(even this fortune is a fitness myth)
Fitness Myths ABound
The fitness industry is responsible for a great deal of harmful, often incorrect messaging about physical activity. This information – and in many cases misinformation – can result in individuals developing an unhealthy relationship with exercise and may actually contribute to folks avoiding exercise or not wanting to pursue their movement goals. Below are five fitness myths we’ve seen in wide circulation.
Five common fitness myths
- Workouts when you attack or criticize yourself for not performing up to part or for not appearing the way you’d like
- Workouts when you push yourself beyond your limits because you’re trying to punish yourself for some perceived transgression
- Workouts when you force yourself to move despite being sick or tired or both
- Workouts when you power through pain (see below) or injury
- Workouts that interfere with work, connection, or living a balanced life
- Workouts performed to compensate for what you ate (this is a slippery slope toward disordered eating)
- Workouts in which you are abusing vs. caring for yourself
- Workouts you don’t enjoy or are counting the minutes to get through
- Workouts that actually increase stress, anxiety, and guilt
- Workouts that are compulsive
- Workouts, like all of these, that paradoxically detract from your overall health and well-being
I recently came across the following: “Definition of a good workout: When you hate doing it, but you love finishing it.” This simply isn’t true. A workout can be, and hopefully is, enjoyable! The idea that exercise must be miserable in order to be valuable interferes with us trusting and respecting our bodies enough to move them in ways that are helpful and healing. A miserable workout is a damaging workout, as the associated stress interferes with the health-enhancing properties of movement, promotes body mistrust, and can lead to poor adherence over time (not many people adhere to activities that are misery-inducing). In fact, one study found that those who enjoyed a specific type of physical activity were more likely to stick with it over time. This, of course, makes sense.
You’ve probably heard this one before. Maybe you’ve heard the quote, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Maybe you believe, as Jay Culter says, “What hurts you today makes you stronger tomorrow.” Not so. Pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong. If we ignore it, we might do long-term damage. Also, think about all of the movement that is effective at improving our physical and mental health but doesn’t result in pain. While some might experience a state of discomfort at times as they challenge themselves physically, pain is problematic. And pain isn’t necessary for progress. Workouts can be effective without any pain required.
Many individuals don’t exercise in general or on a given day because they have a black-and-white mentality about physical activity. Not enough time for the full class or miles-long run? They’ll just sit it out. But here’s the thing: any movement counts. Even brief exercise sessions can elevate our mood and improve our health and well-being. Rather than thinking of things in all-or-nothing terms, remind your self that everything “counts.”
You cannot tell how fit someone is by looking at them, and weight is not a fitness metric. Fitness is composed of several variables, including cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. There are people who are thin and sedentary and people who are fat and fit. Big Fat Lies, written by exercise physiologist Dr. Glenn Gaesser, does a good job at uncoupling fitness and weight. Appearance (and specifically weight) isn’t a proxy for fitness. Check out the work of Ragen Chastain for more on this idea.
The Buddha says, “To keep the body in good health is a duty. . . otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” The Buddha’s an interesting one to challenge, but we believe that fitness is a privilege, not a duty, and that we’re able to have strong minds without strong bodies and vice versa. That person who is tired, under-resourced, or disabled? That doesn’t mean she lacks character. The one who exercises compulsively to the point of poor life balance? We wouldn’t call that mental health.