Fitness: The 8 biggest health myths and why you should ignore them

By Rob Virtue on February 8, 2014 7:54 AM |

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Fitness myths have changed. No-one thinks crunches will fix a stubborn tum any more but too many well-intentioned gym-goers now think a six pack lies in a vat of protein shake. It's time to think again. Laura Williams tackles some taboos.

1 A four-minute workout is as good as an hour long run.

It seems there's never been a better time to jump on the micro-workout bandwagon.

However, longer, easier workouts are not to be overlooked. Longer, slower paced sessions are excellent for building a good aerobic base and slow twitch muscle fibre development. They also enable you to get a good workout without overdoing it.


Shorter, higher intensity sessions are good for boosting metabolism and fitness levels and perfect if you're time-poor, but not every workout you do should be a tough one.

There's also a risk of over-training, which can compromise immunity.

2 On the 5:2 diet, you can eat as much as you like on the normal days.

The 5:2 diet was the diet of 2013. While many found long-term success under the regime, others complained of feeling extra hungry the following day and overeating.

So can you eat what you like on a non-fast day? Absolutely not. All that will happen if you overeat on a feast day is that you'll undo some of your fast day's work and probably end up about even (if you're lucky) over the course of a week.

You will need to exercise that same amount of self-discipline on a non-fast day if you're to see those great results.

3 It's sugar, not fat, that's making your belly swell.

There's no doubt that sugar's the bad guy. But as last week's Horizon documentary found, sugar on its own isn't the problem. In combination with fat it's the culprit.

As far as both waistline and health go, fatty carbs like cakes, chocolate, crisps, special fried rice, mayo-laden sarnies, steak and chips, and hot buttered toast are the story behind the bulge.

4 If you do a very high intensity workout, you can eat whatever you like.

No exercise routine in the world will outsmart excess calories. The fact that you feel like you could eat anything after a tough session doesn't mean you should eat anything.

A lot of the calorie-hype of tough workouts comes from their effect on your metabolic rate post-workout.

But as you won't know how much this is for you, best to err on the side of caution.

5 Protein shakes are a great weapon in the battle for weight loss.

Protein shakes have become a popular way of ingesting protein quickly post-workout but, for the average gym-goer, they're unnecessary.

Often packed full of synthetic ingredients, many people find they're still hungry and end up having another meal or snack. You're better off getting your protein from meat, fish, eggs and dairy in your regular meals.

6 Eating carbs will prevent you from losing body fat.

The science behind this is still ropey. The main reason people lose weight on low carb diets is because you're so stuck for choice and the foods that easiest to overeat are forbidden.


An Indian takeaway means lots of chicken tikka and, well, there's not really an and. Pizza, pasta and sarnies are out and while unlimited bacon and eggs sounds great, the novelty of no beans, toast or hash browns wears off.

Carbs per se are OK - it's just the wrong sort in excess that will prevent you losing body fat.

7 Incidental exercise is as good as going to the gym.

Running up flights of stairs and getting off the bus a stop early are wonderful additions to a regular exercise routine. If you do enough, you could equal the calorie-burn of a couple of shorter gym sessions but the likelihood of you being able climb enough stairs fast enough to rival a structured exercise session is small.

8 Ignore the scales - muscle weighs more than fat anyway.


Muscle is a denser body tissue than fat but it takes up less space and burns way more calories.

If you're looking buff and toned and your clothes fit then by all means ignore the scales. But if you're not and the scales refuse to budge, look at what you're doing.

It's possible that you're training well and doing all the right things in theory but you may need to up your efforts.

It's possible to increase muscle size without losing body fat, in which case you'll end up growing overall.

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Simon said:

3 hmmm... And 6? Really? "The main reason people lose weight on low carb diets is because you're so stuck for choice and the foods that easiest to overeat are forbidden."

Bro science alert... I'm pretty sure science journals don't say that.

Explain how people on the same calorie intake in studies have burnt more fat on high healthy fats and protein with low carb, then high carbs.

Higher healthy fat diets with lower carb consumption have been associated with greater fat loss, even if people go OTT and are too afraid of carbs, few reasons people lose more weight can be upregulated fat burning enzymes, controlled insulin secretion, lower glycogen levels, lower blood glucose levels all of which I’m sure you know effect such things as pyruvate dehydrogenase and hormone sensitive lipase which are regulatory steps in the body choosing to burns fats or carbohydrates which will be magnified in exercise.

Also don’t agree with 3, it's crap food in general, eat hamburgers and a buckets of chicken wings each day, will do the same things, refined carbs, trans fats, fast food, low quality nutrients all combine into a total collection of unhealthy messiness

mike said:

#7 is wrong

I cycle daily, which is 'incidental exercise' and gives me more than an hour of medium intensity exercise seven days per week

regular cyclists typically have a fitness level 10 years younger than someone of equivalent age who doesn't cycle

needless to say, I don't go to the gym

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