Exercise Myths You Should Ignore and Nutrition That You Shouldn't
We know exercise is good for us and that it should be an integral part of our schedules, but there are optimal strategies worth considering and misinformation worth throwing out.
However, just knowing exercise is good doesn't inherently mean you feel motivated to dedicate a regular part of your day to pushing your body to places it probably doesn't want to go. Yes, it can be hard, but it often reaps huge rewards.
Aside from making you feel much healthier, exercise can also boost your sex life.
Women who exercised at least six hours per week were shown to exhibit less sexual resistance and distress in their clitoral arteries compared with people who did not exercise, according to a study published in 2021 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. For men, too, increasing blood flow and promoting a healthy circulatory system can improve erectile dysfunction (ED).
A regular exercise schedule can help improve your confidence and endurance, and reduce stress levels. Additionally, it helps stave off serious conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
Before we look at some of the misconceptions that have kept you from starting your own exercise program, let's take a brief look at the benefits of healthy nutrition.
Nutrition = energy
Exercise and nutrition are independent factors that contribute to overall health. But they're also intimately entwined, because you can make changes to either exercise or diet independently without affecting the other. However, the foods you eat help provide energy for exercise, and the exercise you do impacts your body's nutritional needs.
While it's possible to separate the two, it's not advisable.
You see, exercise, by its very nature, requires energy. The energy used for exercise comes from foods you eat and the nutrients you have stored, for example, the glycogen stored in your liver or the fat you have stored…well, in your fat stores. Exercise challenges your muscles, causing tiny tears in your muscle fibers, which must be rebuilt and repaired with amino acids that come from proteins.
Consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes high-quality carbohydrates, fats and proteins helps ensure that you have the energy you need to perform your workouts and to help your body recover and repair between exercise sessions.
"The food we eat is our fuel," explained Rosi Reeves, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and personal trainer, and the owner of FittLivin Fitness in Macomb, Michigan. "If we fail to fuel properly, including proper hydration, we can see side effects during and after exercise, such as lack of energy, decreased stamina and decreased blood sugar levels. Improper post-workout fueling can affect the body by hindering muscle growth."
Exercise and nutrition work hand in hand to help you reach body composition-related goals. If you want to lose body fat or gain muscle, how much you eat and what types of foods you eat will likely make a difference.
Try to consume more unprocessed foods, focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, while balancing things out with lean proteins such as eggs, fish, chicken or beef. And if you have specific questions about calorie intake, meal timing or eating to help achieve a sport-specific goal, consider enlisting a registered dietitian to help you make a plan designed specifically for you and your needs.
Myths and misconceptions
There are lots of myths and misconceptions out there about exercise, but a few are particularly important to acknowledge and dismiss when you're about to embark on a new exercise routine.
It's 'all or nothing' and 'no pain, no gain'
These are two separate pieces of misinformation that often go hand in hand: Every workout has to be "all out" in order to achieve results, and exercise has to be uncomfortable or painful.
First and foremost, research indicates time and again that the "all or nothing" mentality is generally false. Consistent exercise is always an improvement over no exercise. Therefore, on days when you can't make it to the gym, going outside for a 10-minute walk after dinner is still more beneficial than ditching your routine altogether.
As far as "no pain, no gain," while it's true moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise may make you feel temporarily uncomfortable—your muscles may burn a bit, you'll start sweating, your heart will beat faster and you'll have to breathe more rapidly—there is no requirement for pain.
If you ease yourself into a regular workout routine, you'll likely have a few days of post-exercise soreness, but it shouldn't be so intense that you can't move around or keep up your workout routine.
Slow and steady is more likely to win the race than an all-out approach that causes your body and motivation to crash.
Exercise is dangerous and can cause heart attacks
Within every myth, there's a tiny kernel of truth and that's the case here. Exercise is a form of stress and cardiovascular exercise; specifically, it's a form of stress on the heart. So it's easy and logical to make the leap to the assumption that for some people, cardiovascular exercise could be dangerous.
However, research indicates the vast majority of people benefit from exercise and it contributes to improved cardiovascular health, including for people who face cardiovascular risk factors.
"Almost everyone should be able to do zone 2 [longer, slower] cardiovascular training without concern if you have a reliable way of monitoring your heart rate," said Kirk Parsley, M.D., a sleep expert and retired Navy SEAL based in California, as well as a medical team member for LegacyExpeditions.net Triple 7 Expedition. "If you are highly deconditioned, you may find that you can only walk around your block without exceeding your target heart rate of 70 percent of the theoretical maximum."
He added that it's still wise to be safe and to check with your doctor if it's been years since you've participated in a regular routine.
"I would recommend that anyone who has not exercised at all in more than a couple of years be evaluated by a physician," Parsley advised. "If you are obese or have old musculoskeletal injuries, I would recommend speaking with a physician first, too."
If you don't exercise an hour a day, you won't get results
First and foremost, it's important to continue to recognize that some exercise is always better than none. Adding a 10-minute walk to your day every day is infinitely better than spending those 10 minutes sitting on the couch.
It's also important to recognize that exercise offers increased benefits with increased commitment. This is one of the reasons it's important to think about what you're trying to get out of an exercise program, and that the results match what you're hoping to achieve.
If your goals are health-related—you want to reduce your risk of heart disease or diabetes, for example—those daily, 10-minute walks are going to bump up your health from where it is at baseline.
Now, if you want to build muscle, lose body fat, run a marathon or simply have the energy to walk up the three flights of stairs in your work building without feeling like you're going to faint away, it's likely going to require a greater time commitment.
However, that doesn't mean you have to commit to an hour a day, five days a week, starting immediately.
Instead, start with that 10-minute walk and gradually add time and different types of exercises to comfortably work your way toward your ultimate goals. Achieving results is really about setting and working toward goals. Some goals require a greater time commitment in the long run, but some may not, so stick with those at the beginning.
If you're confused about where to start, the most important thing you shouldn't do is worry about it. Just start doing something that feels good. Also, keep tabs on the guidelines for exercise published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those guidelines provide a good framework for designing and following health-boosting exercise programs.
"The most amazing, yet predictable and boring, research is legion," Parsley said. "It says that the most effective way of preventing age-associated health decline—getting older, fatter, dumber and slower, all the while increasing your risk for all diseases and all causes of death—is regular exercise. What's the best prevention for heart disease? Exercise. Dementia? Exercise."
If you haven't yet established a regular routine, start now. Don't delay.