Six big myths about physical activity

What you need to know to get fit

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Wave, November / December 2012

Living in the digital world means having quick access to an ocean of information, especially when it comes to matters about your health and well-being.

For example, type in the words "physical activity benefits" and you will instantly generate more than 13 million hits. And that's just on the Internet.

Every day, we are bombarded by feature stories and advertisements from all media that promise to quickly whip us into shape. Some of this information may be valid and useful. But a lot of it can be misleading, wrong or just plain harmful.

With that in mind, we have identified six of the more common myths about physical activity, and offer some tips on how to keep fit.

Myth: Wearing "rocker" shoes will firm, tone or lift your butt

The truth: "Rocker" bottom shoes have been around for many years in a therapeutic rehabilitation setting, but have just recently jumped onto the mainstream market, making claims to tone, firm and lift. Recent studies have found there are no differences between a regular running shoe and any of the toning shoes when it comes to heart rate, oxygen consumption, calories burned or muscle activity. On the flip side, there is a great deal of evidence that "rocker" shoes may increase your risk of injury.

Bottom line: Having proper footwear is important. But if you are looking to tone, firm and lift your butt, adding lunges, squats and cardiovascular exercises to your routine may be part of the answer.

Myth: Weight lifting is only for people who want to "bulk up"

The truth: The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults lift weights at least two days a week. Resistance training or weight lifting does not always result in "bulking up." It will increase lean muscle mass, bone density and decrease body fat which increases strength and endurance, improves balance and posture, and increases metabolism, which promotes healthy weight management.

Bottom line: For muscular strength and endurance ("to tone"), use a weight that you can comfortably lift 12 to 15 times and then repeat the exercise two to three times.

Myth: No pain, no gain

The truth: The idea of no pain, no gain, originally made popular in the early 1980s by Jane Fonda, suggests that in order to see results you must perform hard and painful exercise. Thirty years later, we know this is not true. Exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity has many health benefits such as reducing your risk for heart disease and diabetes. But exercising to the point of pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong.

Bottom line: It is normal to experience some soreness when you are just starting an exercise routine, but once your body gets used to it, exercise should not be painful. A good way to figure out if you are working hard enough, but not too hard, is to use the "Talk Test." When performing cardiovascular exercises like walking, dancing or cross-country skiing - you should be able to talk, but not sing.

Myth: Exercise takes too much time

The truth: It doesn't have to. Physical activity can fit into your day 10 minutes at a time. Make the most of coffee and lunch breaks by being active. A 10-minute brisk walk to a meeting, getting off the bus a few stops early or fitting in a 30-minute exercise class over your lunch break can all add up - helping you to meet Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines of 150 minutes a week.

Bottom line: Make physical activity a priority. Just like you schedule a doctor or hair appointment, plan and schedule physical activity into your day to increase your chances of success.

Myth: 600 sit-ups will give me a flat stomach

The truth: Performing exercises focused on a problem area is known as "spot toning" and unfortunately doesn't work. Strengthening your abs by doing sit-ups is only one of many factors that will impact whether you have a flat stomach or not. Some factors are within your control, such as physical activity and healthy eating, while genetics, for example, are, unfortunately, out of your control.

Bottom line: By combining a full body exercise plan that includes cardiovascular and strength activities (Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines) with healthy eating habits (Canada's Food Guide), you will start to see and feel all the physical, mental and emotional health benefits physical activity has to offer, which may include a flatter stomach. Taking a balanced approach to physical activity and healthy eating will lead to longer lasting results and healthy weight maintenance.

Myth: I don't need to lose weight so I don't need to be physically active

The truth: Physical activity has benefits for everyone, regardless of your shape or size. A full-body workout that includes all of the major muscle groups, cardiovascular activity and flexibility will help you manage stress, give you more energy and improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Improvements to your overall health are likely to happen before you notice any significant changes to your physical appearance.

Bottom line: Everyone can benefit from being physical active. Some of the biggest benefits, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or osteoarthritis, will not be reflected on a scale.

Kristine Hayward is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.

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