7 Exercise Myths That Can Derail Your Weight-Loss Goals

You could keel over from exhaustion (without ever leaving the couch!) trying to make sense of all the advice – often conflicting – in infomercials, magazines, and other media on exercise and shedding pounds.

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Exercise Myths – #1: The more you sweat, the more pounds you will drop.

Fact: Weight loss is not about sweating. It’s about burning calories.

What matters most about losing weight is that at the end of each day you’ve burned more calories than you’ve eaten. You want more calories (energy) “going out” than “going in.”

Sure, if you sweat up a storm, you’ll lose a pound or two in water, but it’s temporary. Those pounds go right back on. That’s because sweat has little to do with calories burned. Sweat happens simply because your body’s storing heat, whether while exercising or sunbathing on the shore, and you need to cool off.

So if running – and profuse sweating – isn’t your thing, that’s fine.  Walk if you prefer.

What is associated with calories burned is the total number of steps you take each day.  An effective goal for most people is about 10,000 steps (4 to 5 miles) every day.

If you walk for 30 minutes, which adds up to about 4,000 steps, and include enough activity throughout the day to reach a total of 10,000 steps, you’re burning about 400 to 500 calories a day. That’s fabulous because if your diet remains constant (you haven’t increased your daily calorie intake), a 400- to 500-calorie daily deficit from exercise means you could easily lose about one pound a week.

Exercise Myths – #2: You can burn more calories while walking by carrying free weights or wearing ankle or wrist weights.

Fact: Using weighted items during aerobic exercise could actually ruin your best efforts to burn calories.

Using weights while walking or jogging can alter your normal gait and body mechanics, placing strain on ligaments, tendons, and joints. The strain exposes you to a heightened risk of injury, which means you might end up on the couch, in pain, and burning no calories.

Certainly, as you learned at the Pritikin Longevity Center, free weights can be a great part of your fitness routine when used for your strength training sessions – separate from your aerobic sessions.

Exercise Myths – #3: Don’t exercise for more than an hour because you’ll burn up muscle tissue.

Fact: Exercising more than an hour will not burn up muscle tissue.

“The body is always burning a mixture of fat and carbohydrate with a minor amount of protein. To get the point where you’re burning only protein is rare and extreme, and certainly nothing any of our guests at Pritikin do,” advises Dr. Danine Fruge, Medical Director of Pritikin Longevity Center.

“It is true, however, that at the Pritikin Longevity Center we do not recommend exercising more than one hour at a time, but it is not because muscle tissue’s burning. It’s because ligaments, joints, and muscles get weak after one hour of exercise, increasing the risk of injury.”

Exercise Myths – #4: No pain, no gain.

Fact: Muscle “burn” does not necessarily mean you’re getting fitter.

Cardiorespiratory (heart and circulatory system) fitness is indeed important because it delivers all sorts of health benefits, from a stronger heart to a leaner body. But you’re not necessarily becoming more cardio-fit if you’re feeling a lot of “burn” in your muscles while exercising. In fact, you may feel burning muscles and experience only little change to your actual heart rate.

For a fitter cardiovascular system and body, you want to exercise at or above your target heart rate zone. If you don’t want to stop while exercising to take your pulse, keep track of your training level, not by the amount of muscle burn you’re feeling, but by rating your overall intensity of effort using the RPE scale, which is closely linked to your training heart rate zone. Aim for overall perceived exertion of “13” to “15”:

Scale of 6 to 20
7 Very, Very Easy
9 Very Easy
11 Fairly Easy
13 Somewhat Hard
15 Hard
17 Very Hard
19 Very, Very Hard

Exercise Myths – #5: You can target one area, like belly fat, and get rid of it (at least that’s what ads for products like the 6-Minute Ab Blaster say).

Fact: Gimmicks like the Ab Blaster look too good to be true… and they are.

There’s no such thing as “spot reduction” – except in media hype. It is physiologically impossible to lose fat in one specific area. Losing fat in the belly, hips, butt, and everywhere else does happen, but only because you’ve created an energy deficit, that, is, you’re burning more calories than you’re eating. The best – and only scientifically proven – way to do that is with lifelong healthy habits – a fiber-rich, low-calorie-dense diet like Pritikin and regular (ideally, daily) exercise.

So hang in there. Dedicate time every day for aerobic workouts in your training heart rate zone. And two to three times weekly, target all your major muscle groups with the 10 strength training exercises you learned at Pritikin.  Equally important, eat well – lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains every day. You will lose excess fat, wherever it is on your body.

Exercise Myths – #6: You shouldn’t exercise over your heart rate zone because you won’t burn fat.

Fact: You will burn fat.

“While it’s true that the relative percent of fat burned will go down, the total amount of fat burned stays the same or goes up,” explains Dr. Fruge.

So if you want to push yourself more and exercise over your heart rate zone, go ahead as long as you’re healthy, in good shape, and are comfortable with exercising at a higher level.  “Heart rate zones are only an estimate. They are not carved in stone,” says Dr. Fruge.

The exception is if you’ve had heart problems, you’ve had a negative treadmill stress test, and/or you’ve been told by your doctor not to exceed your training heart rate. But this is for heart health, not because of some fat-burning myth.

Of course, you certainly want to take care of your heart. In its guide entitled “Physical Activity and Your Heart,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends making an appointment with your doctor before starting or significantly increasing physical activity if you are:

Over 50 years old and not used to moderately energetic activity.
  • Currently have a heart condition, have developed chest pain within the last month, or have had a heart attack.
  • Have a parent or sibling who developed heart disease at an early age.
  • Have any other chronic health problem or risk factors for a chronic disease.
  • Tend to easily lose your balance or become dizzy.
  • Feel extremely breathless after mild exertion.
  • Are on any type of medication.

Exercise Myths – #7: If you’re losing the motivation to exercise, get over it. Put your nose to the grindstone.

Fact: Change is good.

The best exercise is the exercise you enjoy. No one signs up for pain. And even if they do, they don’t last long.

Motivation is a good signal. Keep monitoring it. Every month or so, ask yourself, “Am I liking what I’m doing?” If not, make changes. Fed up with getting beat at tennis? Find a new sport (or older competitors).

If you’re tired of jogging five days a week, try something totally different. Or intersperse your jogging with calorie-burning activity you’ve always enjoyed – maybe racquetball, volleyball, golfing (without a golf cart), even window shopping. It’s all movement. It’s all good. It all adds up to steps earned at day’s end.

Like to talk and walk? Enjoy the companionship of friends and get your workout in. Arrange walking groups. Set up treadmill partners at the gym, nights out dancing, bike rides along the coast, or Saturday morning basketball games.

What exercise becomes, then, is a gift, a chance to break away from life’s responsibilities and just have fun.  And the rewards, for today and for the rest of your life, can’t be beat!

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Are you taking or considering a medication for weight loss?

Combining the Pritikin Program with Semaglutide or other weight loss medications could potentially speed up weight loss, reduce side effects, preserve lean body mass, and support long-term metabolic health.