A brisk walk, a bike ride, mowing the lawn, even playing with kids: all of these qualify as medium-intensity activities according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so, over half of American adults fail to get even the bare minimum – 25 minutes – of daily physical movement. When it comes to recommendations for muscle-strengthening pursuits – pushups and situps – just one in five adults meet the guidelines of twice a week.
For professionals who spend their days devoted to helping people get healthier, it’s not surprising – but it’s also not as discouraging as it sounds. “I’ve seen more people over the last few years starting to exercise more,” says Jake Heikkinen, a licensed athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Henry Ford's Center for Athletic Medicine. “But a lot of people don’t know where to start and what to do.”
Even worse, many of us are burdened with beliefs that almost guarantee failure. These health myths are widespread, and they undermine our best efforts.
The good news is that dispelling these myths makes changing your lifestyle easier, more fun and more likely to last a lifetime. Read on to see if you recognize any of these thoughts that might be sabotaging you.
“I don’t need a plan.”
Heikkinen sees a lot of exercisers drop in – go on a couple of runs, show up to the weight room for a few weeks – and then drop out when they don’t see results. But they’re missing a crucial step. “If you plan and you track your progress, you will see results,” he says.
“I can run a half marathon in four weeks.”
You might be able to but you might end up totally spent or even worse, injured. Heikkinen wishes more clients would replace a gung-ho start with smaller, measurable and realistic goals. “I will run a 5K in 12 weeks,” for example, or “I will increase my bench press weight by 5 percent over six months” are good examples. Even small improvements will, in time, produce good results, according to Heikkinen.
“I don’t need help.”
Yes, you do. Or at least be open to the idea. Help might arrive in the form of a friend who meets you several mornings a week for an early cardio class. It might be the trainer who evaluates you quarterly to offer advice or encouragement. The bottom line is that we all perform better when we know others are watching. No one wants to disappoint others, even on those tough days.
“It doesn’t matter which gym I go to. They’re all the same.”
Gyms are actually a lot like people. Each one has a unique personality. Some cater to muscly weightlifters, and others offer a single-sex, no-judgment sanctuary. Pick a gym that seems like fun, and you’ll want to go to as often as possible. Just be sure to verify that trainers and leaders are qualified and, ideally, certified by a reputable agency like the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine or International Sports Sciences Association. Finally, any training should start with a screening and assessment to take stock of your fitness level, including strength and flexibility, advises Heikkinen.
“I don’t need to lift weights.”
Stronger muscles add life to your years (and maybe years to your life). Yes, it’s nice to be able to twist open a pickle jar today but it’s even better to be able to pick up and hug your grandchildren when you’re 60. But don’t worry about embarrassing yourself on the machines. Just sign up for the free training that any good gym will offer.
“I don’t need to start now. I’ll start tomorrow.”
“There are all sorts of excuses why people say they can’t start exercising. I constantly hear people say that they have to work out on their own and then they’ll join a gym,” Heikkinen say. “But that first step is the hardest step. The next one is easier.” For Heikkinen, it’s less about the time you need than it is about the self-care you should pursue. “All you need is three days a week for an hour, and if you value yourself enough, you can give yourself that hour. We all get busy, but you have to be able to take care of yourself so you perform better in your job, at school and at home and are around longer. You owe it to yourself.”
Find out how to get discounts on gym memberships, fitness gear and other health items at hap.org/memberdiscounts.
Interested in running a 5K? Our nine week training program can help. Learn more at hap.org/5K.