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Three fitness myths busted

Our fitness expert Tom Berry shares his insights.

There are many myths in the fitness industry that are unhelpful. In this piece, I have chosen to discuss three of my least favourite.

Your fitness declines with age

Your fitness doesn't have to decline with age
Your fitness doesn't have to decline with age

I have trained some very fit men and women in the second halves of their lives. I’ve also been overtaken many times, when running and cycling, by men and women twice my age. In terms of our physical potential, it’s clear that most people peak in their 20s. This is evident from the average age of Olympians. However, very few people reach their physical potential at their peak, and so it is possible to be fitter in your 60s than you were in your 20s.

Much of the decline in fitness that people experience with age is due to a lack of activity. When we are young, we are generally much more active than when we grow up and have families and stressful careers (although unfortunately, even young people are spending more and more time in front of screens). Much of this activity is structured, like sports in the evenings, and much of it is recreational, like football during lunch breaks at school and cycling to see friends.

Your body inevitably accumulates wear and tear through life. Major injuries will of course hamper your ability to exercise, but with diligent rehabilitation, these injuries can be very well managed. From experience, many minor aches and pains can disappear entirely with regular exercise, particularly those aches and pains associated with sitting at a desk all day, hunched over a keyboard.

I recommend that people approach their fitness positively as they age. Declining fitness is not inevitable, and your body is capable of amazing things in the second half of your life.

2. Go hard or go home

You don't have to train until you drop
You don't have to train until you drop

Some of the fittest people I have trained do not smash their bodies every time they train. One of my favourite adages is that consistent good training always trumps inconsistent excellent training. The fittest people exercise to a good standard week-in and week-out. They do not approach every training session like an Olympic final for 3 weeks before running out of enthusiasm and giving up for 3 months. As for vomiting during a training session, this is not a badge of honour, it is not a training objective, and it’s not cool to have a bucket in the corner of your gym. Training too intensely just compromises your ability to recover sufficiently for your next training session.

For most of human history, we have been very active at a low intensity. Household chores were all manual, we had to walk everywhere, and we had to go out foraging or hunting for food. There are people in the fitness industry who pedal high-intensity fitness training and wish to believe that we have evolved to have rippling abs, huge biceps and a penchant for burpees. We haven’t. Our prehistoric ancestors would have been lean, resilient and efficient, like the hunter-gatherers who still exist in places like the Amazon rainforest.

3. It’s possible to look like an Instagram model

Don't expect to look like an Instagram model
Don't expect to look like an Instagram model

Many social media stars, and Hollywood actors and actresses, have careers built around looking incredibly fit. They have the best trainers, the best facilities, fantastic genetics and plenty of time to train. These individuals also have their tricks and cheats, like clever photography, top-notch photo editing, performance-enhancing drugs and cosmetic surgery.

There is no harm in being inspired by the comic-book physiques of male Hollywood actors, or the perfectly sculpted buttocks of an Instagram model. Regular exercise and a good diet (along with good stress-management and sleep habits) will make you look leaner, more athletic and healthier, but have realistic expectations of what your body will look like. There are also many great reasons to exercise and looking good is only one of them.

Now read: How to get a balanced strength training workout

Tom Berry is the Cambridge-based personal fitness trainer behind To Be Personal Training - tobept.com.

You can read more from Tom every month in the Cambridge Independent.

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