and definition, and strengthen her bones. The associated metabolic increase will enable fat loss, potentially resulting in a smaller clothing size.
Myth #10: I am not pushing very hard or sore after exercising, and the scale isn’t budging. This must mean that it isn’t working.
Truth: There are positive changes happening in your body every time you exercise unless you are overtraining.
Comments: Pushing very hard every single time you exercise will only lead to overtraining. When given the opportunity to exercise in a manner that the body can adapt to, positive effects can be experienced across bodily systems such as the neuromuscular, metabolic, cardiovascular, digestive, and brain & nervous systems. Oftentimes, although we may not see our body weight change, body composition changes favorably to include a decrease in body fat and increases in lean muscle mass and bone. Sometimes soreness in the muscle belly is experienced when doing something new or increasing the weights, etc. but should abate after a day or two. Positive changes can and do often happen in the absence of soreness.
Myth #11: I can lose weight or get fit fast with the ____ program, trend, or method.
Truth: A shortcut to quick results usually means cutting corners, and said results will likely not be sustainable long-term.
Comments: The path to true change can be challenging and usually involves taking action at multiple levels over time in order to last. Fads will come and go. At best, they are not customized to the person. At worst, they can lead to additional problems and backlash effects.
Myth #12: Sitting it out will help me feel better and reduce stress because I am feeling anxious and depressed.
Truth: Exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting self-esteem and improving sleep.
Comments: While not a cure-all, exercise releases endorphins that can improve your feelings of well-being, help to manage stress, and create a sense of accomplishment. For mild to moderate depression, it can often be as effective as medication. Exercise in combination with medication prescribed by your doctor to manage a mental health condition can be an especially powerful combination.
I would encourage you to proceed with your physical activity in an intelligent manner. Check in with yourself. Do you recognize any of the above fitness and exercise myths with yourself or others you know? Are there other exercise topics that you need to double check on?