There are almost as many misconceptions about exercise as there are runners in the Boston Marathon, and that’s a shame, because misconceptions can derail our plans to get and stay fit.
Pritikin’s exercise experts, now in their 35th year of helping thousands worldwide launch lifelong fitness plans, clear up 5 common myths.
Myth #1: “A leisurely 30-minute walk every day is all I need.”
A 30-minute stroll is a great start, but it’s not enough if your goal is optimal heart health and a lean limber body today and for years to come.
For all of exercise’s benefits, the exercise experts at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa teach a simple yet comprehensive three-part plan.
It all begins with a physician-directed graded exercise test, which determines each guest’s training heart rate zone. Reaching this zone during aerobic activity – and staying in it for a minimum of 20 minutes – is far more effective at keeping your heart strong and your body lean than a leisurely 30-minute walk.
You can estimate your training heart rate zone with mathematical formulas, but the safest and most accurate assessment is with a graded exercise test (often called a treadmill stress test) that is administered, like the tests at Pritikin, by experienced physicians and exercise technicians.
After your training heart rate zone is established, your aerobic exercise program optimally has three phases:
- Warm-up (5 to 10 minutes):
Walk at a pace below your training heart rate zone. Warming up is very important because it allows your heart rate to increase gradually and your arteries to dilate in order to accommodate the increased blood flow required during the conditioning phase.
- Conditioning – Aerobic exercise period (20 to 60 minutes):
This is the most beneficial portion of your exercise program for developing cardiorespiratory (heart and circulatory system) fitness. For the entire time, you’re in your training heart rate zone. The easiest and most accurate way to monitor your intensity is with a heart rate monitor.
- Cool-down (5 to 10 minutes):
Walk slowly. Your cool-down allows your heart rate and blood pressure to return to pre-exercise levels. If you stop suddenly after aerobic conditioning, blood will pool in your legs and may cause you to feel lightheaded. After 5 minutes, monitor your pulse. If your heart is still within your training heart rate zone, continue to walk slowly until it decreases. Proper cool-down is a heart rate within 10 to 15 beats of your pre-exercise heart rate. For most of us, this is below 100 beats per minute.
Myth #2: “If I’m sweating, I know I’m exercising intensely.”
A good sweat does not necessarily mean a good cardio workout.
You may be perspiring buckets but experiencing only little change to your actual heart rate. For a cardiovascular conditioning effect to occur, you want to exercise in your target heart rate zone. Sweating is simply your body’s means of cooling down. It is not an accurate measure of exercise intensity.
Myth #3: “I cannot start a weight-lifting program because I just don’t have the time.”
As little as one resistance training session a week can deliver priceless benefits.
And you don’t even need fancy weight-lifting equipment. Free weights, elastic rubber bands, jugs of water, or simply using your body’s own weight can create a very effective resistance (strength) training session. Want a leaner, well-toned body? Want to break through a weight-loss plateau? Get stronger? Increase your coordination, agility, and balance? Go down a dress size or two? Resistance training can produce dramatic results, and in just two to three months.
Here are basic recommendations for resistance training from the exercise faculty at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
Your resistance training session should involve:
- 8 to 10 exercises involving all major muscle groups. For specific guidelines, MyPritikin members can go online to the Learning Center and watch the video prepared by Pritikin exercise experts entitled: “Basic 8 Exercises: Strength Training – Building Muscle, Shedding Fat”
- 1 to 3 sets
- 8 to 12 repetitions
- 1 to 3 sessions per week
How do you know if you’ve picked the right weight? Use these simple guidelines:
- If 8 repetitions are too hard, the resistance is too heavy. Decrease the resistance by 5 to 10%.
- If 12 repetitions are too easy, the resistance is too light. Increase the resistance by 5 to 10%.
- You want to feel a muscle glow and ideally a muscle burn. At all times, keep good form!
Myth #4: “I can target one area, like belly fat, and get rid of it.”
There is no such thing as “spot reduction.”
Although you may tone a specific muscle group through resistance training, this alone will not significantly reduce the size of this area.
In order to decrease fat, a calorie deficit must be achieved (You’ve got to burn more calories than you eat). Therefore, your dietary intake and aerobic exercise play a vital role in reducing the size of any body area.
It’s also important to understand that we cannot control which area of the body will get fat reductions first. For evolutionary reasons, people tend to lose fat in the extremities first – the legs, feet, hands, and arms – because these are the areas that keep us mobile, ready to run from danger. The last places to lose fat tend to be the mid-section: the belly, hips, and butt. But don’t despair! For every change to your extremities, similar changes are taking place in your mid-section.
The other good news: For burning more calories than you eat, the Pritikin Program, with its emphasis on regular exercise and foods that are low in calorie density, is ideal. When you create a calorie deficit – and keep at it – you will lose excess fat, wherever it is on your body.
Myth #5: “I’m in good shape, so I don’t need to stretch.”
If you’re not stretching, you’re not in good shape.
It’s daily stretching movements that keep our bodies flexible. When we stay flexible, we stay young. Our lives are enhanced in all sorts of ways, from a better golf swing to being able to turn our heads more easily while driving to just being able to get up from the floor after searching for the keys under the sofa.
A more flexible body also greatly decreases the risk of injury. Have you ever gotten up in the morning and pulled a muscle for something as simple as reaching for the soap in the shower? Twinges from injuries like these – and the days of pain that can follow –disappear or are greatly diminished when you’re stretching daily.
Examples of flexibility activities include basic stretching exercises like toe touches, yoga, t’ai chi, Pilates, and even activities like golf, vacuuming, and gardening.
Always stretch after warming up, for example, after your aerobic workout. Your aerobic exercise gives your muscles a chance to warm up. Warmed muscles have increased flexibility and are more comfortable to stretch.
The Pritikin Exercise Program recommends that you:
Stretch at least 2 to 3 days per week. Certainly, more is better. Ideally, stretch on all exercise days.
Hold each stretch for 20 to 60 seconds, even longer if you have the time. Stretching as little as 20 seconds gives the muscles a chance to lengthen. The longer you stay in the stretch, the more benefits you get. Relax and enjoy yourself. Let the time pass. Don’t rush. Think of stretching as your “time out” from the hurly burly of life – an opportunity to quiet the mind and rejuvenate the soul.