If you want to support your health, exercise is a great place to start. Moving your body on a regular basis has both immediate and long-term benefits, from boosting your brain health to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. But workouts don’t just help you live longer: Exercise has also been proven to boost mental health and emotional well-being, so you can live a happier life, too.
Ready to get off the couch and start reaping the benefits of routine exercise? The first thing to know: While any movement is better than none, getting the most out of exercise requires a bit of strategy. That said, starting an exercise routine is probably not as complicated or overwhelming as you think. Getting off to a great start can be as simple as adopting the right mindset about exercise, and, if necessary, unlearning any misconceptions standing in your way. Here are seven of the biggest myths about exercise, debunked by experts and research.
Myth 1: “Exercise has to be hard.”
Establishing an exercise routine takes some work, but that doesn’t mean you have to overexert yourself or only do high-intensity, challenging workouts.
Ultimately, the workout routine you choose should depend on your personal goals. For example, if your goal is to boost your overall health while reducing your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week to provide cardiovascular benefits. If you’re currently sitting more than you’re moving, that might sound like a lot — but you might be surprised how little work boosting heart health actually entails.
“This means exercising to the intensity where you could not comfortably have a conversation with somebody,” says One Medical’s Melanie Chang, NP. It could be as simple as fast-paced walking, dancing to your favorite tunes or jump squats next to your desk.”
Keep in mind, too, that while meeting your goals certainly requires some work, it doesn’t have to be miserable. On the contrary: Since you probably want to reap the benefits of exercise on a long-term basis, it’s important to choose something sustainable — that is, an activity you actually like doing.
Myth 2: “I can only exercise at the gym.”
Limiting your workout to an hour at the gym limits the benefits you’ll experience. That’s why Chang suggests swapping the word “exercise” for “movement” in your mind — you’ll be a lot more likely to adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle when you understand fitness isn’t just about what you do at the gym.
“Setting a specific goal, such as ‘I will always take the stairs instead of the escalator every time at the 14th street subway stop,’ will help habits stick,” she says. More ideas for movement throughout the day: taking the stairs up and down in your apartment building, getting off one to two train stops early on your commute, two push-ups every time you go to the bathroom while home.
Myth 3: "I already walk or bike to work, so I get enough exercise.”
Well, not exactly. According to Chang, increasing the pace of your commute can provide that recommended moderate-intensity activity level, but there are other benefits to doing different types of exercise. “Research has shown resistance exercise a few times per week can help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms,” she says. “You can head to the gym to throw around some heavy weights or put those cans of beans you hoarded during the pandemic to good use, as even light weights can be beneficial!”
Myth 4: “I only need to exercise to lose weight.”
At the end of the day, weight loss boils down to calories in, calories out — you have to burn more than you consume to trend downward. Exercise can certainly help you net less than normal, but it’s unlikely you’ll drop much weight without paying attention to your diet, too. Talk to your doctor or use a simple calculator to determine your ideal calorie intake for your personal goals. And remember: While weight loss can help improve your health , getting proper nutrition (read: lean protein plus plenty of fruits and vegetables!) is just as important.
Myth 5: “Strength training is only for bodybuilders.”
Yes, cardiovascular exercise –– basically, anything that gets your heart pumping — is vital for heart health. But strength training, also called anaerobic exercise, has proven to be a valuable part of a fitness routine, and not just for people who want to bulk up. Strength and resistance workouts also benefit the heart and burn calories, along with strengthening your bones and muscles. Don’t worry about bulking up if you don’t want to — lifting weights can help you lean out by burning fat, especially if you’re strategic about nutrition.
Myth 6: “Longer is better when it comes to working out.”
Duration and frequency are important factors to consider in your exercise routine, but they aren’t the only components that matter. Research suggests high-intensity interval training (HIIT) consisting of shorter bouts of higher-intensity exercise can actually boost a person’s health more than working out at a moderate pace for a longer period. So if you don’t have time to spend an hour or two at the gym, you can get the same (or better!) outcomes simply by boosting your workout’s intensity.
Myth 7: “It’s too late to start.”
Research suggests an active life often translates to better health, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever too late for you to reap the benefits of exercise. Whether you’ve never really exercised much or you haven’t hit the gym in ages, now is the time to start. Chances are, if you stay consistent, you’ll start feeling benefits like better sleep, more energy, and a clearer mind sooner than you think. More good news: One 2019 study links regular exercise with a lower risk of early death, even if started at middle age.
If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your primary care provider, who can help develop the best routine to meet your unique health and fitness goals.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
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