Lifting the lid on exercise myths

·2-min read

There are many myths surrounding exercise and understanding what is best for our bodies can be a minefield.

Experts tell us it's important to stay active for our physical and mental health, but with so many different workout theories it can get confusing. During the pandemic, people gained weight and struggled to stay fit because they had to stay at home, but if you want to shape up now restrictions are easing there's some important things to consider.

Professor Daniel E Lieberman, an expert in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and author of Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest and the Pursuit of Health, has offered up his advice on the greatest exercise myths to The Guardian.

Exercise is normal

For millions of years, humans were physically active for two reasons: when it was necessary - such as getting food - or rewarding - such as dancing or playing. No one in the Stone Age ever went for a five-mile jog. Exercise is a very modern behaviour.

Avoiding exercise is lazy

"Whenever I see an escalator next to a stairway, a little voice in my brain says, 'Take the escalator.' Am I lazy?" Professor Lieberman asks.

That instinct is normal because physical activity costs calories that until recently were always in short supply, and still are in some countries. When food is scarce, every calorie spent on physical activity is a calorie not spent on maintaining our bodies.

Sitting is killing us

Yes, too much physical inactivity is unhealthy, but let's not demonise this behaviour. People in every culture sit a lot.

There are more and less healthy ways to sit. Studies show that people who get up every 10 or 15 minutes enjoy better long-term health than those who sit inertly for hours.

Walking won't help you lose weight

The truth is that you can lose more weight much faster through diet rather than exercise, especially moderate exercise such as 150 minutes a week of brisk walking. However, longer durations and higher intensities of exercise have been shown to promote gradual weight loss.

Running will ruin your knees

Knees are indeed the most common location of runners' injuries, so this myth isn't unfounded, but sensible running and walking have been shown to keep knees healthy. The key is to learn to run and train properly.

How much exercise should we do and what type?

This depends on your fitness, age, injury history and health concerns, but no matter how unfit you are, even a little exercise is better than none. Try to vary the kinds of exercise and do regular strength training as you age.

Exercise is the secret to longer life

Exercise doesn't guarantee good health, however, just a little exercise can slow the rate at which you age and substantially reduce your chances of getting a range of diseases. It can also be fun - something we've all been missing during the pandemic.