THREE EXERCISE AND HEALTH MYTHS THAT NEED TO DIE
Debunking Fitness Myths
“Crunches are the best way to get a six-pack!” “Cholesterol is bad for you!” Regardless of how much experience you have in the gym, there always seems to be some new study out or a health “expert” who proves everything you’ve been doing wrong. For many, it can be downright frustrating to think the workout program you just started or the change you’ve made to your diet is now considered completely ineffective or pointless. Well, we’ve done the “heavy lifting” on some common fitness myths in order to separate fact from marketing.
HIGH-INTENSITY BEATS LOW-INTENSITY TRAINING
This may sound counterintuitive, but chances are you need more long-duration, low-intensity cardiovascular exercise in your life. These days, everything is about high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and how it’s good for everything fitness related. While it’s undoubtedly good for goals like fat loss and improvement in many sports, it’s not necessarily the best or only choice for cardiovascular training.
Let’s talk about the many benefits of longer-duration, lowerintensity exercise. While it’s the slowest energy system our bodies have, it provides the most energy for us to use. Because of this, it can improve our recovery from both exercise sessions and intense periods of exercise in general, like an intervaltraining workout.
One thing in particular that low-intensity training is excellent for is the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is part of our autonomic nervous system and activates our fightor-flight response when we are feeling anxious, and our heart rate jacks up. On the opposite side, the parasympathetic system is synonymous with a rest and digest state where we’re relaxed and have a lower heart rate. More extended, slower exercise bouts lasting between 30 and 90 minutes are great for getting our bodies to switch off that fight-or-flight response many of us are living in as a result of daily stressors. This often equates to lower stress levels, better sleep, and better recovery from exercise.
The biggest knock on low-intensity training is usually that it’ll make you slower. “Train slow, be slow” is a common saying in the fitness field with the main point being that the lower intensity training will negatively affect your speed and quickness. The thing is, though, that you don’t just start being slow from one type of exercise modality. If, say, you were only to do slow jogs for an hour and nothing else, perhaps there may be some truth to that, but that’s not the norm. A well-rounded program should have a mix of different training modalities, like lifting weights and high-intensity interval training, which will easily balance out any of the perceived adverse effects associated with long, slow cardio training.
What this could mean for shooting performance is actually pretty substantial. When shooting guns and rifles, breath control is important to accuracy. More inclusion of this type of exercise can lower your resting heart rate and improve recovery leading to better accuracy in both stressful situations and normal ones alike. Needless to say, picking one or two days per week to include a lowintensity jog can make a huge difference for you.
CHOLESTEROL IS BAD TO EAT
This is a widespread myth that has been around for a very long time. The basic premise behind low cholesterol diets is that eating cholesterol supposedly causes cardiovascular disease through the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which will eventually create a clot, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.
So, because of this, it would then make sense to reduce your consumption of cholesterol, right? Well, not so fast.
Cholesterol is actually an essential substance that helps produce hormones, cell membranes, and plays a role in cognitive function, among many other things. There’s some evidence to show that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol in most people.
Not to mention, a study done in 2009 showed that most people who suffer from a heart attack have cholesterol levels that wouldn’t be considered high. It has even been reported that as many as half of all heart attacks and strokes occur in people who have LDL cholesterol levels that are below the threshold for statin treatment.
What can you make of all of this? Cholesterol isn’t the boogeyman it’s made out to be. What’s worse, however, is inflammation. This can be a cause of a
whole slew of health problems up to and including heart attacks and strokes. This may even be the reason why statins appear to work so well; they can help to reduce inflammation. A recent article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine stated that coronary heart disease isn’t caused by saturated fat or cholesterol intake, but instead by chronic inflammation that can be reduced with lifestyle changes like eating a healthier diet.
Inflammation can come from many sources including sugar and processed carbohydrates like bread, soda, pasta, and breakfast cereals. The best things you can do to reduce your cholesterol are to slowly make lifestyle changes designed to improve sleep duration and quality, increase the number of whole food sources like fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, and seeds, exercise regularly, and manage or reduce your stress levels.
BLAB ABOUT ABS
Walk into any gym, and you’ll see many gym-goers doing any number of variations of sit-ups, crunches, and twisting exercises (oftentimes with additional weight) with the intent on earning their
way to a killer six-pack. We’ve heard for years that these exercises, among many other exercises, are a great way to work their abs. While these exercises may work your core muscles, you’re also posing quite a risk to your spine.
Research from Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, has proven many of these exercises to be just awful for your back long-term. The issue with twisting and bending at the lumbar spine (lower back) is that this is the area of the spine with the least amount of mobility suggesting that stability and not mobility is best for training that area.
Each disc in your spine has a tougher ring around it with a molasses-like fluid inside. When you do a sit up, for instance, the spine will compress and squeeze that disc forcing the fluid to one side and put pressure on the ring. Over time with repeated bending and twisting, this fluid can slowly work its way out of the disc and push on a nerve root leading to back pain.
As alluded to before, stability exercises that focus on resisting movement are the way to go. Exercises like planks, side planks, bird dogs, and the “stir the pot” are fantastic alternatives that don’t involve bending or twisting at the spine. Not only do a lot of these exercises make training safer on your lower back, but they also recruit more activation of deeper muscles than an exercise like a crunch when done with an abdominal brace technique. To do the brace, imagine you were just about to get punched in the stomach. When you tighten up, you’ll be recruiting four layers of abdominal muscles that effectively create a corset around your midsection and protect your back. This technique, combined with a full exhale, is considerably more effective at training and improving core muscle strength and stability as compared to traditional sit-ups and crunches.
So, there you have it. Some common myths around fitness officially debunked. While these particular myths just scratch the surface of all that’s out there, at least you can have peace of mind in knowing you’re getting current information on the topic. For other commonly held beliefs around fitness and nutrition that we haven’t covered, look to scientific literature or at least a reputable source to support any of the claims made. With all the misinformation out there, some fact checking can go a long way.
Looking to de-stress? Look no further than some lower intensity training. For most of us, we’ve placed far too much emphasis on high-intensity training. Stress is stress regardless of what it is.jacoblund/istockphoto.com
Your liver makes about 3/4 of your cholesterol. If cholesterol was bad, would your liver produce it? Believe it: High cholesterol isn’t caused by what you eat. In fact, your cholesterol really doesn’t tell you much about your heart disease risk.Cecilie_Arcurs/istockphoto.com
Health issues like obesity, strokes, heart attacks, and even Type 2 diabetes can be at least partially related to higher levels of inflammation.vladans/istockphoto.com
The more you can train your core to resist movement, the healthier your spine will be. The bird dog exercise pictured here is a fantastic spinal stability exercise that’s a staple in many spine health and rehabilitation programs.fizkes/istockphoto.com