We have a lot of ideas about exercise. What it is, and what it isn’t. Often these ideas have come from our past experiences and even the experiences of others, but because of the way our brains work we seldom question whether these experiences offer conclusive evidence, or even if they are still relevant to our current situation. They are simply integrated into our beliefs and our being.
Let me give you an example. If you went to see your doctor about having an operation, would you prefer that recommendation was based on 10 years of scientific research or on conversations she’d had with friends and family?
If your last experience of “exercise” was 90s Step classes, 80s Keep fit videos or even P.E. at school, then you need to know that the world of fitness has moved on. Yes there are still gym-bunnies and Personal Trainers who want to push you “to the max”, but they are following a model of fitness mostly tailored to young men (or middle-aged men who wish they were young men).
I am championing a fresh approach to fitness and “exercise” based on recent research. It focuses on an active lifestyle rather than just a training plan. It allows for all different kinds of body movement and body types, and most excitingly for me, it places the emphasis on mental wellbeing and how people feel – not looks or performance numbers.
I’m calling it ‘Active Wellbeing’.
It’s time to take back the benefits of body movement and I’ll start by busting 7 common exercise myths.
- Exercise is hard work
No. Exercise can be hard work but that completely depends on what you’re doing and how much effort you want to put in. Government recommendations are based on 150 minutes per week of ‘moderate’ activity. This means getting slightly out of breath. A fast walk or slow jog will do it for most people, and there’s lots of other options if they don’t sound like fun.
2. You need to lose weight before starting to exercise
No, not quite true either. Above a certain weight we do need to be a bit more careful as carrying extra weight can increase injury risk, but there are two good ways to address this. One is by choosing low impact activities in the beginning and the other is by building strength which can better support the weight. There is always some kind of movement that we could be doing. The confusion often comes in when we start dismissing movement as ‘not proper’ exercise. If weight loss is a goal then you need to know that being active improves body confidence and increases adherence to healthy eating, so you could actually argue that you need to start “exercising” before losing weight.
3. Life is too busy to fit exercise in
This is a very popular myth, and we are all too accepting when people offer this as a reason for not taking action. Life is certainly busy. There is no doubt about it. But this is actually a reason for increasing exercise, or at least increasing the amount of physical activity we blend into life. When we increase our physical activity levels we improve our sleep, we improve our eating habits and we reduce our stress levels. All of this combines to make us more energised, refreshed and effective in our life and our work. When you feel more energised you can get more done in less time, and with less effort. It can be hard taking the first step, but we can begin with very small steps.
4. Only “exercise-type” of people can enjoy fitness
There is a persistent myth of the “exercise-type” of person. By this I presume people are referring to those people the see as physically active: marathon runners, long distance walkers, Olympic athletes etc. These are highly visible and often elite athletes, but they don’t possess special physical-activity-enjoyment abilities. What they possess is an ability to give something a try, build up their confidence and recover from set-backs. This is something anyone can achieve (the confidence – not the Olympics!). If you have never exercised in a confidence-building environment, it is not surprising if you don’t enjoy exercise, but it doesn’t mean you’re the wrong type of person, it just means you haven’t been given the right, supportive environment to try out an activity you enjoy.
5. Now is not a good time
Similar to ‘Life is too Busy’ comes the classic ‘Now is not a good time’. One of the best things I see about getting more active is that it doesn’t take long to get results. Yes, it can take 6-8 weeks to see the physical benefits of exercise, but if you go for a walk today, you will feel mental wellbeing benefits today. I’ve yet to come across a day or situation that wouldn’t benefit from a 10 minute walk, some fresh air and a clearer head. I’ve never heard anyone say “I had it all under control until I took that 10 minute walk and it ruined everything!” I’m just going to leave that there.
6. Everyone will look at me
I was once really sad to hear of a lady who really loved swimming but wouldn’t go because she didn’t want people to see her walking from the changing room to the pool. The saddest thing about the story was I realised lots of women feel the same way, and it’s not just swimming either. Some women won’t exercise in public because people will see. Some women don’t even want to exercise at home because the family will see. There is a worry that everyone will be watching, but you know, they won’t. Yes some people might see you, but they are more interested in themselves than whatever it is you’re up to. I completely appreciate the self-consciousness that can come with larger body size in particular, but these are your thoughts. In reality you have no idea what other people are thinking. You are guessing based on what you are thinking. I happen to know that most people seeing someone exercise feels inspired to do the same or happy for that person who’s giving it a go.
It’s not that everyone is looking at you. It’s that you are looking at you. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see a person being brave enough to give it a go, and inspiring other people.
7. I’m too old to start
One of the most eye-opening moments for me, in my Sport & Exercise Psychology training, was when I saw the evidence for improved wellbeing of active versus inactive people, across different ages. As you would expect it was always better to be active than not, but what was startling was to see a relatively small gain for someone in their 20s turn into a large gain in the 40s and bigger and even bigger gains were made as life progressed. What I realised was the biggest benefits of becoming active were available to those in their 40s, 50s, 60s and up. It really was never too late to start – just more important!
I hope this has given you some useful insight into the world of physical activity. Do let me know if it raises any thoughts or question for you in the comments below, and please do share if you think it will help others.
Wellbeing Life Coach & Exercise Psychology Coach