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7 Common Myths of Exercise

7 Common Myths of Exercise

November 28, 2016 / 565 Views

We’ve heard them all before, but with so much content and opinion out there, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. This month, we shed light on seven common myths about exercise.


  1. “No pain, no gain”

Whilst the benefits of exercise increase with intensity, there is no need to overdo it. A mix of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise each week, performed safely, is preferred over maximal efforts. If you are inactive, starting out with a daily 30 minute brisk walk can deliver significant health benefits, and you’re more likely to stick with it too.

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults, ESSA and the
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend a weekly accumulation of
150 minutes of vigorous or 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity, or a
combination of both. Health benefits include reducing the risk of heart
disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, as well as regulation of blood
sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, weight maintenance and assistance of
weight loss.(1,2)

  1. Dieting, not exercise, is the only way to
    weight loss

Fad diets with caloric or nutrient restriction are often short lived and
may lead to even more weight gain. In reality, the key to sustainable weight
loss is to create healthy eating habits.(3) For those who restrict calories, or who abstain from eating all together could be doing more harm than good. The weight that is lost in the first 4-6 weeks from Fad dieting is a majority of the time lost water and lean mass. Losing muscle will only decrease your metabolism even further. Preserving lean tissue through exercise maintains the body’s metabolism, in order for energy (and calories) to be expended.

Therefore, we should focus not on “weight loss”, but rather “fat loss”, and incorporate exercise for lean tissue preservation in any weight management program. Whilst significant fat reduction can be achieved through diet, exercisers also gain additional benefits of insulin sensitivity and cardiorespiratory fitness improvements.(4)

  1. You can “spot reduce” fat with exercise

This long-standing myth is still promoted in magazines and online. Put simply, you won’t get sculpted, fat free abs by doing crunches alone. Exercise will reduce total body fat, but there isn’t really a way to target specific areas.

Recently, aerobic exercise has been associated with a preferential
reduction in abdominal fat.(5) Further research is required, but
this could have significant implications in public health, as waist
circumference is considered a risk factor for chronic disease.

  1. Long training sessions are the only way to
    build endurance

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about clocking up hours on the pavement or bike to improve endurance. It’s been well established that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective in increasing performance in longer bouts. Not only is interval training a time saver, it also provides variety and challenge to your training program.

An emerging form of interval training, known as anaerobic or sprint
interval training (SIT), is also showing potential in producing improvements in
endurance through even shorter training bouts, where intervals of supra-maximal
efforts are performed. (6,7)

  1. Your genes control your weight, and there’s not much you can do about it

We all have different body shapes, but does a genetic tendency for
weight gain mean indefinite obesity? A 2010 study has found that amongst women identified
with a genetic predisposition for obesity, the group with homozygous gene
expression actually experienced the greatest weight loss from exercise. (8) As we know, in addition to weight management, exercise also delivers immense health benefits and reduces risk of chronic disease. Research in this area is ongoing, but for now, it’s encouraging to find that achieving a healthy weight is not out of your control.

  1. Exercise cancels out sedentary time

We now realise that sedentary time in modern society is having serious
health implications, with Australians being sedentary for 7 to 10 hours each
day (outside of sleeping). (9) Surprisingly, sessions at the gym do
not compensate for extended sitting.

Sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor for chronic disease.
This means that additional to exercise, we must also spend less time sitting.
Even if recommended physical activity guidelines are met, interrupting and
minimising sedentary time is still required to reduce health risk. (1) So get creative – walk to the printer, try a standing desk and encourage walking meetings with colleagues.

  1. Cardio is enough for good health

Whilst walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are well established as beneficial exercises, is there more we can do for optimal health? It’s now recognised that resistance training is valuable for all ages, including the elderly. Biologically, building and maintaining muscle tissue is essential for energy metabolism and reducing risk of chronic disease. Functional benefits, such as improvement in posture, mobility, balance, and reduction in risk of falls also become increasingly important with age.

In addition to aerobic exercise, the latest Australian physical activity
guidelines and ESSA now recommend 2-3 days per week of muscle strengthening
activity. (1) Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be done at home with little or no equipment. A couple of times each week, try fitting in some body weight exercises such as push ups, lunges and squats.

Written by Rhiannon Keith – Exercise Physiologist 


1. Commonwealth of Australia (2014). Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Adults (18-64 years).

2. Pescatello, Arena, Riebe, Thompson (Eds.)
(2014), General Principles of Exercise Prescription. In ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. (pp 166-177).

3. Gögebakan, O., Weickert, M. O., Holst, C., Saris, W. H. M., Astrup, A., Pfeiffer, A. F. H., on behalf of DiOGenes. (2011). Effects of weight loss and long-term weight maintenance with diets varying in protein and glycemic index on cardiovascular risk factors: The diet, obesity, and genes (DiOGenes) study: A randomized, controlled trial. Circulation, 124(25),
2829-2838. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.033274

4. Ross, R., Janssen, I., Dawson, J., Kungl,
A.-M., Kuk, J. L., Wong, S. L., Hudson, R. (2004). Exercise-Induced Reduction
in Obesity and Insulin Resistance in Women: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Obesity
Research, 12
(5), 789-798.doi: 10.1038/oby.2004.95

5. Horowitz, J. F., Leone, T.
C., Feng, W., Kelly, D. P., Klein, S. (2000) Effect of
endurance training on lipid metabolism in women: a potential role for PPARalpha
in the metabolic response to training. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (279): E348–E355.

6. Stepto, N. K., Hawley, J. A., Dennis, S.
C., & Hopkins, W. G. (1999). Effects of different interval-training
programs on cycling time-trial performance. Medicine and Science in
Sports and Exercise, 31
(5), 736-741.

7. Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Scott C. Hughes,
George J. F. Heigenhauser, Suzanne N. Bradwell, & Martin J. Gibala. (2005).
Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential
and cycle endurance capacity in humans. Journal of Applied
Physiology, 98
(6), 1985-1990. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01095.2004

8. Mitchell, J. A., Church, T. S., Rankinen,
T., Earnest, C. P., Sui, X., & Blair, S. N. (2010). FTO Genotype and the
Weight Loss Benefits of Moderate Intensity Exercise. Obesity, 18(3),
641-643. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.311

9. Tilley, C., Sit less, move more: why
Australia doubled its exercise guidelines,
12 March 2014. Accessed online Mon 26 Jan 2015.

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