Fit or Fiction: Revealing long-held fitness myths

Fitness myth image

For decades, myths and misconceptions surrounding fitness and exercise have misled people and impeded progress toward their achieving healthier lifestyles — particularly when fitness products or methods have the imprimatur of influential individuals. 

For example, it was common belief that cardio was the be-all and end-all to both losing weight and living longer, recalled Joshua Goldman, MD, UCLA Health Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery. But while cardio exercise can indeed be great for the heart and lungs, subsequent research demonstrated that age-related frailty is a leading cause of physical decline in older patients. In the elderly population, strength training is equally as important as cardiovascular exercise, Dr. Goldman said. 

“Cardio was believed to be the key to losing weight,” Dr. Goldman said. “However, through exercise science, we’ve learned that’s not necessarily true. Strength training has tons of benefits, including weight loss, because it increases lean muscle mass and increases your metabolism.”

Myths about supplements

Another pervasive myth surrounds products that claim to target and reduce fat in specific areas of the body. Scientific research has consistently debunked such claims, showing that fat loss occurs uniformly across the body and is primarily influenced by genetics and overall body fat percentage. Nevertheless, consumers continue to spend millions on products that promise to melt away belly fat or slim down thighs. 

“Because people want the easy solution or a quick fix, companies will try to lead you to believe that what they’re saying is backed by science and research,” said Deviny Mo, general manager of UCLA Health Sports Performance, Powered by Exos. “It takes more than just one product or one program to get the desired results. Getting full body results comes through resistance training, metabolic training and diet.”

“Detox” is another area rife with unfounded health claims. Products like detox teas, diets and cleanses are touted as necessary to promote health by eliminating poisons from the body. But the liver and kidneys already equip the human body with a highly efficient detoxification system. “The notion that one needs to follow a special diet or consume specific products to detoxify is not only scientifically unsupported, but it can be harmful if it leads to nutritional deficiencies or other health issues,” said Mo.

There’s no such thing as a perfect diet

Consumers also ought to be wary of fad fitness diets, the experts said. From carb-free to fat-free, paleo to keto, these diets often distort nutritional science to fit a narrative that will sell. The result is a confused public and a diet industry that profits from the churn of the diet cycle, with each "revolutionary" diet plan leading not to sustained health, but to a sustained customer base. 

“Take the keto diet, for example. That diet was originally developed for people who had seizures or epilepsy,” said Mo. “In some of those cases, it led to weight loss, and so people began to slap a label on it, and now it’s synonymous with weight loss. But you can’t just pick up a package that says keto on it if you’re trying to lose weight. You have to do your research.”

Don’t believe the hype 

Social media has amplified the spread of health myths. Simply by association, influencers and celebrities, with their large followings, can give credence to unfounded health claims, and their endorsement of a product or diet can lead to a surge in its popularity. 

Rather than looking to such individuals for guidance, turn, instead, to reputable sources, such as peer-reviewed journals, public health departments and certified health professionals. 

Many myths are purely the relic of outdated information. “Many of today’s myths at one time appeared to be true,” Dr. Goldman said. “However, with more advanced research, we have learned otherwise. It’s important to fact check and validate sources to make sure the information is true, and, particularly in this case, that it is also up to date.” 


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