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During these stressful times, taking charge of your health is the key to feeling more in control of your life. Now is the best time to get fit, lose any extra pounds that might be hanging around, and develop the habits that will keep your weight at a healthful level over the long term—but first you must reject some persistent dieting and exercise myths.

According to fitness expert Tom Gilliam, co-author of Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy: The Simple Truth About Achieving & Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight, "soothing yourself with comfort food and spending hours on the couch obsessing over TV news reports won't make the economy better, and they certainly won't make you better," Gilliam told Dish recently. "If you want to feel more in control, take charge of your health. Not only will you feel better physically, your emotional state will improve as well."

“Here's the problem,” Gilliam explained. “Because we tend to live in a dieting-obsessed ‘quick fix’ society, most of us have absorbed some common misinformation that might actually be hindering our fitness goals. To really be successful, you must first debunk the myths that you might have read on the Internet or received as advice from friends or co-workers.”

MYTH #1: Weight loss is all about the cardio. While it's true that cardio is highly beneficial, you won't really see results until you add equal amounts of strength training to your exercise plan. That's because muscle burns more calories than fat in a process called protein metabolism.
He continues, "Quite simply, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn each day. Lifting weights is also critical as you grow older, because it will prevent you from losing muscle. This is especially vital for women because they are far more likely to develop osteoporosis as they get older. Women also have hormonal issues as they become post-menopausal that causes them to pack on pounds more easily. In short, keep the cardio but add the strength training. The combination will help you to burn the fat and calories you desire in a healthy and balanced way."

MYTH #2: Salads are the best choice for healthy eating. A salad full of fresh vegetables can be packed with healthy vitamins and minerals, but depending on what else you throw on top, it can also be loaded with calories. For most people, cheese, croutons, and salad dressings are a must, but often these salad accessories are high in fat and calories, practically negating the benefits of all the healthful veggies that lie underneath. "Many people don't know that because of all of the extras they add, salads at fast food restaurants can contain more calories than a hamburger," said Gilliam.

MYTH #3: Vegetarian = Healthy. When we hear the word "vegetarian," we automatically assume it's healthful. But the reality is that dishes at restaurants that are labeled as such can be deceiving to patrons trying to make a conscious choice about their meal. "Many vegetarian options replace meat with flavor boosters like mayonnaise, cheese, and dressings, causing the calorie count to soar," Gilliam advised. "Be wary of the ingredients in vegetarian dishes. Just because it sounds healthful, doesn't mean it is."

MYTH #4: Reduced fat means low in fat. It's easy to be persuaded to pick up items at the grocery store or out at restaurants that are labeled "reduced fat." "The FDA says in order for a label to claim a food has 'reduced' fat content, it must contain 25 percent less of the nutrient than the regular product," explained Gilliam. "If an item contains 10 grams of fat, it need only reduce its fat content to 7 ½ grams to qualify for the reduced fat label. So, while it has less fat than its original counterpart, it's only marginally more healthful, and may still contain more fat than you need to consume."

MYTH #5: Fresh is better than frozen. With an increasing number of products being marketed as "organic" and "fresh" as part of the current health food trend, it can be easy to assume that fresh foods are naturally better for you than frozen ones. However, we forget that in order for the so-called "fresh" food to get to the stores, it often has to travel long distances from its place of origin. During the journey, fresh fruits and vegetables can lose some of their nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables that have been flash frozen (or even canned!) immediately after harvest maintain their nutritional value until they are consumed. As a bonus, frozen and canned goods can be much less expensive to buy when they are out of season, helping you to stay healthier year-round.

MYTH #6: All fat is bad for you. It is true that you want to avoid saturated fats such as those found in fried foods, sweets, and full-cream dairy products. However, if you avoid all fat all the time, your body will be missing out on important nutrition that it needs to function properly. "Of course, you should never overindulge, but you do need healthy fats in your diet to be on the top of your fitness game," said Gilliam. "Great options include moderate servings of nuts, seeds, and fish. Keeping your fat intake in check will make for a healthier lifestyle than one with no fat at all."

MYTH #7: If you exercise, you need to consume a sports drink. While sports drinks can be beneficial for those individuals involved in long continuous exercise routines (lasting more than 2 hours) or working out in a very hot and humid environment, most of us Average Joes and Jills don't need them. True, these drinks have electrolytes that are critical for normal body function such as muscle contraction and heart function, but these same electrolytes can be obtained from our daily diet. "Stick with water,” Gilliam advised. “You'll get all the hydration and none of the added calories."

MYTH #8: You should work out as much as possible. If exercise has overall health benefits in addition to contributing to weight loss, the more we exercise, the better--right? Not so. Weight lifting should be done only every other day, three days a week. That's because strength training breaks down muscle, and the day off between workouts allows time for the muscle to rebuild. You should also be careful not to overdo it on cardio. "You simply need to remember to give your body time to recover from its workout," said Gilliam. "Consider taking a day off once or twice a week as an 'exercise holiday.' If you abuse your body, you will have difficulty achieving the results you are looking for. Keep in mind the new federal guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine when you plan your workout routine for the week. It recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week plus your strength training. It may seem cliché, but the saying rings true--slow and steady does win the race."

MYTH #9: Stretching before exercising is critical. It's no secret that stretching after a workout can be beneficial and improve results. However, the truth is that stretching before a workout does not actually increase our range of motion, as previously thought. "Warming up is actually a better pre-workout exercise than stretching," said Gilliam. "Great warm-up activities are running in place and jumping jacks. They will get your blood flowing and your heart pumping. Save the stretching for after your workout and look forward to maximizing your results."

MYTH #10: Your weight is the best way to tell if your "get healthy" efforts are working. Many people don't realize that taking their waist measurement is just as important. A simple tape measure can tell you what kind of progress you are making and can sometimes be a better indicator than the scale. "We've all stepped on a scale that won't budge and wondered why our weight isn't going down even though our clothes are feeling loose," Gilliam explained. "Here's why that happens. When you first begin to exercise, two things will happen. First, you will gain muscle mass, which is good, and secondly, you will lose fat weight, which is also good. The increase in muscle mass offsets the loss of fat, which is why the scale has not changed, but your tape measure shows an improved waistline. This process occurs for about the first six months of your exercise program, and then finally the increase in muscle mass levels off or plateaus but your fat loss continues, which is then reflected on your scale."

MYTH #11: If you're sick, you can get better by sweating it out. Many people think that a great all-natural cure for what ails them is to hit the gym and try to "sweat out" their illness. "That's just not the case," Gilliam responded. "If anything, it will only slow the recovery process. And chances are you won't benefit from your illness workout in any other way, because your performance will likely be below par. The best thing to do when you're sick is to take a break from exercising. Allowing your body to recover will quicken your response to the illness and get you back to working out at full steam before you know it."

Gilliam concludes, "Successful weight management is really about education and mindfulness.” "It means rejecting the myths and making a conscious choice every day to eat the right foods and get the right amount of exercise. And there really is a tremendous satisfaction in making that choice. Once you realize that you can pursue and achieve good health, you'll feel calmer and more in control. Getting healthy is truly empowering. Whatever the future may hold, you're taking the best possible care of yourself--and that's a great feeling in any economy."

Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy: The Simple Truth About Achieving & Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight by Tom Gilliam Ph.D and Jane Neill, R.D. ($19.95) is available at your local bookseller and online. Check it out for a healthier you! / Issue 95 - September 2812
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