Editor's Note: When you see these three dots surrounded by a gray rectangle — 1 — you can click on it to get further information about the topic. Click a second time, and the message goes away.
As a fitness instructor who works mostly with older adults, I have learned that many persons still believe in and even follow many of the myths of the fitness industry of the 1980's. (Even some fitness instructors are still living in those times.) But, we know a lot more about health and fitness than we did 40 years ago, and research on fitness for older adults is growing rapidly.
When participants say things to me that are based on outdated ideas, I know I need to give them more information to understand themselves and their world even better. Knowledge truly is power.
Below are seven comments I hear quite frequently, in various forms. A short paragraph follows, going into a little more detail, and related articles are suggested for your perusal.
"I was really sore after the last class [or after another activity]."
You may be sore after class, but you should not be REALLY sore. There is such a thing as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and it is more likely to occur when you have not been exercising for a while or when you over-do. Muscle soreness after exercise class, in general, should not occur. If it does occur, it should be mild.
If you are experiencing muscle soreness after participating in another physical activity, the same still applies. You may not be warming-up properly; the activity may be too repetitive; and you may not be cooling down after the activity. These things can affect the results of your experience.
The secret of success is to exercise regularly, know your limits, and be sure to participate in all sections of the class as they are designed to prevent muscle soreness. Activities for Light Fit and Adapted Fit are evidence-and-science based. It is planned to help you work your muscles without making them sore — that means a good long warm-up, low-impact aerobic movements, specific exercises (in moderation) and a proper cool-down. Music should be appropriate and not deafening; it serves to stimulate your interest, not to damage your ears.
- Over-Training: How do you know when you're doing too much?
- Pain During and after Exercise: Should it hurt when I exercise? What if I hurt after exercise?
- Heat Injuries: Learn to Recognize the Signs
- Intensity and Duration of Exercise: Is One more Important than the Other?
- Warm-Up: Why we Do It
- What, exactly, does "core strength" mean?
- Why I Exercise: Confessions of a Fitness Instructor
- Why Lift Weights?
"I really enjoy [insert another activity] instead of fitness class, so I'm going to be doing more of that."
There are many other physical activities one can do and they all have merit — yoga, lawn bowling, swimming, walking, dancing, hiking, ultimate, soccer, tai chi, tennis, ping pong, zumba, basketball, badminton — and many others.
But all of those activities will serve you better if you do it in conjunction with what we do in fitness class.
Fitness class is designed to build muscle power, strength, and endurance. That can be useful to you in any other activity. It also is an all-round activity — all muscles are used — whereas other activities can often cause repetitive injuries. Other benefits? Balance training and brain exercises.
- Fitness Class Benefits
- Fitness Class: Too easy? Too hard? How do you know?
- Fitness Equipment for Fitness Class
- Fitness Instruction for the Older Adult: BCRPA Guidelines
- Fitness Instructors: What They Know and What They Don't Know
- Fitness Principles
- Skipping Fitness Activities: What Happens when you Don't Exercise?
"I’ve used [insert the name of any] product for years and it works wonders."
We call them “Old Wives’ Tales” and they can sometimes be accurate. But just because something is “old” or even because it worked for you, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone or every time. Each person is unique — their own special DNA — and that means that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” whether it be medication, exercise, or political ideas!
As well, many old wives tales have simply proven to be wrong through science-based research. Here are some old wives' tales which are known to be inaccurate today 2:
- Carrots improve your vision. [Carrots are a great source of Vitamin A but they do not improve your vision. This idea apparently started in World War II when pilots were said to have great night vision because they ate a lot of carrots. These rumours were deliberately spread by the British government, hoping that the Germans would not discover their new weapon: radar.]
- Catching a cold because you've been out in the cold. [Colds are not caused by being outside in the cold or the rain. Infections persist in colder weather because people are inside more.]
- Chocolate causes acne. [Acne is caused by the buildup of dead cells in your pores. It can also be caused by an excess of oil and bacteria. Chocolate has nothing to do with causing acne, nor does eating greasy foods (although it's not particularly healthy for you).]
- TV will harm eyesight. [Some early colour TV's emitted large amounts of radiation. The sets were recalled but the urban legend remained.]
- Spicy foods causes ulcers. [Doctors believed this to be the case in the mid-twentieth century; it was eventually understood that spicy foods could irritate ulcers, but they didn't cause them.]
- Feed a Fever; Starve a Cold. [It is never a good idea to starve yourself. It puts too much stress on your body. This idea comes from a time when people believed that disease was caused by either low temperatures or hot temperatures.]
There are, as well, many myths within the fitness industry. Here are some:
- You can target where you will lose the weight. [Not true. Working out will reduce fat, but you don't know where that fat is coming from.]
- No pain, no gain. [If you feel a sharp pain, stop exercising immediately.]
- Lifting heavy weights bulks you up. [It can actually make you look slimmer.]
- Exercise machines "beat" free weights. [Machines isolate muscles that are being exercised. But if you use free weights, your entire body is working out while you do each exercise.]
- Running on a treadmill is as good as running outside. When you run outside, you must go over uneven terrain which engages more of your muscles.]
- You can't workout when you're sick. [It's an individual thing. If you have a fever, don't exercise. But there's no reason to believe that you can't workout as long as you feel well enough to do something.]
- Sweating means you're out of shape. [Research has shown that a fit person will sweat more than an unfit person. With each workout, and as you become more fit, you are more likely to produce sweat.]
- Don't eat before swimming. [Eating before you swim is a good idea because it gives you energy. The myth developed when people were overeating before swimming.]
- Running beats walking. [Research shows that both are of equal value, though you have to walk longer to get the same results as running.]
"I’m never going to see another doctor."
I understand this sentiment. Sometimes it feels as though doctors don't understand what we need, and often they can't seem to find the answers. We have to wait a long time for an appointment, and then we feel they don't spend enough time with us when we finally get there. But we need doctors and hopefully you have one you can admire, respect, and trust.
Doctors are very good at helping with broken bones and medications for some illnesses. As we age, we really do need to see them. I know of a former colleague who refused to see a doctor, despite very serious symptoms. When she finally got the courage to go, it was too late. She had colon cancer and she died within weeks, but she might have been saved if she had gone to the doctor sooner.
"My doctor tells me that I shouldn’t exercise."
This is most commonly told to a participant who either (1) has an injury, or (2) has a condition such as osteoporosis. The problem is that most physicians are not aware of what fitness classes are like — and especially the fitness classes I teach. “No pain, no gain” is an old and out-dated fitness expression but many physicians think that is still what “exercise class” means.
If your doctor tells you that you can not exercise, talk to him or her about the class you attend and its goals and purposes. Explain what is done and how you are able to adapt your movements according to your situation. Many physicians today do not understand that fitness classes can and are designed specifically for the older adult. They need to know that YOUR fitness class is appropriate for you and your situation.
It is important, as well, to talk to your fitness instructor, your physiotherapist, and your doctor about what IS safe for you to do.
"I've injured [insert any body part] so I can't come to fitness."
What part you have injured — and how badly — can make a difference on whether or not you can come to class.
Upper body injuries — shoulder, arm, elbow — may not prevent you from doing most fitness exercises. If you have range-of-motion limitations, that can usually be accommodated.
Injuries to the lower body — feet and legs — can be more problematic as it is difficult to stand on an injured leg and also exercise. [However, exercising while sitting in a chair can sometimes still be accomplished.]
You may be seeing a physiotherapist while waiting to heal an injury. They may tell you what exercises you can manage and what you can't. They may even give you exercises that you can do — and you could easily do them in class either with the others or replacing it with something else that's being done in class.
You have to make your decision based on the seriousness and the location of the injury. But some exercise is still possible in some situations. Here are a few examples:
- injured shoulder: use lighter weights or no weight with that arm; do not force beyond your range of motion;
- injured elbow: depending on the severity, you might still be able to do all exercises with just one arm or a lighter weight with the arm that has the injured elbow;
- injured wrist: usually you need to avoid weights until the wrist is better;
- injured knee: you may need to rest it, but it's possible that you could do many exercises while sitting in a chair;
- injured ankle or foot: as with an injured knee, you may need to do exercises while sitting in a chair;
- injured back: this is one injury that may require total rest, and exercise may be too painful.
"I'm here to lose weight! How long do you think it will take?"
Losing weight is a challenge and there are no magic bullets. With a good diet, and very faithful exercising, it is possible to lose weight (many of you saw me lose about 30 pounds a year ago by doing just that). But.....and this is a very big BUT......most people do not automatically lose weight because they exercise.
Losing weight is all about "turning on" your metabolism. As we age, and particularly older women, the metabolism changes. To kick-start it again requires patience and a lot of time. It certainly won't happen overnight, if it happens at all.
While losing weight is a worthy goal, fitness class and being fit is about so much more than that.
- Metabolism, Calorie Intake, and False Promises: Getting Through the Dieting Maze
- The Aging Process: What to Expect
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.