It’s no secret that in order to get in better shape (i.e., lose some extra body fat and improve your general fitness) you have to make lifestyle changes. As the saying goes, do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. But many people still fail when attempting to get fit, not because they didn’t change their lifestyles, but because the lifestyle changes they made were unrealistic and misguided. Read on to discover four things people often mistakenly think they need to do in order to get into better shape, why those things don’t work and what you should be doing instead.
1. You DON’T Have to Follow a Fitness Fad
Workout trends come in to and fall out of popularity like clothing styles. And every new workout claims to be better than the last, demonstrating why what’s popular is usually based more on marketing than on science. Not only do you not have to follow the latest workout trends in order to get into better shape, it’s misguided to do so. Regardless of what’s currently “in style,” you should follow workout strategies that are based on the scientifically backed exercise principles that have repeatedly been shown to produce the results you’re after. For example, if you’re looking lose body fat, you must regularly be burning more calories than you consume, which is called being in a caloric deficit. So monitor what you’re eating (see below for more nutrition advice) and make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of cardio or resistance training on most days of the week.
2. You DON’T Need to Go On a Super-Restrictive Diet
In every fad diet there's always a specific "enemy." If it’s not a type of macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, etc.), it’s a type of food or a list of what’s off limits. Interestingly, some of the foods that are on the no-no list of one magic-bullet, cure-all diet are emphasized as “good” in a different magic-bullet diet. If this isn’t enough to highlight why these types of restrictive diets are based mainly on great marketing, keep in mind that -- just like workout trends -- every few years there’s a new diet claiming to be better than the last. It’s no wonder these diets never seem to gain any credibility among the legitimate medical and scientific community.
So what does work? In addition to practicing moderation, follow your personal preferences when it comes to your diet because this determines long-term adherence. “The research to date has shown that there are multiple dietary approaches that work,” says Marie Spano, RD, a sports nutritionist who works with many professional, Olympic and college athletes. “As the debate about macronutrient content is going on, keep in mind that the most important factor that will determine fat loss and improved health outcomes on any diet is adherence. So choose the diet plan that you can stick with until the weight comes off.”
3. You DON’T Need to Take a “Miracle” Supplement
Put simply, although there are some supplements that have been scientifically validated to aid in health and performance, there is no supplement you need to take in order to improve your general health and physical appearance. The two things you do need to do, however, are:
1. Consume a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and high-quality protein, while limiting refined sugars, junk food, hydrogenated oils and alcohol.
2. Participate in some form of physical activity.
You most likely already knew those two things, but the goal of marketing is to make you think you need something more — like a special supplement. “There’s nothing very professional or proprietary about ‘eat your greens,’ so they have had to push things further,” Dr. Ben Goldacre, author of "Bad Science," says of supplement companies. “They have to manufacture complications to justify the existence of their profession. But, unfortunately for them, the technical, confusing, overcomplicated, tinkering interventions that they promote -- the enzymes, the exotic berries -- are very frequently not supported by convincing evidence.”
In addition to practicing better eating habits and regularly enjoying physical activity, there are a few supplements scientifically proven safe and effective that can aid you in getting into better shape. Two of those are protein and caffeine. A quality protein powder can serve as the protein part of a meal, a snack or a pre- or post-workout shake. And if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll love to hear that research has shown that caffeine can increase endurance, blunt pain and burn more fat.
According to Jose Antonio, Ph.D., CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, “No one ‘needs’ to consume dietary supplements for sports. But don’t confuse ‘need’ with the better question of whether a supplement will help you achieve a particular goal. For example, if you aren’t a fish eater, how else will you get the right amount of the omega-3 fatty acids? If you’re vegan, how will you get enough creatine, a substance that helps both the brain and your skeletal muscles? Supplements, of course. Supplements should be used judiciously as an adjunct to great training and a balanced diet.”
4. You DON’T Have to Be a Gym Rat or Do Extreme Workouts
It’s commonly thought that in order to get into better shape, people must either work out 24/7 or do extreme routines like the ones we see athletes and bodybuilders doing in magazines and on television. This is simply not true.
If you’re trying to become a bodybuilder or a high-level athlete, you must exercise like one. However, if you’re someone who’s interested in simply getting into shape, you certainly don’t need to become a “health nut” who lives in the gym or does extreme workouts.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology investigated the long-term effects of running as leisure-time physical activity on mortality. The researchers in this study found that running, even five to 10 minutes a day and at slow speeds (less than six miles per hour) is “associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”
Extending life expectancy isn’t the only thing that should motivate sedentary individuals to begin some light running. Exercise also has specific positive effects on the brain.
Scientists once thought that our brains stopped producing new cells early in life, but more recently it’s been discovered that we continue to manufacture new brain cells throughout our life. And the most potent natural stimulant of brain growth is -- you guessed it -- physical exercise. In a 2011 study published in Physiology & Behavior, researchers found that exercise increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in mice. BDNF not only stimulates the production of new brain cells and neurons, it also promotes their survival. Exercise generates neurons specifically in the hippocampus, an organ associated with memory, and these new neurons have been demonstrated to enhance learning.
Moderate physical activity seems to improve learning and thinking at all ages. In a large five-year study published in the Archives of Neurology, physical activity in later years was associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general. Another study concluded that if exercise began by early middle age, it reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s even further.
And studies dating back to 1981 have concluded that not only can regular exercise improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression, but it may also play a supporting role in treating severe depression. Other research has even found that exercise’s effects lasted longer than those of antidepressants.
In regard to anxiety, research has shown that physical exercise reduces anxiety in humans by causing remodeling to takes place in the brains of people who work out. This evidence suggests that active people might be less susceptible to certain undesirable aspects of stress and anxiety than those of sedentary people.
But remember, you don’t need a crazy workout routine to reap all the benefits of exercise. Just get moving and keep improving.