Top 10 Exercise Myths
By Vera Tweed
Discover why working out is easier than you think —and let your excuses take a hike.

If exercise benefits came in packages, they would fly off store shelves. Exercise protects against aging, heart disease, colds, dementia, hot flashes, gum disease, stress, diabetes, excess body fat, and depression. It increases antioxidant production, improves sleep, protects bones and joints, and improves wound healing, sex, job performance, and the prospect of career advancement. When it comes to the heart, exercise helps in multiple ways. It lowers bad cholesterol, raises good cholesterol, improves circulation, keeps arteries flexible, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of blood clots, and helps to repair damaged arteries. Simply put, exercise can shave 10 to 12 years off your chronological age, according to various studies. One, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that among more than 1,000 pairs of twins, those who performed close to three and one-half hours of physical activity per week were, practically speaking, up to 10 years younger, with less heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and osteoporosis. Granted, reaping these benefits requires some effort, but it may not be as difficult as you think if you steer clear of these common myths.

Myth No. 1: To get active, you have to change your whole life
Not so, say experts. Studies show that 10-minute bouts of any type of aerobic activity, two or more times a day, will produce benefits. One bout could be walking nonstop for 10 minutes to and through the mall or around your neighborhood, or doing yard work or physically active cleaning jobs around the house.

Myth No. 2: There’s not enough time in the day
While we are a time-strapped culture, on average, Americans watch four and one-half hours of television per day; some of that time can be used to get fit. Exercising during commercial breaks instead of getting a snack will put you on the road to better health.

Myth No. 3: Exercise is boring
Think beyond walking, jogging, or structured workout routines, and you’re bound to find something enjoyable. Any type of movement counts. For example, an evening of square dancing is comparable to walking five miles, and ballroom dancing can burn more calories than gym-style, low-impact aerobic exercise.

Myth No. 4: Exercise will make you eat more
Studies show that aerobic exercise suppresses appetite. For example, a study of 15 overweight and obese men and women, presented at The Endocrine Society’s 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco last year, found that three months of regular exercise on a treadmill or bicycle reduced appetite, even though participants were told not to change eating habits.

Myth No. 5: You have to wear special clothes and sweat
While that’s true for some sports, many activities simply require comfortable clothing. For example, tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art, consists of deep breathing and gentle, slow, controlled movements. Yet according to numerous studies, such as one recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, tai chi improves blood sugar levels in diabetics, relieves stress, and enhances heart and lung health, the immune system, and flexibility.

Myth No. 6: Exercise is exhausting
If you’re sedentary and suddenly do too much, you will most likely feel tired and achy, but this simply means you’re overdoing it. Start slow, be consistent, and your energy levels will increase. For example, start with some gentle stretches first thing every morning. After a few days, go for a short walk after stretching and stretch again afterward. It’s better to start by walking for five minutes a day, then 10, and gradually work up to 30 minutes on most days.

Myth No. 7: You have to join a gym
Health clubs are only one option. If you prefer a structured workout, there are thousands of DVDs to choose from, and many cable TV channels are dedicated to fitness. Another option is Wii Fit (, a video game–style program that works with your TV to provide personal training tailored to your own preferences and fitness level. Bonus: it’s really fun!

Myth No. 8: Exercise will hurt achy or stiff joints
On the contrary, exercise is a natural pain reliever. A recent study of 346 people with arthritis, published in Arthritis Care & Research, found that one hour of low-impact exercise, twice per week, reduced pain and fatigue, and improved joint function.

Myth No. 9: Walking is all you ever need to do
For anyone who is inactive, walking regularly produces significant health benefits. However, as fitness levels increase, more intense aerobic and resistance exercise will produce more benefits. All muscles, including the heart, need to be challenged to improve, and an exercise program should gradually become more challenging.

Myth No. 10: It’s impossible to get motivated
Many people don’t start exercising (or eating a healthful diet) until they’re faced with a health crisis, but there’s no need to wait. Enjoyable activities with friends, such as golf, tennis, hiking, or dancing, can keep you motivated. Pedometers also motivate. In a study of 58 inactive women, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, those who wore a pedometer and aimed for 10,000 steps daily walked farther than those who simply aimed to take a brisk, 30-minute walk each day.

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