Source: Health, The Singapore's Women's Weekly, 22 November 2018 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

“Exercise converts fats into muscles!” “Doing weights will make women bulkier.” Do these sound familiar to you? Whether you’ve been exercising regularly or not, you’ve probably fallen into the trap of believing fitness fairytales and false claims that promise quick fixes and could be doing you more harm than good. It’s important to arm yourself with a bit more knowledge that can help you make smarter choices and build exercise habits that are actually healthy to get you closer to your fitness goals.

To clear things up, we break down the top eight most common health and fitness myths that could be doing more harm than good and what you should believe instead: 

Myth 1: Exercise turns fat into muscle, and vice versa. 

This could not be further from the truth. In fact, muscle and fat are two completely different types of tissue, so they cannot convert directly into each other. When you’re inactive or live a sedentary lifestyle, your body ends up converting extra “fuel” or energy from the food you eat into fat, which increases fat cells, says exercise physiologist John Ford. What exercise and strength training does is help build up your muscles and reduce the size of fat cells in your body, thus changing the composition of fat and muscle mass. 

Myth 2: Lifting weights makes women bulkier. 

Just not true. “The average woman typically has less muscle tissue and produces lower levels of testosterone than men, which means we're less prone to becoming brawny,” says Expert trainer Tiffiny Hall, best known for her role as a trainer on The Biggest Loser Australia.

“Here's the shiny truth: when you pick up heavy things, your muscles get stronger, but not necessarily bigger. Paired with the right diet of healthy foods, you will get stronger, burn the fat on top of your muscle and get that long, toned look you're after. When you see female bodybuilders who look strong and well, bulky, that's because they eat, train and take supplements specifically to look like that!”

Myth 3: You need continuous cardio exercise for your workout to count. 

Not necessarily. While sustained physical activity is one way to get fit, interval training may be better for your overall health and mental well-being. According to the National Physical Activity Guideline, just 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activities a week can boost your health in leaps and bounds. Instead of continuous cardio all the time, mix in activities like cycling, aerobics, and jogging to reduce your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as reduce stress and anxiety. 

Myth 4: You can target fat in specific areas of your body to burn. 

It sounds ideal but targeted fat loss - also known as “spot reduction” -  is perhaps more psychological than physical. “Doing a gazillion sit ups a day is not going to bring you closer to having the world's flattest tummy,” Tiffiny reveals. “Sure, it's going to make those muscles stronger, but it isn't going to burn through your belly fat. Same deal for lunges and thighs, tricep dips and upper arms.”

If you want to lose weight or tone up a particular area, she advises a mix of exercise and diet to reduce your overall body fat percentage. 

Myth 5: Eating fat makes you fat. 

The truth is that your body only converts calories into body fat when you consume more calories than it can burn. This happens when you eat any nutrient, like carbs and protein, not just fatty foods. And according to the Harvard School of Public Health, diets that are high in healthy fats, such as avocados, salmon, eggs, nuts and olive oil, don’t actually contribute to excess body fat. This is because they take longer to digest, helping to control cravings by making you feel fuller for longer. These good fats are also high in nutrients and help boost your immunity. 

Myth 6: The more sweaty you are, the more effective the workout. 

“So you’ve worked out and you feel more accomplished because your t-shirt is drenched with sweat. It feels like proof,” Tiffiny says. However, the amount you sweat when you exercise actually has no bearing on the calories you burned during the session. “Sweat is the body’s way of cooling down, not burning calories,” she says. What matters more is the intensity of our workout, and not how many buckets of sweat you produced. Here are some fun fitness programmes suitable for different fitness levels. 

Myth 7: Mornings are the best time to work out. 

People often believe that exercising in the morning will help you burn calories for the rest of the day. However, the Utah Government of Health reports that your body returns to the pre-workout metabolism rate quite quickly, so you might only be burning an extra 10 to 25 calories after. 
“Guess what, the best time to workout is whatever time allows you to exercise the most consistently,” Tiffiny says. “Really, the only advantage for working out in the morning is that it's done and dusted before the day can derail any plans for shine.” 

While exercising in the morning does have its benefits, such as giving you an energy boost, Tiffiny advises women to find what works for your life, and stick to it. Here are some free morning, lunchtime and weekend workouts in Singapore to inspire you.

Myth 8: Scales determine your healthy weight.  

“Scales don't actually determine how far along we have come in our fitness journey, and they certainly don't determine progress or worth,” Tiffiny reveals. While it may be exhilarating to track your progress via the weighing scale, you don’t have to live your life by the number it shows. “Your weight fluctuates due to hormones, weather and water and doesn't tell an honest story. It really is arbitrary because as you train, you will gain lean, sexy muscle and your body composition will change,” she says. 

“You may not lose weight (on the scales), but you will find your clothes fit better and all of a sudden you have all of this extra energy. It's about focusing on the fit not the fat, so find some fitness goals and work towards them and appreciate how strong and empowered you are feeling.”

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