Seven big fat myths about fitness

When it comes to exercise and health, there’s a lot of dodgy advice out there (including plenty from friends and family). We explode some of the myths which might put you off or lead to injury.

1. No pain no gain
Aching muscles are only to be expected when you first start exercising or you push yourself hard, but pain in joints, muscles, bones and ligaments are not normal or recommended. You could be overdoing it. Start off slowly to avoid injury and don’t carry on if it hurts.

2. Stretching prevents injuries
It’s a bit of a given that you need to stretch before jogging or other strenuous exercise to avoid injury or muscle pain, but research doesn’t back this up. One Australian study of men in the army found that it was a waste of time. Participants who stretched before training sessions had the same number of leg injuries as the ones who didn’t. Meanwhile, a review of studies found that stretching made no difference to sore muscles either.

3. Exercise makes you lose weight
It’s true that muscle takes up less space than fat, and anyone looks better with a six-pack than a beer gut. But if you want to shed that spare tyre, then it will take a lot more than a fitness regime. You’ll need to combine exercise with a weight-loss programme.

4. Exercise makes you more hungry
Not so. Research has shown that working out doesn’t give you the munchies. One study from Leeds University showed that hunger was suppressed during and after exercise, with sporty types waiting longer before eating than couch potatoes. All the study participants ate roughly the same amount of food.

5. You’ll get fitter going to the gym than doing the housework
You might be surprised to learn that most of us can burn just as many calories doing daily chores, like pulling up weeds or doing the Hoovering, as going to an aerobics class once or twice a week. An American study of obese women found that those on an exercise programme lost about the same amount of weight as the ones doing “moderate lifestyle activity”. Both groups were on a diet.

6. Running is better for you than walking
Walk briskly for half an hour and you can burn as many calories as you would running for the same duration. You’re also less likely to suffer injuries from pounding hard pavements. That said, to get maximum benefit, walkers should include hills and try gradually to increase the distance walked.

7. I’m too old to get fit
That’s the biggest, fattest myth of all. Research has shown that even moderate exercise can make a big difference to your health and fitness. Aim for two and a half hours a week of moderate exercise such as fast walking, cycling or water aerobics, plus muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two days a week. That could mean push-ups or sit-ups, or a spot of heavy gardening. Better still for older people is vigorous exercise. Research has shown that it can lower bad LDL cholesterol and insulin, and keep weight down. But if you consider yourself old and unfit, check with your doctor before going mad.