View more in
Zachary Walston

3 Misunderstandings About Exercise

Posted by 
Zachary Walston
Zachary Walston
 18 days ago
Valeria Ushakova

One of the biggest kickbacks I hear as a physical therapist is exercise is only for healthy people. If you have herniated discs or arthritis, exercise should be avoided.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Before we get to that myth, we have a few others to work through. You will notice how they all build off of each other.

Myth #1 — Exercise is all about getting in shape

There are several ways in which exercise can yield beneficial effects for reducing depression and anxiety. Both depression and anxiety can have a substantial negative impact on a patient’s quality of life (QoL). QoL can be defined as “a state of well-being that is a composite of two components:

1. The ability to perform everyday activities that reflect physical, psychological and social well-being

2. Patient satisfaction with levels of functioning and the control of disease and/or treatment-related symptoms.

Many studies have demonstrated that regular exercise can substantially improve QoL in patients suffering from serious long-term conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

I am not saying if you are depressed or suffer from anxiety to just go on a run and you will feel better. Exercise may be the last thing you want to do and that’s understandable. It is an option that works well for some but not others.

Myth #2 — Physical activity at work can replace physical activity at the gym

Fitting structured physical activity into your schedule can be a challenge. When life gets busy, the five-minute Pinterest workouts can be alluring. The earlier myths showed you can get good results with small time commitments, provided the exercise is intense and intentional. But what if you didn’t need to worry about structured exercise. Good physical activity at work replace leisure-time physical activity?

Not according to recent research.

Higher leisure-time physical activity associates with reduced major adverse cardiac events (e.g. a stroke or heart attack) and all-cause mortality risk, while higher occupational physical activity associates with increased risks, independent of each other. This information falls in line with previous studies.

Research has shown occupational physical activity is associated with fatigue, insufficient recovery, and elevated 24-h blood pressure and heart rate without improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and health. If you don’t build in recovery strategies, a heavy manual labor job becomes an 8–12 hour workout.

Recovery is key to seeing results with exercise. Without a good diet and sleep habits, exercise results will be blunted. Poor recovery strategies are one of the primary causes of poor outcomes in my clinics. If I only focus on exercise and don’t discuss recovery with my patients, I am doing them a disservice.

If time is short, access to facilities is poor, or recovery strategies are a work in progress, low-intensity activity may be the best option.

Myth #3 — Walking provides minimal benefit

I used to believe walking was a gateway exercise, a good starting point. Research suggests, however, that walking alone is a great form of exercise.

A recent research study assessed compared walking to other forms of physical exercise. The results of this review show that walking is not inferior, but equally effective as intensive exercise across the board. It doesn’t matter if you define success as reducing pain and disability or improving quality of life, both walking and exercise help. Furthermore, similar results were achieved at short-, mid-, and long-term follow-up (greater than 6 months).

Walking induces positive changes in metabolic parameters — such as blood sugar levels — and psychological status. These are beneficial effects for people with metabolic compromises — such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease — and chronic pain. Walking programs are associated with similar patient satisfaction as other forms of exercise and people are more likely to stick with the walking program.

Walking won’t build muscle or improve sports performance, but it is a great form of exercise anyone can use.

Exercise is for everyone

I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t matter if you are fifteen years old and have low back pain or are 76 years old with arthritis, exercise is appropriate for all ages and impairments.

It doesn’t matter who walks into my clinic, I can use exercise to help them. Remember, exercise is not only lifting heavy weights. There are many strategies for exercising.

We can’t only rely on gym lore to guide or exercise decisions. I didn’t cover all of the myths out there either. If you want to progress and find out how exercise can help you, do the research. The information is out there. You just have to make sure the source is valid and grounded in high-quality research.

Some of the information will be frustrating to read, especially when it challenges your biases. I have experienced this frustration throughout my physical therapy career. While uncomfortable, challenging my bias has helped me grow as a clinician and person.