While on the treadmill one afternoon, I turned on “Oprah,” whose guests were the hosts from the show “What Not to Wear.” The focus of the program was to show women how to dress to take off 10 to 15 pounds. While I admired their creativity and helpful hints for hiding the rough spots, what kind of a message were they sending? They were basically telling women that with a $500 bra, undergarments reinforced with Kevlar and an A-line skirt, there would be no need to actually lose weight.
This kind of thinking makes me crazy! Misinformation and myths about exercise and weight loss are a major factor that deters people from pursing a fitness lifestyle. Allow me to debunk a few of the most common myths:
Myth: Strength training will make women too muscular.
If I had a nickel for every time a woman told me they don’t want to lift weights because they will bulk up, I would have a bunch of nickels! Strength training will not make a woman too muscular. We do not have enough testosterone to create big bulky muscles. Female bodybuilders have to do a lot of other things to gain size. The fact is, strength training increases metabolism which assists in weight loss, increases bone density and slows muscle loss due to aging.
Myth: An increased heart rate improves fitness.
If this were the case, stressed out, high-anxiety neurotics would be the most fit people in the world. While a regular, sustained increase in heart rate is important to achieving aerobic fitness, it only serves to let us know how hard we are working. For example, individuals on beta blocker drugs have much lower heart rates even while exercising but can still achieve improvements in cardiovascular fitness with regular exercise.
Myth: Individuals can selectively spot reduce certain body areas.
You see it on infomercials every day for equipment such as butt blasters, ab attackers, thigh masters. They sound more like video game titles than exercise equipment. Despite all the claims, you cannot spot reduce. The area of your body where you hold the most body fat is the last place it will leave. A study at the University of Massachusetts drives the point home. In the study, 13 men performed an abdominal exercise program for 27 days. When computing body fat changes in their back, abs and buttocks, the results were the same. The abdominal program did not reduce fat in the stomach any more than anywhere else on the body.
Myth: If you didn’t exercise when you were younger, it could be dangerous to start when you are older.
Many people think they’re too old to start and exercise program. They think it is unsafe because they have a chronic disease or they are too out of shape to start. Research studies on people starting exercises in their 80s and 90s have shown improvement in cardiovascular and strength levels. It’s never too late to start.
Myth: Exercise wastes heartbeats.
This is my personal favorite. Several years ago a Dr. Peter Steinchron came out with the theory of heart banks. His premise was that every person is given a certain number of heartbeats for their lifetime. A person with a small bank of heartbeats should not waste their beats indiscriminately through exercise. He advocated afternoon naps rather than runs. There is no truth to his theory. A heart that is well-conditioned through exercise results in a lower resting heart rate and more efficient pumping of blood. This maintains heart health resulting in a longer healthier life despite how many beats are used.
This is only a short list of the myths that travel around about exercise. I could probably do a three-week series on them. However, these myths have about as much merit as an urban legend and therefore do not deserve any more press time.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the way to a longer and healthier life. So sell your butt blaster, waste a few heartbeats exercising and if you still need the A-line skirt, go for it!
n Kathy Hansen has over 20 years experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.