Exercise Myths You Should Care About

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on June 23, 2021
Last updated on July 10, 2021

Exercise is an important part of maintaining your physical and mental health; it offers tons of benefits that are mainly focused on keeping you fit and feeling good. As a matter of fact, staying active has been found to help you live longer (1).

Exercise Myths You Should Care About

Exercise comes in a lot of forms beyond traditional at-home workout routines, which include jogging, running, dancing, swimming, biking, or simply walking (2)(1). No matter what means you choose, misinformation can sometimes be disappointing and even discourage you from continuing a healthy exercise routine.

Unfortunately, there are several myths about exercise (3), and we’re here to reveal some significant ones that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s time to set the facts straight – the last thing you need is to avoid doing something that can be truly helpful and essential to your health.

While it’s difficult to distinguish facts from fictions pertaining to exercise, we’re here to help you! Below are some myths about exercise and diet, followed by their corresponding truth. We hope that it helps you settle the debate and questions about the topic (4). Without further ado, let’s get right to it!

Myth 1: Exercise is a Normal Activity

First thing’s first – you exercise because you have one goal in mind: to be fit. Although any type of movement resembles physical activity, exercise is a voluntary type of physical activity that is specifically aimed towards fitness (5).

Instead of considering exercise as normal activity that is necessary for survival, acquisition of new skills, or entertainment – it’s actually a modern behavior that is undertaken to fulfill a certain physical goal (5).

Myth 2: Fat Transforms Into Muscle, and Vice Versa

It’s important to know and distinguish fats and muscle as two different types of tissues, so one can’t really prove that one can become the other (6). Simply put, one cell cannot transform into another (3).

However, during exercise, it is possible to burn fat and build muscle simultaneously with the same routine (6). One of these exercises could be strength training, which aids in burning calories and losing fat while building your muscles (3). Exercise requires more energy that can be sourced from burning fat, and as a result you can have improved muscle tone covered with a thin fat layer (2).

Myth 3: Stretching Beforehand Prevents Injuries

Not exactly – A lot of us learned that static stretches like reaching for your toes and holding it before exercising can help to prevent injuries, but there is no research to generally support the idea. What’s more, it’s exactly the opposite; static stretching actually impairs performance. Some possible explanations for this are that a looser muscle may generate less force than those stretched and stretching “cold” muscles causes harm (7).

Thus, a great alternative for such would be dynamic stretches – ones that involve movement, such as swinging your arms and legs. This way, your muscles can be prepped for movement and gain an improved performance. However, you can still reserve static stretching for cool downs after exercise, when your muscles are warm. You can do so by holding each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds (7). This helps to maintain your joint and muscle flexibility and avoid stiffness (2).

Myth 4: No Pain, No Gain

According to exercise physiologist Dayna Davidson, feeling minimal discomfort is okay, but if you happen to feel a sharp pain anywhere in your body, you need to take a minute to stop what you’re doing and consult your doctor (8).

Experiencing minor aches, muscle soreness, and harder breathing are normal consequences of being more active; however, it’s not the same with sharp pain (9). Although exercising is important, keep in mind that the feeling of pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop a dangerous activity (2).

To avoid sudden pain, begin slowly and proceed gradually. By avoiding pain, you can achieve better progress (9).

Myth 5: Working Out Every Day is Essential

Absolutely not! – Although exercising is important, you also need to give your body time to recover (10) and its muscles to cool down (6). Doing so helps you to rebuild stronger muscle fibers after breaking them down during your workout (11). Otherwise, disregarding rest can cause your muscle fibres to be too worn out to grow (6).

An ideal number of recovery rest days after training hard is at least one to two days per week. During your rest days, try to avoid activities that inflict stress on your body, and go for simple activities like gentle stretches or walking (11). As said by a professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University named Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., rest should be part – and not an alternative to – your workout (8).

Myth 6: Morning is the Best Time to Exercise

No matter what time you exercise, it makes no difference. So, any time can be a good time to exercise. You don’t need to force yourself to exercise before going to work in the morning, unless you enjoy it as a morning person (1)(6)(10). Note, however, that it can be more difficult to fall asleep when you choose to exercise right before bedtime (1).

In addition, working out in the morning is good to stimulate your metabolism and let you enjoy the rest of the activities for the day. Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Psychology in 2019 revealed that working out between 1 PM and 4 PM possesses the same effectiveness as working out in the morning (6).

Myth 7: Crunches Help You Lose Belly Fat and Gain Six-Pack Abs

Crunches won’t hurt your core strength, so they’re not the best exercise for strengthening the midsection. Instead, doing multi-muscle abs exercises while standing upright targets each region in your core as you move them (8)(11). Plus, crunches alone won’t help you lose belly fat; you need to include cardio in burning those calories in the midsection (10).

However, ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches can build core muscles and – if done properly and frequently, coupled with the right diet – can tone your abs into a sheet of muscle (6). Despite this, let’s not forget the role that genetics play in your body composition and shape. Crunches simply keep your abdominal muscles strong underneath the belly fat layer, but you cannot really control which body part can lose fat while staying active. That said, losing fat from various parts of your body requires balancing calorie intake with the right exercise (3).

Myth 8: Several Cardio Sessions Means Losing More Weight

Despite what you might initially think, spending long hours on the treadmill is not the quickest way to lose extra pounds. If your goal is to shed some weight – specifically a pound of fat – you need to burn 35,000 calories, according to Mayo Clinic. In order to do so, a 2018 Runner’s World article revealed that one needs to run 35 miles, as one mile of running corresponds to burning 100 calories of fat (6).

As a matter of fact, running the same distance on a treadmill won’t exactly give you the results of running outside your home. The latter involves running against the wind and uneven terrains, which engages more of your muscles – leading to ten percent more calories burned compared to a treadmill (8). That said, you can apply a combination of high-intensity cardio and strength training to achieve the best results. In addition, have a smart nutrition plan to go with it (11).

Myth 9: Less Exertion Burns More Fat

Although you can achieve a higher percentage of fat burning with lower intensity, it is important to emphasize that when it comes to exercise, weight loss results from how many calories you burn. That said, high-intensity exertion involves faster performance of physical activities like walking or running, which leads to more calories used and burned per minute. So, it is a fact that moving more intensely does burn more calories is a shorter amount of time (3)(4).

However, since high-intensity exercise is difficult to achieve and maintain if you are just new or returning to exercise, you may not have enough endurance to exercise for long at this level. Thus, you need to be capable and have clearance from your doctor, especially if you have certain heart conditions. You can start at low intensity and gradually increase exertion, as recommended, or consider alternatives/interval training like lower intensity walking with some short insertions of high-intensity brisk walking, or simply running (3).

Myth 10: Running and Jogging Beats Walking

The truth is, walking and jogging produce similar health results when it comes to overall calorie burn; they both target the same muscle groups – only at different intensities. However, if you do want to lose weight faster while expending the same amount of energy, running has the upper hand (8).

Still, walking does come with fun benefits of its own, and can burn as many calories as jogging at the same distance (9)(10). For one, it is a great way to strengthen your heart and lungs, lessening your risks for disease. Plus, an important thing to keep in mind is how fun the activity can be (9).

Myth 11: Running Will Wear Out Your Knees

It is known that knees are the most common locations for a runner’s injuries, which is why some people are afraid of running. However, knees and joints are not the same as shock absorbers found in cars that can wear out with overuse. Interestingly, physical activities like running actually keeps your knees healthy – with several studies showing that runners are less likely to suffer from knee osteoarthritis. The main tip to avoid knee pain is to exert properly and sensibly (5).

In addition, running tends to burn more calories compared to cycling. The activity requires constant muscle work of the lower and upper body, with no pauses in between the effort, and it carries your body weight, requiring constant motion (4).

Myth 12: Spot-Training Aids in Fat Loss on Certain Body Parts

Spot-training is the idea that one can burn fats for a specific body part by working it out intensely (6). To sort this out initially, there is no such thing as “spot training.” As per Adam Rosante, C.S.C.S., author of The 30-Second Body, fat cells are found all over the body, so if you want to lose fat in one specific area, you need to lose your body fat overall (11). This is also true as you can’t really control where your body fat comes from (8)

Plus, science also indicates that it does not work. In 1983, a University of Massachusetts study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport revealed that 5,000 sit-ups over the span of 27 days showed no significant changes in the participants’ body weight and fat (6).

Myth 13: Eat Before You Exercise

According to a study published online in the British Journal of Nutrition, your body burns more fat when you hit the gym first before taking in your breakfast. Although you’ll have an empty stomach, you must not skimp on water (8).

An example of this technique would be “fasted cardio” – an aerobic exercise done on an empty stomach, which results in the depletion of carbohydrates stored in the body. Also, when you fast, your insulin levels become low, allowing you to burn more fat (7).

However, eating before exercise is only applicable if you are 30 percent over your ideal weight. Less than that would allow you to burn more calories if you exercise after eating. Also, avoid doing strenuous activities too soon after eating (2).

Myth 14: Follow the Advised Optimal Dose or Type of Exercise

Medicalizing exercise has led to its arbitrary prescription. For instance, a lot of medical professionals adhere to the recommendation provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate workout or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

However, what they failed to notice is that the amount of exercise that one should have depends on several factors, including your fitness, age, history of injury, and health concerns. Thus, you can do simple exercises as little as eight minutes a day, but note that higher doses give you more benefits. Plus, you can try to make your exercises varied and do regular strength training as time goes on (5). Consider these your milestones in your journey to being fit.

The Pursuit of Exercise and Weight Loss: Keeping Yourself Motivated and Fit

With these misconceptions cleared out, we hope that the misinformation does not impede on your motivation or ruin your passion to become a fit and better you. Despite all these, what remains important is that you enjoy what you do, and you count each step as a win (1). Exercising is not only for the body, but it also aids in your emotional well-being and mental health.

That said, a lot of factors can help you maintain your motivation, among them include:

  • Joining the gym (1)
  • Taking virtual fitness classes (1)
  • Hiring a personal trainer (1)
  • Working out with a friend or team (1)
  • Tracking your progress and personal records (1)

Final Thoughts

Exercise offers incredible benefits that improves nearly every aspect of your health in many ways (1). If done right, you can unlock amazing opportunities that pave the way for you to achieve a fit and healthier you.

Keep in mind that what you do and think affects how you do a particular activity. That said, it is important to stay informed of the facts and continuously keep them updated moving forward. Being informed can also save you the trouble of impending consequences later.

More importantly, exercising helps you to realize the importance of maintaining a healthy body and mind. You should not neglect it, nor should you choose to do it without knowing the facts.


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