Forget everything you thought you knew about getting fit. Outdated advice abounds—and may keep you from getting the smartest, safest workout. And getting your body beach-ready can be surprisingly easy: Several new studies show that moderate exercise—not pushing yourself to the limit—is the best prescription for better health and a longer life.
In fact, one recent study found that working out as little as 15 minutes a day—or 92 minutes a week—lengthens life by three years, compared to people who are sedentary. Want to add four years to your life? Exercise 30 minutes daily at a comfortable pace.
Here are 7 fitness rules that are meant to flouted—and new ones backed by solid science to help optimize your workout.
A series of experiments shows that cooling the neck before working out in hot, humid weather can significantly boost athletic performance. Volunteers wearing ice-cold, strap-on neck collars could run faster on a treadmill in 87-degree heat than when they weren’t wearing the collars. You can get similar results by dipping a handkerchief in ice water and draping it around your neck.
Stay safe by gradually increasing the length and intensity of hot-weather exercise over two weeks, drinking ample fluids, and taking frequent breaks.
For years, sports nutritionists recommended “drinking ahead of thirst” to avoid dehydration. However, recent studies show that slight dehydration doesn’t hurt athletic performance or health.
A study by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa compared runners who did three two-hour workouts, in which they either quaffed a sports beverage according to thirst (about 13 oz. per hour), at a moderate timed rate (about 4 oz. every 15 to 20 minutes) and at a high rate (about 10 oz every 15 to 20 minutes). There were no significant differences in core body temperature or finishing time.
“The idea that thirst comes too late is a marketing ploy of the sports-drink industry," says Tim Noakes, M.D., professor of sport and exercise science at University of Cape Town, South Africa.
A recent University of Southern Maine study found that 30 minutes of weight training torches as many calories as running at a blistering six-minute-mile pace. Along with boosting strength and chiseling muscles, weight training revs up your metabolism for up to 36 hours.
High-intensity training is another excellent fat-burner, with a recent review in Journal of Obesity reporting that it’s more effective than other forms of exercise for flattening the belly, while also improving aerobic fitness.
A new study found that people who jogged 10 to 15 miles per week, at a pace of six or seven miles per hour, significantly outlived those who ran further and faster. The low-mileage group had 27 percent lower risk of death, compared to non-runners, while people who logged more than 25 miles weekly at higher speeds had no significant drop in mortality. The study analyzed the medical records of nearly 53,000 adults over an average of 15 years.
Another study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceeding in June, found that extreme endurance training may cause long-term heart damage in some marathoners, professional cyclists, and ultra-marathon runners. The researchers say that moderate exercise or interval training (mini-bursts of high-intensity exercise) is healthier for the heart.
To burn fat and improve endurance, typically, your target heart rate should be 60 to 80 percent of your max. However, the traditional formula is based on research in men and can result in a max that’s too high for women, according to a study published in Circulation.
The researchers developed the new gender-specific formula based on an analysis of about 6,000 healthy women ages 35 and older. And while the math is a little tricky, you only need to run the numbers once a year—on your birthday.
A study published in British Medical Journal found no scientific evidence to back up the notion that stretching before a workout reduces injuries or that stretching before and after prevents muscle soreness.
Other studies show that static stretching can actually impair athletic performance, while dynamic warm-ups—such as pairing calisthenics (like squatting and lunging) with running drills—improve it. Dynamic warm-ups also reduce injuries, a 2006 study found.
Custom orthotics are a billion-dollar industry, but there’s little evidence that they deliver more benefit. A study of military recruits found no difference in rates of stress fractures, ankle sprains, or foot problems in those given custom orthotics versus those who wore prefabricated inserts.
Another study found that prefabricated heel cups for plantar fasciitis (heel pain syndrome) actually provided better pain relief than custom orthotics, at far lower cost.
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