8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

7SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/20/2011 2:00 PM   :  112 comments   :  37,153 Views

See More: fitness, excuse busters,
Many of you have been trying to make exercise a habit. Some of you may have already succeeded in that goal. Either way, I'm proud of you for making fitness a part of your life—even if you're not always perfect at it. A consistent exercise routine offers so many benefits to your mind and your body, many of which you are probably already beginning to experience.

Now it's time for some tough love.

We all have our own ideas about exercise: what "counts" as a workout, how much we need to do, and how it benefits us. But some of those ideas are flat our wrong (or simply misguided). If you're exercising and not seeing the results you had hoped for, it could be that you're missing out on these eight truths about exercise. Now they may be hard to hear, but trust that I'm sharing them with you for good reasons. Understanding these realities will only make the habit of exercise easier for you—and help you get even better results from your efforts.

8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

Working out will always feel hard.
Exercise is work. It elevates your heart rate, makes you somewhat breathless, and causes your muscles to burn. It's tiring—sometimes exhausting. Yes, exercise does get easier with time, but it will never be "easy." If it were easy, it wouldn’t be exercise. You see, beyond just getting your body moving (which is great but will only get you so far), exercise has to challenge you. You have to work past your comfort zone in order to train your heart, lungs, and muscles to get stronger and fitter. Over time, yes it will become easier to walk at the 3 mph pace you started, but once that becomes easy, it's time to walk faster, which brings me to another cold, hard truth: You have to work harder as you get fitter. Think of it exercise as a challenge to continuously improve on what you just accomplished.

Not every movement or activity counts as exercise.
Let me preface this one by saying that any body movement is good for you. Whether you're fidgeting at your desk, walking across the office to talk to a co-worker, taking a single flight of stairs instead of the elevator, or playing Wii tennis—all movement is good, especially when you're just starting out. But here's the real truth: Not all movement is "exercise." The two are very, very different. For any activity to count as true exercise, it has to meet certain parameters, like lasting at least 10 continuous minutes (so those stairs you took or that walk from your car to the store doesn't count as a workout), it has to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level (that "hard" feeling I mentioned above), and more. If you count all of these "activities" or body movements you do each day as workouts, then you are only shortchanging yourself—and you could be hurting your weight loss efforts.

One workout may not undo a sedentary lifestyle.
Working out really matters for your health and longevity, but more research these days is telling us that simply exercising—whether 10, 30, or even 60+ minutes a day—may not be enough to offset the effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Just because you exercise doesn't mean it's OK to be a couch potato the other 23 hours of the day. Sitting, driving, working from a computer, sleeping—all of these "inactivities" make up the bulk of many people's days, and the longer you sit still, the worse the effects can be on your health. I talked a little about "activity" vs. exercise above. This is where those extra non-workout activities DO matter. They may not be true workouts, but they do have benefits. More movement is good—and that is how you achieve the benefits of an active lifestyle.

You're not burning as many calories as you think.
"Burn up to 800 calories an hour!" How often do you see phrases like that advertised on workout DVDs, group classes, and other fitness products? The truth is, most of these numbers are seriously inflated, and the average person won't burn a fraction of that claim. This is the case for treadmills, stationary bikes and other cardio machines, too. Those "calorie burn" screens can be off by 30% or more. SparkPeople tries to be a little more conservative with the numbers we use on our Fitness Tracker, but just remember that all calculators/trackers are estimates. When it comes to weight loss, you're better off with a conservative approach to calorie burn. Assume you're actually burning fewer calories than a tracker or machine says you are. A better way to gauge what you're really burning is by wearing your own heart rate monitor. While a general fitness tracker would tell me that an hour of Spinning burned some 600+ calories, my HRM (using my gender, weight, and actual heart rate during the workout) showed closer to 400. That's a big difference that could really affect one's weight loss.

It won't allow you to eat whatever you want.
A walk around the block doesn't earn you a brownie. That yoga class doesn’t mean it's OK to indulge in an ice cream sundae this weekend. How often do you "reward" yourself for working out by undoing most of your efforts with one or more dietary splurges? Remember, exercise really doesn't burn as many calories as people assume it does, so a single workout—even a rigorous one—won't come close to offsetting just ONE big splurge. Yet I know many people who justify their food choices by saying "I worked out today." If weight loss is your goal, you have to keep these splurges in check; otherwise, you'll be fighting a losing battle and never really get ahead in the calorie equation.

Exercise alone won't change your body.
This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions I see. Most people believe that simply by exercising more, harder, or with some "magical" combination (think "muscle confusion"), they'll get rock hard abs, chiseled arms, and toned legs. WRONG. Exercise will not change your body much at all unless you are also cutting calories. To really change your physique, you have to do both: watch your diet, consumer fewer calories than you burn, and exercise with a combination of cardio and strength training. Same goes for dieting. Cutting calories will result in some weight loss, but your body will not necessarily look more cut or toned if exercise isn't also part of your plan.

You have to do it forever.
A lot of people don't like to exercise, but they manage to stick with it in order to lose weight. Once they reach that goal, it becomes easier to slack off and then lose the habit entirely. But whether your goal is to lose weight, look better, improve your health, or just plain feel good, you're only going to reach—and maintain—that result by continuing to exercise after you reach that goal. The benefits of exercise are quickly lost, too. You actually lose your strength and endurance far faster than it took to build up (unfair, right?). You can lose muscle strength in just a couple weeks off from pumping iron, and cardiovascular endurance? It starts diminishing when you rest just 2 days! This is why it's important to find a routine that you enjoy and can stick with for the long haul.

Routine is the exercise enemy.
I love routine as much as the next person, but the gym is not the place for it. For the best results, you have to change up your workouts often. This is good because it can help prevent boredom so you'll stick with it, but also prevent plateaus in your progress. For creatures of habit, or exercisers who lack creativity, it can be a real challenge. There are tons of ways you can mix up your workouts without becoming a gym rat or earning a personal training certification. The important thing is that you do it. Don't let your workouts become stale, and don't let your muscles get too conditioned to doing the same old thing for months on end. That's why lifelong exercisers are always reaching for new goals and trying new things. Not only is it fun, but it challenges their bodies in new ways so they always stay fit—and have fun doing it.


There you have it. Sometimes the facts are hard to hear, but ultimately, the truth can be liberating—and help you really become your best in the gym and in life.

What do you think about these truths? Were any of them hard to hear? Would you add any more exercise truths to this list?

Follow thecoachnicole on Twitter



Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
 

NEXT ENTRY >   A Letter to My Younger Self

Great Stories from around the Web

Comments

  • 112
    Loved this article Coach Nicole. We covered it in our SparkLive! Class sessions this week, and we had some really good discussions from it. Our minds believe what we tell them, and fooling ourselves hurts the weight loss progress. I challenged myself this week more than ever, and have revamped some of my goals again. Thank you! - 7/22/2012   10:52:41 AM
  • 111
    Thank you for saying ALL OF THESE THINGS. I've known them for a long time, but I always feel like a jerk when I say it to fitness newbies who don't do the work, then complain about never seeing results. Now I don't have to say anything! Yay! - 1/24/2012   1:02:48 PM
  • CBROOKS777
    110
    I love this article! This is exactly what I need to hear- give it to me straight. I don't like exercise and I haven't found an activity yet that I love to do and it will get easier. But this is approach is better for someone like me, unlike the approach I've had from a few personal trainers. They promise that they will get me to love exercise and it hasn't happened yet. I have gotten stronger but I don't love it. I know it's something I have to do, like paying bills and taxes. - 11/11/2011   1:22:02 PM
  • 109
    Ouch - I know it's true, but reading it hurts :) !! Okay, okay, I'll jump on the treadmill tonight and pick up those dusty weights - thank u for the kick in the pants! - 7/12/2011   2:44:00 PM
  • DORKDOM22
    108
    Great article! :-) Interesting read. - 7/9/2011   5:10:52 PM
  • 107
    These facts may be true, but George is right, if one doesn't find some activity they enjoy doing they won't stay with it.

    I realized that when I was (am still am) struggling to find SOMETHING I enjoy and a saw a cowoker who absolutely loves to play golf. No one has to talk him into going to the golf course, we tease him because he spends ALL of his free time playing golf.

    That's what I'm looking for, an activity that I don't have to MAKE myself do. I just do it because I enjoy it. The health benefits will follow naturally. - 7/3/2011   5:01:24 PM
  • 106
    Awesome blog post Nicole. You are my inspiration. Your videos are awesome and really keep me going. Since I can watch them on my phone, I can do them anywhere! Thank you from the bottom of this former couch potato's heart. - 6/29/2011   10:21:14 AM
  • BALLANDCHAIN08
    105
    Interesting post. I was just talking to my husband about changing up routines today. I have better results this time around because I'm not only sticking to the elliptical like I did last time. I also had no idea that you lose cardio endurance in two days. - 6/28/2011   11:05:28 PM
  • 104
    Just starting out and these are some hard truths. Thanks for the motivation - 6/28/2011   2:40:06 PM
  • GEORGESTHELEG
    103
    I think you leave off an important truth, that if you transform it into a joyless grind it is not sustainable. What makes it forever is when a person finds the joy in it. I have no problem with any of it but I am afraid none of this is new. I would never try to motivate a person with this list. I think an important truth is that each individual must find what works for them and persue that relentlessly for their own health and happiness. - 6/28/2011   10:14:43 AM
  • NEWATTITUDE2013
    102
    You speak the truth, but I kinda hate you for it at the moment. I know it lasts forever, but that's what kills me. - 6/27/2011   9:01:20 PM
  • 101
    When I think about it, I know that what you wrote is the truth. I'm a "skirter;" looking for ways to get around things, so it was tough reading it. Yes, those are eight "truths," but it is also true that living is a practice and my (our) attitude can tip the balance from Hard to Satisfying. Thank you for keeping it real. - 6/26/2011   7:35:05 PM
  • KHABENI
    100
    This article reminded me, my exercise and diet changes are lifestyle changes. I met my initial goals and then the military moved us, so I slacked off. I realized I've been allowing myself to over indulge while not exercising as my body needs. Thanks for the reminder! - 6/26/2011   12:48:34 PM
  • 99
    For me, it is easier because I love to be active. My favorite place is the gym. I've been at one almost every day since I was 18. - 6/26/2011   12:07:13 PM
  • 98
    A good reminder. And I really like the point about nutrition - you can't undo a poor diet by exercising. My friend found that out the hard way when he had a heart attack at the age of 46. He was a committed runner and a committed vegetable hater. His idea of a good meal was a hamburger - hold all the fresh stuff. If he wanted to make it "healthier" he'd add cheese. He had to change his ways in a hurry which wasn't easy but fortunately he's still with us.

    It can be a bit daunting to think that exercise has to get harder and harder for the rest of our lives. But once we've met our weight loss goals then the trick is to balance diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits to maintain a healthy body. I'm not quite there yet and I still enjoy challenging myself with harder exercise but I doubt I'll be doing that when (if) I get to be 80.

    For me, it was important to find something I really like - in my case it's martial arts. It's a great workout in many aspects (body, mind, spirit) and it's adaptable to a person's abilities. In between my three classes per week I still go to the gym just for the aerobics and strength part, but if I didn't have karate I'd be dragging myself to the gym. This way I always have something to look forward to. - 6/26/2011   10:00:56 AM
  • 97
    OK, Coach. I hear ya! - 6/26/2011   9:43:25 AM
  • MSTRDSEEDFAITH
    96
    It's so nice to hear the truth-it will never be easy, but it will make me feel better! I have already seen that to some extent. I look forward to gaining endurance and becoming stronger and more fit! Excellent article! - 6/26/2011   8:44:22 AM
  • 95
    Just makes you think....out now.....what...LOL.....

    Ohhh yeah thats what....get the butt up...and get moving! - 6/25/2011   11:03:48 PM
  • 94
    This was a hard pill to swallow, but so so true every bit of it and I'm glad I read it! It reinforced what I already knew (in the back of my mind) but chose to ignore! I grew up hearing these words "run every day and you can eat whatever you want". It's hard to undo habits that you have grown used to from childhood but this article reinforces that it CAN be done but it WON'T BE EASY and it will never stop being a challenge you just have to get used to it and make it (exercise, eating healthy and being active) part of our daily routine. Thanks! - 6/25/2011   9:05:01 PM
  • 93
    Yes -- and knowing all this can be accepted, tolerated, even celebrated as part of our personal triumph as we do our utmost to get and to stay on track -- again and again, if need be. NEVER give up for more than a minute: let's honour our life in the gift of a human form by taking the best care of it we can, as often as we can. Two years after shifting my lifestyle from more than a half century as a Couch-Patootie, I respect these truths and myself for hangin' in with my self-care anyhow! THANK YOU! - 6/25/2011   8:45:00 PM
  • TPETRIE
    92
    Thanks I really needed a wake up call. I think I am changing my workouts but I tend to do the same thing over and over again. I do find that summer is easier than winter because I can get outdoors more. - 6/25/2011   6:48:03 PM
  • MERLA59
    91
    Thank you! Excellent! And now off to a walk on the beach--Not pouring anymore! YAY! - 6/25/2011   4:40:41 PM
  • 90
    The part about being more active overall -- not just working out regularly -- really resonates for me. I *think* I'm fairly active in my day, but I also now think I have to pay more attention to that! You have given me something new to track -- this is great! Thanks! - 6/25/2011   12:40:13 PM
  • NEWMEBY1013
    89
    Yes, the truth is hard to hear, but I really needed it today. I only use dvd's at home for my workout routines, and i remember when the "easy walking" routine would make me sweaty and out of breath and a cardio workout was just out of the question. But just by staying with it and challenging myself I've added cardio.
    DVD of choice now is - Jillian Michaels Beginners Frontside - it's getting easier - I can get thru the 6 circuits where as before was a puddle of sweat on the floor after 1. Time to change it up. Thanks - 6/25/2011   8:10:20 AM
  • CYNNANE
    88
    Thanks! These are important facts to keep in mind everytime I reach for another snack, or think "I worked out yesterday, I can watch TV/read all day and not get off my butt!" :) - 6/4/2011   6:18:27 PM
  • 87
    This is overall a good article but I am living proof that the statement that "exercise alone will not change your body" is not true. Yes, it will. When I started exercising, my blood sugar readings dropped dramatically and I also saw improvement in blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol readings. Maybe exercise alone didn't change the outside much, but it drastically changed the inside. I think she meant to say "exercise alone will not change weight," but there is more to your body than what is revealed by the scale. True, you won't become "thin, toned, and cut," and a combination of healthy eating and exercise is healthier than just exercise alone, but that doesn't change the fact that research shows that the majority of people of any size who exercise are healthier than their counterparts who do not. - 5/27/2011   10:35:15 AM
  • FOCUSED4LIFE
    86
    This was a wonderful article. Thank you - 5/27/2011   7:31:40 AM
  • 85
    Thanks, I can see I need to continue to work on changing my habits and this helps move me in the right direction. - 5/27/2011   2:36:05 AM
  • 84
    One of the exercise truths you listed doesn't actually seem true for me right now. I have a heart-rate monitor (Polar - with the chest band), and it consistently rates my calories burned as higher than Sparkpeople lists for the same exercise, and way way higher than my treadmill does when I use the treadmill. I've been assuming that its because I'm fairly new to exercise and am just so out of shape that it doesn't take as much to get my heart-rate going. - 5/25/2011   7:03:26 PM
  • 83
    I not only believe that most of these are true, but I also believe that there are many people out there who share the misconceptions about them. The one that I take issue with is the last one, about a routine. What if the routine is to continuously try to challenge yourself within the same general workout template? For example, what if you keep running similar routes, but try to do it faster and faster? Or what if you go to Body Pump classes where the instructors select different tracks and you gradually increase your weights? I am in a routine consisting of mostly running, elliptical, and Body Pump, but since I keep pushing myself I think my routine is good for me! - 5/24/2011   10:57:32 AM
  • 82
    I'm saving this article to remind myself of these hard truths. Thanks for sharing. - 5/24/2011   10:42:04 AM
  • 81
    This was a great article and one I needed to read. I am famous for allowing myself treats b/c I've worked out, especially the ice cream sundae!! - 5/24/2011   9:26:13 AM
  • 80
    Nicole, thanks. In spin class today I was thinking it is supposed to hurt, keep pushing. - 5/24/2011   8:34:46 AM
  • BEVERLYMAC
    79
    Thanks so much for the info. Its sometimes easy to forget some of those "truths". If I were to add one more truth for myself it would be the importance of sleep. Its hard to get your backside in gear if you're not well rested. :)

    I've printed off your blog entry, highlighted the rules that I'm most likely to violate and posted it on my fridge. Thanks for your advice! - 5/24/2011   7:56:36 AM
  • 78
    Excellent article. - 5/23/2011   7:37:17 PM
  • 77
    I wish that I had read this last week. Since my weight loss some of my co-workers are watching what I do and eat. They ask me questions and listen when I speak about my workouts. Sometimes when I splurge I say things like ďthis slice of tiramisu will be worth the extra work out tomorrow" (or something like that). Now you tell me, that it doesn't quite work like that. I am not responsible for others choices but I don't want to give people the wrong impression if I can help it. The truth is you don't need an excuse to indulge, just call it what it is. - 5/23/2011   6:39:54 PM
  • 76
    My problem is I really do not like going to the gym, but I live in an area that has cold, snowy winters. I can't figure out a way to keep exercising when the snow is deep and the temperature is below zero. Now that it is warming up I am getting back out and getting busy. - 5/23/2011   1:54:09 PM
  • MIEZEKATZE
    75
    "What do you think about these truths?" That they suck! But I really needed to hear these right now. I've been away from SP for a few months now, and lost my sense of direction. Too many life changes have forced me to take up old habits. I kept putting off exercise, telling myself I'll do more "tomorrow." Yeah right.

    "Were any of them hard to hear?" This one - You have to do it forever. So true. I thought once I obtained my goal weight that I could slack off. I figured that the way I was losing weight, it made sense that I could eat a bit more and not work so hard.

    "Would you add any more exercise truths to this list?" Can't think of any more! - 5/23/2011   11:39:30 AM
  • 74
    Genius article! - 5/23/2011   10:56:48 AM
  • 73
    Good words of wisdom! The last piece is hardest for me--I do switch up my strength training and at least one of my cardio days, but for my other 2 cardio days, I love being on my treadmill. I try to switch up my treadmill workouts, though--a different HIIT pattern each time, or distance one day and speed the next. I hope my body doesn't start adapting to these attempts at adding variety--I love that running/jogging is both fun and exercise for me! - 5/23/2011   10:51:41 AM
  • 72
    Great article - 5/23/2011   10:31:05 AM
  • 71
    Great list, and so true!
    The one that challenges me the most is that exercise alone won't change your body. I so quickly lose sight of the fact that I'm also so affected what I put into my body, as well as other decisions I make. - 5/23/2011   10:07:09 AM
  • 70
    Great article, thank you! :-) - 5/23/2011   10:06:43 AM
  • DODDSE
    69
    There are true but we all know the alternative to not following Nicole's words of wisdom. I have been exercising daily since January and am shocked at how far I have come AND the fact that I like to exercise! - 5/23/2011   9:41:18 AM
  • REDSHOES2011
    68
    I wish the coaches would send this article to people whom complain about no progress in the exercise department.. It would save us others whom get the message alot of grief from people hitting us with the complaint button lol...

    Probably get hit with the complaint button for just sending it suggesting they are lazy between the lines lol.. Enough said, adding even more will have people feeling worse than already are.. - 5/23/2011   8:51:24 AM
  • 67
    What a great summary of crucial facts about exercise! Thank you! - 5/23/2011   8:24:00 AM
  • 66
    Great article! I think this is great information, especially for those people that count every little thing as exercise...I am talking to you who log in 500+ minutes of exercise a day by charting light cleaning and that walk from your car to the front door. Really, just because you are logging points doesn't mean you are losing pounds. - 5/23/2011   5:39:25 AM
  • 65
    well coach you know that would discourage a lot of people from doing anything because it makes it so complicated had i read that when i weighed 378 i would have been a quitter maybe some people can only move in chairs and i have been known to count butt-walking the stairs as exercise when my leg was broken and today yes today 105 and holding for over two years now and still here at sparkpeople and still counting the stairs about 20 trips through the day on 16 steps 32 round trip and that totals 640 steps even if they are not all done in a few minutes they are counted they are the same steps you get in class and my continued maintenance tells me that for sure
    the lady mary - 5/23/2011   1:22:20 AM
  • 64
    I'm really struggling with exercise after an extended period of depression accompanied by a high level of stress and anxiety. It seems much more difficult to re-establish healthy habits than it was to establish them in the first place. I really needed this challenge, and will probably need to read this article again and again. Thank you for the cold, hard truths. - 5/22/2011   8:00:13 PM
  • 63
    I am learning what exercises benefit me the most (although all exercise is better than none) I am also aware of what I need post-exercise nutritionally. My husband and I did many 5 and 10 K races (then...blew out the knee...then...needed spinal fusion) so we always ate mini bagels and a banana or orange afterwords. I am aiming to get back into my 5 and 10 K's. - 5/22/2011   7:27:50 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


Join SparkPeople.com

x Lose 10 Pounds by January 9! Get a FREE Personalized Plan