7 common exercise and fitness myths busted by a pro
From the dangers of swimming after eating to the real benefits of sweat, we ask an expert to prove – or debunk – seven beliefs people have about working out
With so much information on the internet, it can be difficult to know whether you can trust all the fitness advice you read. We made a list of some of the most common myths about health and fitness, and asked sports scientist and physical education expert Lobo Louie Hung-tak, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, to sort the fact from the fiction.
1. “Exercise turns fat into muscle - and vice versa”
Fat and muscles are two different types of body tissue. “No matter what you do, you cannot turn one into another,” says Louie.
Some people may think their six-pack will become a spare tyre when they stop exercising. But what really happens when you stop working out is that the layer of abdominal fat, which is closer to the skin, thickens, while the layer of muscle becomes thinner.
2. “You should not swim after you eat”
This statement is applied to other types of vigorous exercise, too, but people tend to stress it when it comes to swimming because the possibility of drowning makes the risk much higher.
In general, it isn’t a good idea to do high-intensity exercises straight after a meal, because a lot of blood is needed to digest food, and moving vigorously, as you do in a workout, will draw the blood flow away to your muscles instead, causing cramps.
“Running around after a meal will give you appendicitis”
No doubt many children have been given this warning by their parents, but it is simply a myth. Food needs to travel a long way before reaching the large intestine, so jumping and running around after eating cannot possibly cause an inflammation of the appendix.
The discomfort people feel if they do physical activity after eating is usually caused by caused by an inadequate blood supply to their digestive system.
“If you exercise at night, you won’t be able to sleep”
In general, doing exercise at night should not affect your quality of sleep. But some people may find that the hormones given off during exercise affect their emotions, and this could stop them from falling asleep.
Louie suggests doing a little experiment to find your best workout time, by comparing how you feel after exercising in the morning and at night.
“Exercise is the best way to lose weight”
It surely comes as no surprise that both exercise and diet control are the most effective ways to stay healthy. Working out is very important because it helps to boost our metabolism rate and strengthen the immune system.
But Louie says that making smart food choices is the number one priority, as it is the first gatekeeper of our health.
“You gain about 700 calories from a bowl of lunch meat and egg noodles, but you can only burn 300 calories by running for 30 minutes. Isn’t it easier to choose our food wisely?” he asks.
“The more you sweat, the better”
People link sweating with exercising or even detoxing, but it reality it’s just the body’s way of removing heat so that we maintain a normal body temperature.
“Sweating is more like a feeling. Swimmers don’t sweat, but the sport is still [an excellent workout],” Louie says. In other words, you can’t measure how effective a type of exercise is by how much it makes you sweat.
“Running on a treadmill isn’t as beneficial as running outside”
Louie says both types of running have their benefits; it simply depends on what your goal is. Some people like to enjoy the view as they run, while others prefer to watch soap operas on their phone – either way, you’re still moving.
However, competitive runners shouldn’t rely solely on the treadmill, because the machine’s belt makes it easier for you to take longer, faster strides. To ensure you’re keeping a steady pace when training for a race, Louie advises running outside on a road, and using a treadmill for relaxation.