I saw an interesting New York Times article in early January: “8 Fitness Myths That Drive Experts Crazy.”
You can read the article here—you might need a subscription to do that, so I’ll give you the summary.
Writer Danielle Friedman surveyed a host of fitness experts and asked them about the most common myths they run into, and then she put the lie to the top eight misconceptions.
Among the myths: you should stretch before training, running is bad for your knees, and runners and cyclists don’t need to do strength work for their legs.
I won’t dig into all of them here, but one myth really caught my eye: Walking is enough to keep you fit as you age.
We all have older people in our lives, so I’ll give you some straight talk in case it helps you improve the life of someone you love. (Feel free to forward this message or invite an older friend or family member to book a chat with me at the gym!)
Here’s the truth: Walking is better than doing nothing at all, but once you can walk for about 20 minutes or so, more walking isn’t the best way to improve fitness and quality of life.
Older people should walk if they enjoy it, and they’ll definitely burn some calories doing it, but one walk a day isn’t a substitute for a fitness program that’s designed to improve strength and conditioning.
Walking will help you build a very basic level of conditioning, but to improve it further, you’d need to walk farther, walk faster, carry something, etc. Most people just walk the same distance at the same speed every day, and that won’t force the body to adapt and improve.
The New York Times article also noted that muscle mass starts to decline after you hit 30, and that’s a big problem.
“People can do daily activities with a minimal amount of cardiovascular fitness, but when they don’t have the strength or the muscle power to do daily activities, that’s when they lose their independence,” Anne Brady, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, said in the article.
You use muscles to walk, but walking is not a muscle-building activity. To build muscle, you need to do strength training.
Many older people avoid lifting weights because they’re scared of getting injured, they don’t know how to lift or they don’t think they need to lift. But lifting weights under the supervision of a coach is the best way to maintain and even build strength. An experienced coach can adjust movements to accommodate injuries, mobility issues, or other concerns, allowing an older person to work their muscles safely.
Yes, we will all eventually lose muscle mass as we reach our very late years, but you can fight that decline and maintain impressive levels of strength and muscle as you age if you train properly.
So if you’re currently lifting weights and following a strength training program, you are doing one of the best things you can do to remain independent as you age.
If you aren’t doing strength work, or if an older person in your life isn’t lifting, remember that it is never too late to start. We’ve seen people at any age quickly gain strength, and we’ve even seen older people add muscle mass. It’s amazing when they tell us they can stand more easily, play longer with grandkids, or do household tasks with less pain.
The New York Times has it right: Walking is not enough to keep people fit as they age. But if people combine walking with strength training and conditioning work two or three times a week, they’ll maintain and even improve fitness.
The next steps: Add in other general activities like yardwork or fun, and recreational sports, and support your lifestyle with sound nutrition.
That’s the prescription that will give a person the best chance at a long and healthy life.
So if you know anyone who might need some myth-busting, forward this message. Or, if you like, bring that person in to chat with me. You know me: I’ll answer every question and explain how I can help—because I care about the people you care about.
Here’s the link for a free consultation.