Getting and staying fit is challenging enough without having to deal with bad information. Myths like “no pain, no gain” are so common that everybody talks about them at the gyms and health clubs, causing confusion and, worse, injury. To help set the record straight, here are seven popular fitness myths and the facts that debunk them. They are, by no means, a complete list of the fitness fodder out there, but may help you separate fact from fiction in structuring your own workout program.
“You have to work out hard and frequently every day to get fit.”
You don’t need to have the workout regimen of a marine boot camp drill sergeant to get in good shape. Frequent and moderate-intensity exercise can be effective in increasing and maintaining your fitness level. Running, cycling, walking, swimming or performing any sustained aerobic activity three or four times a week at a moderate intensity for 30-45 minutes will do the trick. Or, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), you can shoot for three 20-minute sessions at vigorous intensity.
“If it’s fun, it can’t be that good for me.”
No matter what sport or exercise you enjoy, there are plenty of benefits to be found in any physical activity. In fact, doing something that you find fun will likely translate into consistent workouts because you’ll have the motivation to do it. The trick is to find the sport or activity that you enjoy and stick with it. There’s something for every body out there. That said, it’s always a good idea to add a little variety to your fitness routine so that you target seldom-used muscle groups.
“Eating protein supplements will make me muscular.”
This falls under the fitness myth category of a “magic bullet” that promises everything from instant washboard abs to unlimited energy. Simply put, complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are the best, and easily accessible foods for exercise energy. It’s true that moderate protein helps muscles recovery from exercise, but it is a progressive strength training program that builds muscle and not an excessive amount of protein shakes.
“No pain, no gain.”
There’s nothing wrong with a moderate amount of muscular soreness within 48 hours of a good workout, as long as it isn’t centered on joints. Moderate muscle soreness just means you have a bit of inflammation and microscopic tears in the elastic tissues that surround muscle fibers. This is a completely normal and desirable effect of exercise that ultimately results in stronger muscles. But sharp pain or high discomfort in joints or muscles during exercise is usually a sign that you’re overdoing it and need to back off. Just as there are no “magic bullets,” there are also no shortcuts, so ease up and listen to your body.
“I can eat anything I want because I exercise.”
Everything in moderation is the real key. According to the American Dietetic Association, good nutrition in the form of complex carbohydrate and moderate protein helps maintain body weight, replenishes energy stores, and builds and repairs tissue. Plenty of natural foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains—and moderate amounts of meats, fish and dairy, as well as avoiding processed, junk and fast foods is the diet your body needs to really leverage the benefits of exercise.
“You can never exercise too much.”
While moderate exercise can boost your immune system, over doing it has the opposite effect of lowering your immunity. That’s the body’s way of telling you that you can have too much of a good thing. While marathoners, Ironman triathletes and ultra-distance athletes exercise to an extreme, even these hardy warriors temper their workouts and give themselves time to recover to avoid injury and illness.
“You should exercise at a low intensity to lose weight.”
You may have heard of the “fat burning zone” of low-intensity workouts, but recent studies question whether this is the best way to lose fat. The simple truth is that it’s calories burned and eaten on a daily basis that most determines whether you lose weight or not. So, if your goal is weight loss, better to focus on how many calories you eat and burn, not on how you burn them. If anything, a recent study from the American College of Sports Medicine concluded that short, higher intensity aerobic exercise, called interval training, can help you lose weight quicker than longer, low-intensity workouts.