It’s Just Not True!

June 3, 2013

WalkingI am not sure if any area in life has more inaccurate rumors going around than the field of exercise.  Sometimes, the free flow of inaccurate information can confuses and frustrates people so much that they simply end up not exercising at all. That is a big shame because if people would just get up and get off the couch, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of lives annually would be saved.  There are the standard questions that we all want to know, like “How often should I exercise?” (The more, the better, but at least 30 minutes nearly every day), “Does it have to be 30 minutes straight?”  (No, shorter bouts are fine) and  “Do I need to go to the gym?” (Not at all, there is enough you can do on your own in both aerobics and muscle building). But then there are some very specific questions that people have that more often than not, get incorrect answers.

Can I do spot toning? So you have a little extra fat built up in your stomach area or on the back of your arms and you want to know which exercise will take care of that? According to Rosemary Lindle, a University of Maryland exercise physiologist, “Spot-reducing is a myth.Some people believe that if they exercise one area, it will cause fat to be removed from that area,” She notes that “in our gym the men, who tend to store their fat in their abdomens, are on the ab machines, and the women are on the total hip machines for hours,”. Yes, abdominal and hip exercises can strengthen and tone the muscles. But those muscles are underneath the “subcutaneous” layer of fat that gives the lovely appearance of flab. Only losing weight can get rid of excess fat, and where you lose the weight depends on your genes. Losing weight around the waist is easier than losing it at the hips.

Can I burn a LOT of calories through exercise? “People have the mistaken idea that exercise is a fabulous way to lose weight,” says William Evans of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “But exercising doesn’t burn a lot of calories.” Walking or running a mile burns about 100 calories, but sitting still for the same time burns about 50 or 60 calories. “So the extra you expend isn’t huge and people get discouraged at their slow rate of weight loss.” Another misconception: You keep burning considerably more calories for a long time after you stop exercising. “Calorie expenditure is elevated for the first minute or two, but by five or six minutes the extra expenditure is pretty small, and by 40 minutes post-exercise, it’s back to where you started,” says Evans. This doesn’t mean that people wanting to lose weight should give up on exercise. The more you exercise, the more fit you’ll get. That means you’ll burn more calories because you can walk briskly or run for five miles instead of one. So instead of burning 100 calories, you burn 500 (that’s 250 more than if you had stayed on the couch). What’s more, says Evans, “the better-conditioned you are, the more fat you burn for energy, because your muscles adapt to using an enzyme that oxidizes fat. People who are less-trained burn more carbohydrate instead.” Dieters who exercise also lose less lean body mass — that is, less muscle — than people of diets who just cut calories. And physical activity can help with the toughest problem: keeping weight off. “Studies show that after people lose weight, the best predictor of maintaining the weight loss is whether they exercise regularly

I am not overweight, so I can skip the exercise, right?  What gets most people off the couch and into their walking shoes is unwanted flab. That shouldn’t be the reason you get off the couch.  “Many people don’t see immediate weight loss and say it’s all for naught and stop,” says exercise expert William Haskell of Stanford University Medical School. In fact, exercise has a laundry list of benefits beyond any impact on your next shopping trip. Among them:  “It improves the ability of insulin to enter cells, so it lowers the risk of diabetes,” says Haskell. “It also lowers the risk of heart disease by improving blood clotting mechanisms, lowering triglycerides, and raising HDL [‘good’] cholesterol.” Exercise alters not only your risk of disease, but your quality of life, he adds. “In our studies, exercise improved sleep in people with modest sleep dysfunction,” that is, people who take a long time to fall asleep or who wake up frequently at night.  “The psychological benefits of exercise are frequently overlooked,” says Haskell. “Exercise isn’t a panacea, but it has consistently been shown to relieve both depression and anxiety.”

Does it have to hurt? That old saying “no pain no gain” isn’t necessarily true. “Many people still believe that you have to work at a very high intensity in order to get a benefit,” says exercise physiologist Dr. Steven Blair. In fact, moderate-intensity exercise lowers the risk of dying just as much as high-intensity exercise. For example, says JoAnn Manson of the Harvard Medical School, “in the Nurses’ Health Study, women who regularly engaged in brisk walking reduced their risk of heart disease to the same degree as women who engaged in vigorous exercise. You don’t need to run a marathon.” The trick is making sure that the exercise is at least moderate-intensity — that is, equivalent to walking at a pace of three to four miles an hour. “You can vacuum at a very low pace or at a moderately intense pace,” says Blair. Running or jogging is, by definition, high-intensity. But walking, raking leaves, mowing lawns, dusting, and gardening may be either moderate- or low-intensity. High-intensity exercise does have one advantage: it saves time. It takes less time to burn the same number of calories at higher intensity. “You can jog for 20 minutes or walk for 40 or 45,” says Blair.  Does all the heart-pounding of high-intensity exercise do anything else for you? “Some things probably respond better to high-intensity and some may respond better to moderate-intensity exercise,” say Blair. “But in general, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of difference as long as you expend the same number of calories.” So you can either walk longer, or jog shorter for the same results.

I’m a senior citizen, isn’t it too late for me to start and exercise program? “Many people think they’re too old to start an exercise program,” says Tufts University’s Miriam Nelson. “They think it’s unsafe because they have heart disease or diabetes or because they’re too out of shape to start.” You’re never too old to start, says Nelson. And she ought to know. In one Tufts study, the participants were frail nursing-home residents whose ages ranged from 72 to 98. After just ten weeks, strength-training improved their muscle strength, ability to climb stairs, and walking speed. “When they see what a difference it makes, they’re thrilled,” says Nelson. The same goes for people with chronic diseases. “People say they can’t exercise because they have arthritis,” she adds. “But we see some of the greatest benefits in people with arthritis. Exercise reduces pain and increases range of motion, strength, and mobility.” That doesn’t mean that anyone can plunge into a bout of vigorous exercise, regardless of health history. As for the all-too-common “I don’t have time to exercise,” Nelson responds, “somehow, you’ve got to make the time, or you’re going to have medical problems like heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis. And it will take a lot more time to deal with them than it takes to exercise.” Keep in mind that the human body is made to improve its condition, if you take care of it, well into you 80’s.

Be an educated exerciser! Remember to stay with the basics, aerobics 5-6 days a week for about 30 minutes and 2 or 3 days of muscle building exercises and stretching daily and it will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”


Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.