Even though people know exercise is good for them, most still don’t get enough. And it sometimes seems like there’s more myths circulating about exercise than there are people doing it. Whether you’re newly starting out or a seasoned veteran, here are 9 myths about exercise busted to help you with your program.
1. Exercise Takes Too Much Time
Not having enough time, is probably the number one reason people give for not exercising. But the notion exercise takes too much time has no truth to it. As little as 20-30 minutes of activity that gets your heart and breathing rates up is all you need. And you don’t need to do it all at once. Breaking it up into chunks throughout the day is just as beneficial. You can even do exercise snacks, which are 30 second to 2 minute bursts of activity.
And if you’re truly concerned about time, you can’t afford not to exercise. The return on the investment is too great to ignore. Exercise can add years to your life. Exercising for as little as 75 minutes per week can add another 1.8 years to your life. This works out to approximately six minutes back in extended life for every one minute of exercise. Just think what you can do with all that extra time.
2. You Have to go to the Gym
For plenty of people, going to the gym is a sacred ritual. A time to get in an exercise session while being around other people. Perhaps even do some socializing. As a CEO of our local YMCA said, “people come for the facility but stay for the community.” But going to the gym, or swimming pool, or tennis club are only options. Not requirements for exercising.
Probably the most accessible activity is walking. You don’t need any special equipment, just go out your door. The pandemic has been a major disruption to our daily lives. At the same time, it’s shown us how we can adapt. Want to do resistance training at home? No problem. From push-ups to using milk jugs as weights, you can get a full body workout without any equipment. And there are plenty of exercise videos on YouTube or being delivered over Zoom or Instagram, turning your family room into a fitness studio.
There’s also what I call “stealth exercise”, getting the benefits of exercise without really doing what we might think of exercise. This includes things such as walking to the store (or parking further away from the store entrance), taking the stairs instead of the elevator and commuting to work by walking, cycling or scootering. Even household chores count. Cutting the grass is equivalent to a light run, while mopping the floor is similar to a brisk walk. This is the perfect multi-task, doing something you need to do, in a way that gets in your exercise as well.
3. Exercise Leads to Weight Loss
While not enough time is a major reason people are inactive, wanting to lose weight is a main reason many people exercise. And there is some truth to it. People who are active are generally thinner with less body fat. And exercise does burn calories. However, exercise on its own is a poor way to lose weight.
Most of your daily calories (60%-70%) are burned just keeping your body functioning. Light activity throughout the day accounts for most of the rest. If you exercise for half an hour, that may be 150 calories, or less than 10% of daily calories. About the amount of a banana and half an apple. This is not to say exercise shouldn’t be part of your weight maintenance program. It most definitely should. Exercise helps preserve your metabolic rate, allowing for greater emphasis on fat loss.
4. Exercise Weakens the Immune System
It’s often believed exercise increases your chances of getting a cold or the flu. In particular vigorous exercise, with the time right after your session being the most susceptible period. However, this was based on early studies which suggested vigorous exercise may lead to more illness. And that ultra-marathoners reported more infections in the weeks following their races.
These studies were based on self-report and later debunked. Turns out, we’re not that good at knowing whether we actually have an infection or not. In fact, more robust studies indicate the opposite. Regular exercise is associated with fewer sick days and lower chances of infection. It can also reduce the severity of an infection. People who were meeting the guidelines for physical activity (≥150 minutes per week) and had COVID-19 were less likely to be hospitalized, admitted to ICU or die from infection. Lab studies have also confirmed exercise is associated with improvements in immune function, even after a 30 minute walk.
5. If You’re Not Exercising, It’s Due to Lack of Motivation
Motivation is the desire or willingness to do something. For most of us, it’s the underlying reason for why we do anything. It’s the goal that gets you doing an action, whether filing your taxes or joining that yoga class. And without goals, we’d have no direction.
It’s true, motivation is important. Without it, none of us would start anything. But motivation is fickle. It’s easy to be motivated to go for a walk on a beautiful summer morning, but what about when it’s cold and rainy with the wind blowing? On those days it can be hard to do anything, let alone exercise. Yet many people do it. This is when we need to rely on discipline. And discipline comes from planning. Building in your exercise into your schedule, making it part of your routine and treating that time as a priority. So while motivation may get us started, discipline keeps us going.
6. The More You Sweat, The More You Benefit
Sweating and exercise often go hand in hand. That’s because when you exercise, your working muscles generate heat. This raises your body temperature, but too high of a body temperature can be dangerous so your body has mechanisms to cool down. Sweating is one of them. When sweat evaporates it absorbs heat and cools you down.
But how much you sweat depends as much on the weather conditions than how hard you’re exercising. On a hot humid day, a light walk, or even sitting can cause you to sweat. While on a cool dry day with a breeze you might not even notice yourself sweating. And sweating isn’t the only way the body cools itself. Warm blood gets pushed toward your skin to radiate heat and cool down. And each of us rely differently on these two mechanisms. Some of us rely on sweating more, while others get red in the face, arms and legs.
7. Exercise Needs to Hurt to be Useful
No pain, no gain! Right? Wrong. Exercise doesn’t have to hurt. Either when you’re doing the activity or the day after. If you are sore the next day, this is likely delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS), the result of microscopic tears in the muscle. It isn’t harmful and will usually go away in a day or two. It’s common when exercising muscles that aren’t used to it. It can occur right at the start of your program, or if you change up your exercise routine.
But it’s not a sign of a great workout. Nor a sign of your fitness. It can happen to new exercisers and athletes, alike. And as your muscles get used to the activity, they’ll adapt and will be less likely to feel sore. If you are sore, listen to your body. Active movement, staying hydrated and quality sleep can help. However, if it lasts longer than a week or if you get sharp pain or numbness, you may want to see your doctor.
8. Strength Training is only for Bodybuilders
Strength training is for everyone. The World Health Organization recommends strengthening activities twice weekly. This doesn’t mean going to the gym and grunting it out. Or lifting heavy weights. Your goal could just be to maintain your strength. And you don’t need a set of weights either. A resistance band will do, or anything you can find in the kitchen pantry. You can also do exercises using your body weight as resistance such as push-ups (modified push-ups on a chair or against a wall are ways to reduce the resistance) or squats or standing up from a chair. These activities can also help with balance and coordination.
It may be even more important to concentrate on strengthening exercisers the older we get. As we get older, our muscles get weaker unless we continue to use them. Ten percent of adults over 65 years have sarcopenia (a rapid loss of muscle mass and strength) but strength training is one of the better treatments for it. In addition, strength training can reduce pain from arthritis, improve sleep, strengthen bones and reduce back pain. It’s also never too late to start. Even people over 90 years of age can benefit. And you needn’t worry about bulking up. If you don’t already look like Dwayne Johnson, it’s unlikely any amount of weights will get you to his size.
9. Morning is the Best Time to Exercise
Exercising in the morning tends to be the most popular time of day to exercise. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best time. Many people exercise in the morning as a way to energize themselves and start their day. It also means it gets done first thing and won’t be hanging over your head all day until you do it.
But as the human body has a built-in clock that oversees many of your body’s functions, when you exercise can have differing effects. While there is little evidence to suggest exercising in the morning is ideal for weight loss, it can increase your daily productivity and help you get to sleep faster that night. However, as the day goes one, your body’s temperature increases, which may lead to stronger muscle contraction and greater exercise efficiency and perhaps even better performance. However, in the end, the best time to exercise is when it fits into your daily schedule and you’re most likely to do it.
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