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Common Myths About Exercise

Whether you want to start biking, running, golfing, swimming, preparing for your first triathlon, or simply walking, it’s good to know fact from fiction concerning exercise.

Myth: Sit-ups will help you lose fat around the stomach.
Truth: When it comes to body fat, there’s no such thing as “spot” reducing. When you lose fat, it comes off proportionately from your entire body. Sit-ups and other resistance exercise will, however, tone the muscles beneath the body fat.

Myth: If you’re exercising and not losing weight, you’re doing something wrong.
Truth: It’s true that you must exercise aerobically to shed unwanted body fat, but while you’re burning that fat for energy, you’re also building muscle, and muscle tissue weighs more than fat. So as you’re losing “fat weight”, you’re gaining “muscle weight”. It’s important to have a greater percentage of your weight be lean muscle mass rather than fat. An added bonus of having more muscle tissue: muscle is active tissue and burns more calories, even at rest, than does inactive fat tissue.

Myth: Weight training will make you muscle-bound.
Truth: Only if you want to look that way. Bodybuilders purposely lift heavy weights and do many repetitions to achieve that look. Moderate weight training is an excellent way to strengthen and tone muscles, improve bone health, and is a key component in any fitness plan.

Myth: You burn more calories if you exercise before eating.
Truth: Only if you’re 30 percent over your ideal weight. Less than that and you’ll burn more calories if you exercise after eating. Always avoid strenuous aerobic exercise too soon after eating.

Myth: It’s best to exercise in the morning.
Truth: Only if you enjoy it. It makes no difference what time of day you exercise. Exercising just before bedtime, however, may make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Myth: Exercise machines are more effective than free weights.
Truth: In a word, no. The effectiveness of each method depends only on how well you use them.

Myth: Exercise turns fat into muscle.
Truth: It only appears that way. One type of tissue can never turn into another type. Exercise requires more energy, which it mostly gets by burning fat. At the same time, exercise improves muscle tone. So instead of weak, flabby muscles covered by a thick layer of jiggly fat, you have strong muscles covered with a thin layer of fat. And you look terrific!

Myth: Exercise can be dangerous.
Truth: Most people who exercise never get injured. The few who do have probably been exercising too much, use improper form, or exercise even when they’re in pain or are tired. A gradual increase in the intensity and duration of exercise is the best way to avoid injuries.

Myth: You need extra salt after perspiring heavily.
Truth: Actually, the average man would have to lose six quarts of perspiration in a day to lose the amount of salt in the food he eats. Few people perspire that much. Skip the salt pills and the Caesar Salad.

Myth: Eat more protein if you’re trying to increase muscle mass.
Truth: Most people eat too much protein, and excess protein can damage the kidneys and rob your body of calcium. Even strenuous exercise won’t exhaust your supply of protein.

Myth: Stretching after exercise can help prevent muscle soreness.
Truth: Stretching helps maintain muscle and joint flexibility and prevents stiffness, but has no effect on muscle pain.

Myth: No pain, no gain.
Truth: This dim-witted rhyme has done more harm than good. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop a dangerous activity. Always avoid serious discomfort or strain when exercising.

Q: I know lifting weights would be good for me, but I have high blood pressure. What should I do?

A: First, if you’re being treated for any medical condition, including high blood pressure, always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. If done correctly, lifting weights will not increase blood pressure to dangerous levels. Just keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Gently stretch your muscles before starting;
  • Use light to moderate weights;
  • Switch types of weights frequently (e.g., free weights such as dumb bells, resistance exercises such as sit-ups and squats, weight machines);
  • Never hold your breath while exercising;
  • Exhale when you lift the weight, and inhale when you rest.