Steve Blair and his many studies at the Cooper Clinic have found that overweight individuals who exercise regularly have roughly the same health profile as lower weight people who exercise, and a better profile than thin people who don’t exercise.
For many people “exercise” is a dirty word because it’s been a punishment, a horrible experience (hello dodgeball in Jr. High Gym), and/or the only reason they’ve ever exercised is a failed attempt to try to change the size and shape of their bodies, or because they think that they have to do it “exactly right” to get the benefit.
Many people look to “fitness professionals” to help them, but there are plenty of people who claim to be fitness experts without any training or certification at all (Jillian Michaels, for example, in addition to lawsuits for weight loss supplements, has had her credentials called into question by a fitness specialist in the LA Times) and they can say anything that they want. I can’t tell you the number of fitness infomercials I’ve come across that have made me want to laugh and cry with their obvious lack of knowledge about the human body.
I’ve been an AFAA certified fitness professional (the same body that now certifies Jillian Michaels). and while I did not maintain my certification I will say that I personally would never trust a “fitness” professional who said any of the following:
“work your lower abs”
This one drives me crazy because it shows a shocking disregard for human anatomy. There is simply no. such. thing. Your rectus abdominus is a single muscle responsible for flexion of the torso. This is the one they mean when they talk about your non-existant lower abs. The entire rectus abdominus fires every time you flex your torso. Your internal and external obliques are responsible for lateral flexion (side bends) Your transverse abdominus compresses the abdomen and stabilizes the vertabrae, and your erector spinea extends the trunk. Say it with me: there is no such thing as lower abs.
“[Abdominal exercise of the moment] will give you a flat stomach/6-pack”
We have to stop buying into this. The shape of your stomach is a combination of the muscle below and fat and skin above. There is no exercise that will target and change the shape of your stomach. The ability to have a “6 pack”, which is just the ability to have visible abdominal muscles, is the product of being genetically able to have/maintain low enough body fat for the definition of those muscles to be visible (which includes the ability to maintain the low body fat necessary and where you might hold your fat), and then doing whatever it takes for you to have/maintain that. There is a really great blog about it here (trigger warning: the comments are not so body positive)
“Lifting lighter weights with more repetitions will help you tone without bulking up”
Sweet merciful Zeuss can we please stop saying this. This myth is FRIGHTENINGLY pervasive and completely wrong. First of all, I wish that strength goals could be tied to how strong we want to be (ie: how heavy is the grand kid who you want to pick up?) and not some kind of “ideal body shape” but that’s another blog. Lifting a 2 pound weight a hundred times is basically a waste of time and energy, unless you are lifting it fast enough to get some kind of cardio benefit. You are either over-taxing the muscle enough to make it stronger, or you are not. The resulting muscle shape is a product of genetics. Truly “bulking up” is a product of genetics, a serious weight routine, diet, supplementation, and for some people even steroid use [Big thanks to reader Suzanne who pointed out that my original phrasing made it sound like I thought supplementation and steroid use were the same thing]. I often wonder if people would be happier if they spent less time worrying about having a visible bicep and focus instead on what they want their body to be able to do.
“Working your [thigh muscles, upper arms, stomach etc.) will melt the fat around them.”
This one just makes me giggle while realizing that way too many weight loss ads use the term “melt the fat away”. If you are a fitness professional, you have to have a wanton disregard for the workings of the human body to espouse this particular belief. No, Virginia, moving a part of the body does not create heat that “melts” the fat around the muscles.
If you want to be healthier you might first consider that health has many facets: behaviors, genetics, stress, environment, access. Obviously not all of these are under our control and no amount of healthy behaviors can guarantee health. So my suggestion, which of course you can take or leave, is to consider choosing movement you like and then do it several times per week and see how you feel. If you have more specific goals or want to get more technical than that then do some research and buyer beware, because people say some crazy things.