10 Harmful Exercise Myths
We all know exercise is good for us. We know it’s one of the best ways to prevent heart disease, and one of the keys to recovering from a heart attack.
However, fitness is big business. And like most big businesses, the industry puts out a lot of questionable information and calls it the truth. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know a lot about the science of exercise, and sorting fact from fiction may be hard—so here are 10 harmful myths about fitness that you just shouldn’t believe.
1. Myth: If you don’t exercise when you’re young, it’s dangerous when you get older.
Truth: Any age is the perfect time to start an exercise program. Whether you’re nine, nineteen, or ninety, there’s no reason you shouldn’t start. In fact, a 2009 study from Hebrew University Medical center found that people who began exercising as senior citizens lived longer than those who didn’t, even if they’d never exercised before.
The key is finding the right workout for you. If you have osteoporosis or arthritis, you probably don’t want to do a high-impact workout. However, a yoga program may be just the ticket.
2. Myth: You need to go to a gym and “work out”
Truth: This is a myth created by gym owners and equipment manufacturers. You don’t need to go to a gym. You don’t need special equipment. You certainly don’t need a gazillion-dollar BowFlex machine. Some of the best exercises around can be done with nothing more than your own body as a tool. They can therefore be done in the privacy of your own home, without any pricey gym memberships and with no excuses for not hopping in the car and heading to the gym.
3. Myth: Exercise makes you lose weight
Truth: Exercise makes you lose fat. This might result in weight loss. On the other hand, it might actually result in weight gain—but that’s not a bad thing. Here’s why:
Muscle weighs a great deal more than fat. When you lose fat but gain muscle, you might actually gain weight even as your waist shrinks and you become more fit.
4. Myth: If you’re not overweight, you don’t need to exercise
Truth: There are a million health benefits to exercising, and most of them have nothing to do with weight. Exercise boosts your immune system. It improves your cardiovascular health. It improves your brain health. The list goes on and on. However, there’s another reason you should exercise even if you’re not overweight. The fitness community calls it being “skinny fat.”
Most of us lead fairly sedentary lives. This means our muscles are seriously underdeveloped. When we have underdeveloped muscles, we can have a pretty high percentage of body fat without looking fat or even “chunky.” This is skinny fat, and sneakily sets us up for fat-related health problems even while we think we’re at a good weight. Exercise builds the muscle and burns the fat.
5. Myth: You can “target” fat in specific weight. parts of your body
Truth: I hear it all the time: “I just need to lose weight in my belly/hips/thighs.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. No matter what the late-night fitness infomercials may tell you, the hard truth is that you can’t pick and choose where you want to lose weight. When your body burns fat, it burns it all over. And those problem areas that are more padded than the rest may take longer simply because there’s more fat there to burn. So don’t get discouraged if your spare tire has only shrunk to the size of a donut. Your body is burning fat all over.
6. Myth: You have to exercise long and hard for it to do any good
Truth: Science increasingly shows that sitting for long periods is one of the worst things you can do for your health. Not just being sedentary overall, but actually sitting. Behind a desk. On the couch. At your kitchen table. It has a huge impact on heart health. It’s been tied to brain health. Each month it’s linked to something new. So anything that gets you up and moving is going to improve your health.
7. Myth: Your weight is the be-all, end-all measurement of whether exercise is “working”
Truth: Weight is just one measurement among many. If you’re focused on your weight, you’re ignoring the many other benefits of exercise—like improving your cardiovascular health. Even if you don’t lose weight, a higher level of fitness means better health overall. So put the scale away and pay attention to how you feel, not your weight.
8. Myth: Exercising every day gives you a free pass to eat what you want
Truth: There’s a saying in the fitness community: You can’t out-train a bad diet. It doesn’t matter how hard you exercise if you’re eating crap the rest of the day. If you exercise for an hour then down a large Frappacino, or eat 2 slices of chocolate cake with icing or a bag of potato chips, you’ve undone all your good work. Eating real food goes hand in hand with good health, and no amount of exercise will change that.
9. Myth: You need to be flexible to do yoga
Truth: You become flexible by doing yoga. Yoga is one of the most forgiving forms of exercise out there. It doesn’t ask more from you than you’re able to give.
If you’re not very flexible, that’s ok. If you’re supposed to bend over and put your hands on the floor but you can’t touch your toes, it’s not a problem. You just reach as far as you can. No one looks at you funny because you can’t do it. And the next time, you can reach a little further. Eventually you become flexible enough that you can. And if not—that’s ok too.
10. Myth: No pain, no gain
Truth: Pain is the body’s warning signal. It tells you something is wrong. Soreness after a workout is one thing—it’s to be expected and means you did a good job. But if you have pain while you’re working out, your body is telling you that you’re doing something wrong. That you’re injuring yourself, and that you need to stop.
Myth: You’ll start exercising tomorrow
Truth: Tomorrow never comes. Do it today.