In this blog, I debunk some of the common myths surrounding exercise to keep you on track with your exercise plans and achieve the most out of your workouts!
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
24 November 2020
What are some of the myths around exercise?
Due to the rise of the internet, we now have a wealth of information at our fingertips, making us 'experts' in a whole range of topics. However, with this newfound knowledge comes some issues with determining what is fact and fiction. In this blog, I look at some exercise myths, in particular, that often crop up on internet searches. Here they are:
Sitting is the new smoking
Exercise is too hard
Exercise is expensive
Cardio is the best form of exercise
Exercise is bad for the immune system
We need to do 10,000 steps a day.
1. Sitting is the new smoking
Lots of attention has been given to the idea that 'sitting is the new smoking'; however, there are lots of problems with this particular outlook.1
First of all, this theory majorly over-simplifies things. Our bodies need time to sit and take it easy. In fact, lots of good things happen when we rest. It allows the muscles time to adapt and repair, for example; plus, during sleep our brain processes memories.
Secondly, we simply cannot keep moving all day long, as this brings with it its own set of problems like joint pain and muscle fatigue. Therefore, we need a little downtime to keep all aspects of the body happy and healthy.
When it comes to sitting, the problems lie with sitting or resting too much. In particular, the amount of time we spend sitting during our leisure time (not during working hours, interestingly2) is what's thought to cause the most issues for our health, especially in relation to heart health.
Another thing to note is that it's not sitting itself that is the issue but, in fact, that many of us spend long hours sitting uninterrupted. This is inflammatory, it makes us stiff, it can contribute to poor posture.
So, sitting is definitely not akin to smoking a 6 pack a day, but it can be unhealthy in certain circumstances.
My advice would be to break up long hours sitting – even if it's just to do a couple of loops around your house or several star jumps in the living room. Also, if you can, try to fill up your spare time with as much movement as possible. Look at my blog on easy ways to exercise at home if you need some suggestions!
These simple tips will help you sit more healthily going forwards.
2. Exercise is too hard
For some, exercise may have some negative connotations. It's possible that the very thought of exercise takes you back to a sweaty school gym hall with competitive, testosterone-filled boys where you were forced to partake in muddy cross country runs or terrifying volleyball matches...
Exercise is also a very stressful experience for the body in itself. It gets the breathing and heart rate up and pushes the body beyond what it is used to. It can also be a bit of a mental battle - on a treadmill you have to work very hard to go nowhere; on a cycle ride it can be a challenge to push yourself up hills!
However, exercise doesn't have to be viewed as so negative or hard. The key is to always start off small and work your way up. Programmes like 'Couch to 5K' are very good in this regard, as they aim to build your stamina and strength up gradually so that you can eventually run 5k with ease.
True, a gym membership at an elite club like David Lloyd may set you back a couple of hundred pounds a month, or a membership at your local tennis club will probably cost a few pounds per annum. However, exercise does not always have to be costly.
A council-run gym, for example, may be a cheaper option than forking out for a privately-run one, so this may be an option for some. Personally, though, I am a big believer in getting outdoors to exercise and, you know it already, but fresh air is free! You can climb a hill, walk around a park, jog a little, do some gardening – the options are endless.
4. Cardio is the best type of exercise
It is recommended that we get a good dose of cardio exercise each week - twice a week should do it. This is any exercise that speeds up your heart rate and breathing – you should be feeling out of breath. However, whilst this is good for the heart and circulation, really, we should be thinking about trying a variety of activities for the most health benefits.
For example, a short stint of strength exercises helps to build muscle and can even improve mobility in older age. Lots of activities count towards this, including yoga and dance.
I would also be thinking about what activities suit your routine, your likes/dislikes and abilities, rather than getting too caught up in the idea that it must be a cardio workout.
My Self-Care Tip: Ditch technology to help improve your weight
Find out how technology influences weight management in my short video below!
5. Exercise is bad for the immune system
It's easy to see where this myth came from. There has been some research into the effect of exercise on the immune system amongst athletes. Within this group, regular, intense exercise was shown to have a negative effect, making individuals more prone to infection. However, there are some problems with this research.3
First, the negative effects of exercise on the immune system have been demonstrated in athletes and not your regular gym-goer. The average person does not run a marathon every week and so they may be less likely to experience issues.
This is also a topic that experts agree needs further research, in order to determine more closely how exercise influences the immune system.
On top of this, other research demonstrates that moderate exercise (about 45 minutes done on a regular basis) actually benefits the immune system. It helps the circulation of immune cells, for example, and may even support the production of them in the first place.4
6. We need to do 10,000 steps a day
Many fitness devices have an in-built goal of 10,000 steps but is this really necessary? Well, the evidence says perhaps not!
The problem with a 10,000-step goal is that it's quite intimidating. Research by the BBC programme 'The Truth About Getting Fit' found that, when given a goal of 10,000 steps, individuals walked less than if they were told to do a ten-minute speed walk three times daily.5
Having a 10,000-step goal also doesn't take into account other activities such as cycling. This is a good way to get active but your fitness device wouldn't count this towards your daily movement goals.
Also, there are still health benefits to be gained from doing less than 10,000 steps! As long as you get your body and moving about, this is what matters!
So, try not to get too caught up in what your technology is telling you to do. You know best what your body has within it to do!