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|Fitness Facts & Fiction
by Kelly James-Enger
IF you want to get in shape, exercise first thing in the morning. Youll burn more fat if you work out at a slower pace. Leg lifts are the most effective way to trim your thighs. With so many theories and claims about exercise out there, its sometimes hard to separate fitness fact from fiction. Weve rounded up eight common fitness mythsand uncovered the truth behind them:
You burn more calories exercising on an empty stomach.
While you may have heard this, its falseyou expend the same number of calories during activity whether youve eaten or not. In fact, exercising on an empty stomach can actually sabotage your workoutyou may run out of energy before you finish, says personal trainer Cindi Olson of Germantown, Maryland.
You have to have food in your stomach so that theres something there to burn, she explains. A carbohydrate and protein light meal [like cheese and crackers or chicken salad on whole wheat bread] about an hour and a half to two hours before your workout will give you the optimum amount of energy. If you work out first thing in the morning, try fruit juice and toast before you exerciseor if you cant face food that early, have a snack before bed.
If you dont exercise regularly, muscle turns to fat.
Muscle is muscle and fat is fatyou cant turn one into the other, says ACSM Certified Exercise Specialist Sharon Spalding, a professor at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. The reason for this misconception is that over time, under-exercised muscles will shrink and lose tone, so they look flabby. And if you were formerly active and are still eating more calories than youre expending, youll store the excess as additional fat.
Lifting weights bulks you up.
While some women avoid weight training because they believe it will make them too muscular, their fears are unfounded. Women do have some testosterone, but not to the extent that men do, explains Spalding. So getting those big bulky muscles isnt something thats going to happen to women. Female body builders spend hours every day isolating and training individual muscle groups and adhere to stringent, high-protein, low-fat diets to develop their eye-popping physiques. The average woman who weight trains, on the other hand, will merely improve her overall muscle tone and look sleeker and firmer.
You must exercise for at least 30 minutes to receive health benefits.
This is the biggest exercise myth to dispel, says Sheila Reynolds, a health educator at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. According to Reynolds, you can reap significant health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and lowered cholesterol from as little as ten minutes of moderate intensity exercise like walking at a comfortable pace or doing yard work. Breaking down your workout into five- or ten-minute chunks throughout the day also makes it easier to fit it into your schedule. (If your primary goal is weight loss, however, its more effective to exercise for longer periods of time instead.)
Crunches flatten your stomach.
Leg lifts are the key to slender thighs, crunches the way to a flatter tummy. Right? Wrong! This type of exercisealso called spot reductionstrengthens muscles but doesnt do much else. While crunches can make your stomach muscles as hard as a washboard, you wont see much of a difference if theres fat covering them up. In other words, you cant selectively eliminate fat from particular parts of your bodyyou have to lose it all over by reducing your caloric intake and upping your activity.
You should stretch prior to working out.
Its actually better to warm up a little before you stretch. The reason? Warm muscles stretch better, which reduces your chance of injury. For example, if youre going to walk, warm up for five minutes strolling at an easy pace and then stop and stretch before continuing your workout. Dont forget to perform some gentle, sustained stretches post-exercise as well. Theyll help you get rid of lactic acid, which makes muscles feel sore, and maintain flexibility.
Youll burn more fat if you exercise at a slower pace.
This is a tricky one. Your body burns a mixture of fat and carbohydrates when you exercise. Working out at an easy pace, youll burn a higher percentage of fat than if you exercise more intenselybut youll also expend fewer total calories overall. Think about the amount of time you have versus how much youre going to burn, says Olson. If you only have 30 minutes to exercise and you do it slowly, youre going to burn fewer calories in 30 minutes than if you do 20 minutes at a faster pace because youre burning more calories per minute.
Morning is the best time to exercise.
For health benefits, it makes no difference if you exercise in the morning, afternoon or evening. While studies have suggested a.m. exercisers stick with it longer than those who work out later in the day, not everyone enjoys working out in the morning.
The best time to exercise is the best time for you, says Reynolds. The bottom line is if its not the best time for you, youre not going to stick with it
and if youre not going to do it, youre not going to get any benefits from it!
from the January-February 2008 issue
OK, so weve uncovered the reality behind some popular fitness misconceptions. But not all fitness gossip is falsethere are some "truths" that can make a difference in your exercise program. Read on for five proven fitness factsand how they can help you get and stay fit:
A day or two off wont hurt your routine. Sure, its important to commit to regular exercise. But too many people give up on their routines simply because theyre forced to miss a few days, figuring that their hard work is now for naught. Thats a common misunderstanding, says Sharon Spalding.
"Its going to take more than a couple of days to reverse the progress that youve made," says Spalding. "Even if a person misses a whole week, thats OK. She might not be able to go back to exactly what shes done before but shes not going to go back to ground zero either."
In fact, you should always take a day off between strength training sessions. "Your muscles need 48 hours to repair themselves," explains Spalding. "The whole process of building muscle is that tiny microscopic tears occur in the muscle, and when they repair, the muscle becomes larger and stronger. If you dont give it time to rest, it cant rebuild."
Every little bit helps. Recent research has shown that discontinuous exercisetaking three 10-minute walks during the day instead of one 30-minute walkis as good for you as continuous exercise. Little chunks of physical activity such as walking three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator and spending fifteen minutes tending your flower bed all burn calories and help you stay fit.
"People think they need one or two hours to work out or theyre not going to get anything from it, but everything counts," says Cindi Olson, a certified personal trainer in Germantown, Maryland. And while it is true that intense exercise burns more calories than moderate exercise, this only means that you have to work out for a longer period of time at an easier pace if weight loss is one of your primary goals.
Calories really do count. You exercised today? Thats great. Its not, however, carte blanche to polish off seconds at dinner. "The average person only burns 200 to 300 calories per session," says Spalding. "If you think of something equivalent food-wise its not a whole lot. Its like a candy bar, or even a half a candy bar."
Now you know that you cant simply write off that hot fudge sundae, but dont let an eating binge sidetrack you, either. "Moderation is the key to all of this whether its exercise or eating. If you miss a day, youre not doomed. If you overdo it at an office party and you eat a lot, the next day try to eat healthy," says Spalding. "Eat more fruits and vegetables, consume more fiber, and try to get back to your healthy patterns." Dont forget to drink plenty of water as well.
Fatigue means you need exercise! "Im too tired" is one of the most common excuses people give for not exercising. Scratch it off your list for good. It may seem counterintuitive but exercise boosts your energy levels. When you first begin a workout program, you may feel more tired because youre not used to it. As your body adjusts, however, youll feel peppier, more alert, and have more energy, even when youre not exercising.
If you havent exercised for a while, start off gradually to avoid overdoing it. "Start off slow," says Olson. "Within four to six weeks, you should notice a difference in the way you feel and your stamina."
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Aerobic exercise is great for strengthening your heart and reducing stress. But to up your bodys metabolism, you need to strength-train. Your muscles are more metabolically active than fat, which means that they burn more calories and can help you lose or maintain your weight.
"A pound of muscle burns about 35 to 50 calories a day compared to non-muscle. If you lose a pound of muscle, youre losing that capacity to burn about 50 calories a day," says Spalding. "Thats what happens to a lot of people. They gain weight as they get older but its really due to losing the muscle. If you lose 5 pounds of muscle, thats going to be a weight gain of about 25 pounds a year."
To maintain your muscle mass as you get older, include strength training moves two or three days a week. Youll not only look betteryoull find it easier to do day-to-day tasks as well.
Courtesy Health & Harmony Center