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The truth about common exercise myths

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

Exercise myths revealed

The health and fitness industry is pumped with many exercise myths. Some are used as excuses not to exercise; some are thought to be exercise shortcuts. Here is a collection of common exercise myths and the truths that debunk them.

Woman weightlifting

Exercise myth or fitness fact?

Muscle versus fat

Myth: Your muscles will turn into fat if you don't keep exercising.

Truth:The fact is that muscle and fat are two completely different kinds of tissues that do two completely different things.

Muscle is a specialized tissue, having the ability to conduct electrical impulses as well as the ability to relax or contract, which allows us to move around.

Fat tissue, also known as adipose tissue, is meant for storing energy for periods of time. The location of the fat tissue determines its type. Visceral fat is fat tissue around the abdominal region beneath the abdominal muscles, while subcutaneous fat is located right under the skin in various parts of the body.

The point here is that muscle and fat are two different kinds of tissue doing two different jobs. So, it's physically impossible to transform one into the other. If you stop exercising, your muscles will atrophy and lose their tone, but they will not convert to fat. Likewise, if you stop exercising but keep on eating, your body will store more fat while your muscle mass declines.

Women and weight lifting

Myth: Lifting a lot of weights will make women bulk up.

Truth: No, not so much. When it comes to getting the mass muscle look, women simply lack the testosterone. Testosterone is the hormone that makes men hairy (and obsess over sports cars), and is also the hormone that facilitates their natural affinity to develop muscle mass.

That said, some people tend to add muscle faster than they burn fat. That may result in an initial bulking up. But with continued exercise and a healthy diet, the excess fat comes off, and the toned muscles are more apparent.

Exercise duration

Myth: You need to exercise for at least 30 minutes straight if you want to get into shape.

Truth: Hmm, short answer is if you exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time, you will get benefits. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, you do get benefits from working out in increments as short as 10 minutes, three to five times a week.

However, if you push your workout to 30 minutes, you will see more of those benefits. It makes sense. It is also all about the goals you are setting for yourself. If you are starting a new exercise plan, 10 minutes at a time is a good goal to strive toward. As you increase your fitness level, adding minutes to your exercise time will increase the benefits. And when it comes to exercise, prolonged activity is your friend.

Flexibility rules

Myth: Stretching prevents injury.

Truth: Experts don't really know for sure. The truth is that there have been several studies conducted over the years about stretching and the jury is still out. A 2004 study conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention determined that the research to date does not offer conclusive evidence that stretching alone reduces or prevents sports-related injuries.

Most studies were done in conjunction with warm-up activity, so the benefits of stretching alone could not be isolated. However, a warm-up routine that may include light stretching can help increase blood flow to muscles and get them ready for exercise.

No pain, no gain

Myth: You must exercise to the point of pain or you won't see any results.

Truth: It's the classic myth. The truth is that if your muscles are hurting after your last round of exercise, you may have strained them. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak says that pain is not required for a successful workout and, in fact, pain may be a warning sign that you're pushing too hard.

Some slight soreness is not unusual if you change up your routine, but if you are still aching more than two days after your workout, you are probably going too hard, not giving your muscles time to recover, or a combination of the two.

Ultimately, exercise comes with a lot of benefits – better health, energy and self-confidence, to name a few. There can be some risks, but making exercise part of your life will always provide benefits in the long run. Just be sure to research the exercise myths or fads and base your fitness routine on researched truths.

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