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Shattering common exercise myths

The saying “no pain, no gain” may work when rallying a football team to a win, but for women trying to get or stay fit, that and other exercise myths can do more harm than good. Don’t let misinformation sidetrack your fitness goals. Get the story straight about these common misconceptions.

  • Myth#1: A hundred crunches a day will trim belly fat. Although it sounds good, exercises intended to reduce fat from specific problem areas, such as jiggly thighs or a flabby tummy, are more an exercise in futility. Exercise burns fat throughout your body for energy, not just near the muscles doing most of the work. Your genes—not your workout—determine whether you lose fat from your stomach or different areas of your body. To reduce body fat, you’ll need to incorporate both aerobic and strength training into your routine, plus eat a low-fat diet. But don’t abandon abdominal exercises entirely; they will tone the muscles you’ll get to see once the fat is burned away. (They’ll help strengthen your back, too.)
  • Myth#2: The harder the workout, the better. Your exercise duration and frequency are more important than its intensity. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. In one study involving 133 sedentary people, researchers found no difference in cardiovascular fitness between moderate exercisers who walked 12 miles a week and more vigorous exercisers who jogged the same distance. Increasing the amount of exercise, however, from 12 miles to 20 miles a week improved cardiovascular fitness for both groups.
  • Myth#3: Sweating speeds fat loss. Sweating is an important way your body cools itself during exercise, but encouraging excessive sweating will lead to dangerous dehydration and electrolyte loss. Any weight loss immediately following exercise comes almost entirely from losing water—you’ll gain the weight back when you replenish fluids. When you exercise, wear lightweight clothing to reduce your risk of heat exhaustion. (Heavy clothing can cause excess sweating.) In colder weather, dress in layers you can remove as you generate more heat so sweating won’t lead to chills.
  • Myth#4: Women should lift very light weights to avoid bulky muscles. Women don’t need to worry about hulking muscles because they simply don’t have the testosterone levels required for that kind of muscle building. Too many women work out with way-too-light weights that won’t help build strength or balance. Choose a weight or a resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles by the 12th repetition. When you can do a second set of 12 easily, increase the weight or resistance.
  • Myth#5: Walking every day is enough exercise. It’s a great start, so keep it up. But different types of exercise provide different benefits, and women need them all. Mix up your routine with different activities for greater fitness. Aerobic activities like walking and biking provide cardiovascular fitness; resistance training such as weight lifting or calisthenics increases muscle strength and endurance; weight-bearing exercises like jogging and dancing protect against bone loss; and stretching exercises like yoga help maintain flexibility.