The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has concluded that more than a third of Americans today are overweight. Yet it also reports that at least 30 percent of us don’t exercise at all, perhaps partly due to persistent fitness myths.
Myth 1: Lack of Opportunity
Even the busiest person can fit in some exercise by making simple changes in their daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, do squats while watching television, deliver a message in person instead of via email, take a desk break to stretch or stand while talking on the phone. Even fidgeting is beneficial. The point is to be as active as possible during otherwise sedentary hours.
Myth 2: No Time
The CDC recommends that each week, adults should exercise 150 minutes—the average duration of a movie—but not all at once. To make it easy, break it up into various exercise activities in daily, vigorous, 10-minute chunks.
Myth 3: Unaffordable
Activities like walking, bicycling and even jumping rope can be done virtually anywhere, anytime. Individuals can create a basic home fitness center with a jump rope, set of dumbbells and not much more. Borrow an exercise video or DVD from the library or follow one of the many television fitness shows. “People can save thousands of dollars by combining five to 10 exercises into a burst-training workout routine,” which will burn calories and increase muscle mass, says Joe Vennare, co-founder of the Hybrid Athlete, a fitness website.
Myth 4: Too Late to Start
Many people feel they are too old or out-of-shape to even begin to exercise, or are intimidated by the idea of stepping into a yoga studio or gym. “Stop wasting time reading diet books and use that time to go for a walk,” advises Exercise Physiologist Jason Karp, Ph.D., author of Running for Women and Running a Marathon for Dummies. “In other words, get moving any way you can.”
Myth 5: No Pain, No Gain
Suffering isn’t required. In fact, feeling pain can indicate possible injury or burnout. Still, consult a doctor before beginning any exercise program. “Do not hurt yourself,” says Charla McMillian, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, attorney and president of FitBoot – Basic Training for Professionals, in San Francisco. “Rather, aim for a point of gentle discomfort,” she advises.
Myth 6: Must Break a Sweat
Perspiring is related to the duration and intensity of the exercise, but some people just sweat more than others. “How much (or little) you sweat does not correlate with how many calories you are expending,” assures Jessica Matthews, an experienced registered yoga teacher and an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise.
Myth 7: Dieting is Enough
Women especially fall prey to the myth that they don’t need to exercise if they are a certain dress size. Even those at a healthy weight can be in greater danger of contracting disease and shortened lifespan than obese individuals that regularly participate in physical activity, according to a recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in Bethesda, Maryland. Health experts recommend combining regular activity with consuming lean proteins, healthy fats, limited starches and no added sugars.
Myth 8: Stretch Before Exercising
New research from the American Council on Exercise recommends stretching at the end of a workout. “It is safer and more effective to stretch muscles that are properly warmed and more pliable,” says Matthews, who also recommends beginning a workout with simple movements such as arm circles and leg swings. She notes, “Stretching can help to improve posture and flexibility, plus reduce overall stress.”
Myth 9: Crunches Cut Belly Fat
There’s no such thing as spot reducing. While crunches strengthen abdominal muscles, they will not shrink your waistline, says Karp. Instead, try exercises such as squats, lunges and yoga plank holds or kettlebell repetitions to lose stubborn belly fat.
Myth 10: Women Using Weights Get Bulky
The truth is that most weightlifting women won’t end up with a big, bulky physique because they have less testosterone, are smaller in size and have less muscle tissue than men, advises Matthews. “Any kind of strength training will help improve bone density, increase muscle mass and decrease body fat in both men and women.”
Myth 11: Exercise is Hard
Physical activity should be fun. It’s best to start simply, add a variety of physical activities and challenges and keep at it. Schedule time for exercise and treat it like any other daily appointment; don’t cancel it. Alexander Cortes, a nationally certified strength and conditioning coach with Ultimate Fighting Championship Gym, in Corona, California, concludes, “When health is a priority, exercise is the most important appointment you can keep.”
Lynda Bassett is a freelance writer near Boston, MA. Connect at LyndaBassett.com.