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8 Misleading Fitness "Facts"

By Steve Edwards

When it comes to our well-being, not much pricks up our ears like the word miracle. But when referring to health and fitness, the word miracle is generally synonymous with the word scam. That is unless finding yourself suddenly motivated to exercise and eat better is something you would consider a miracle. Other than that, miracles don't exist.

Salad and Exercise

At Beachbody®, we're always on the lookout for the next great thing. We analyze every diet, every workout, and every medical breakthrough that promises to reverse the obesity epidemic and make the real world look like, well, the set of The Real World. What we find, without fail, is that the only "miracle" breakthroughs are those that expand on what we already know—that only through exercise and diet will you effectively change your body and your health for good. Let's take a look at eight marketing miracles that fail to do much more considered miraculous than make their creators rich. We'll interpret each one and then let you know how each claim may have a positive effect on your life.

  1. SupplementsYou can get thin with a supplement. One of the most common questions we get is whether or not our programs will work without the supplements. Given how many claims there are about miracle cures involving a pill, this question makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that when we tell people that diet and exercise are the major components of our programs, they often become skeptical. We've been led to believe by advertisers that the reason we're overweight or out of shape is because there's a secret ingredient in some supplement that we've been missing. This, to put it a noninflammatory way, is not how it works. The obesity epidemic is the result of two rather simple numbers: we eat about 5 percent more calories than we once did, and we exercise about 20 percent less.

    This in no way means that supplements are worthless. While there are many shady supplement manufacturers in the marketplace, the reason that we have supplements at all is because they can be effective in keeping us healthy. The use of supplements goes back thousands of years. Traditional medicines were the original supplements. There have been many advancements in the modern world, but basically, those same herbs and nutrients that aided people's health once upon a time have the same effects today. But they weren't miracle cures in the old days, and they still aren't. This is the reason we refer to our programs as being supplement-assisted exercises.

  2. MedicineMedicine can make you healthy. Medicine can make you not sick, but it can't make you healthy. Along with curing us from diseases and injuries, doctors now inject, alter, and prescribe us into becoming healthier-appearing beings. Cosmetic medical advancements are indeed impressive, but let's not lose sight of the facts. The human body needs exercise and nutrients to run smoothly. There is no way to chemically change this. There are certainly medical alterations that can be done to change our bodies once they've been misused and started to fall apart. And there are drugs and other chemical alterations that can reverse certain conditions. But try as they might, scientists have still yet to come up with a way for us not to need to exercise and eat properly so that we can perform to the best of our abilities. We may be able to increase our natural abilities using medicine, but without the fundamental groundwork that is exercise and what we eat, no amount of medical help will allow us to live long and vibrant lives.

  3. Flat Belly DietYou can get ripped with the right diet. With the "Flat Belly Diet" on the bestseller list and the "Abs Diet" on the cover of Men's Health, it may be hard to believe that no diet alone is going to land you on the cover of a Joe Weider publication. Dieting can help you lose weight and greatly improve your health. But since that isn't what marketers like to spin, it's generally not what they pitch. The only diet that will give you ripped abs is a starvation diet. And that one comes with a lot of undesirable side effects.

    Many of these diets, including the two referenced above, are basically very healthy. But if you want your body to look ripped, you need to exercise and diet in combination. A healthy body can look lean but rarely ripped. A muscular body with too much fat won't look ripped, either. Only a healthy and muscular body can allow you to both look ripped and perform well. A starved body will be both lean and ripped in appearance, but this is not due to your body being healthy—rather, it's due to the catabolic state you enter as your body feeds on its muscle for survival.

  4. AbsYou can have a six-pack by only working out your abs. Ab work will make your abdominal muscles strong, but you won't be able to see them unless your diet is in line with your exercise expenditure. The easiest and quickest way to see your abs is to work your entire body intensely and eat well. The more muscle you add to your frame—your entire frame—the more your metabolism will increase, the more fat your body will burn at rest, and the sooner your ab muscles will appear. And, of course, the cleaner you eat, the faster you will make this happen.

    Six-pack abs—like most things used to gauge fitness—are a function of one's overall health and condition. They won't pop up on their own.¹ But you're also not wasting your time working on them. Your core, which is in part your abs, is the foundation that all of your movements are based on. Having a strong core is the single most important aspect to being physically fit.

  5. Small MealOne supplement can make up for a bad diet. We love miracles, especially when they don't require much work on our part. That's why we're always looking for a pill we can take that will make up for our bad habits. Supposed muscle-enhancing supplements have been available since Jack LaLanne invented the Universal Gym, but in the last decade, we've also been bombarded with things promising the opposite. Fat blockers, carb blockers, diet pills, cleansing pills, and so on all promise to rid us of something we wished we hadn't eaten in the first place. This, unfortunately, can't be done.

    There are many good dietary supplements, but heed the word "dietary." Supplements work along with the other factors of your diet. Nothing can even hint at offsetting a poor diet. In fact, one of the main advantages of supplements is exactly the opposite: they make the biggest difference when you're dieting already. Supplements are, basically, condensed nutrients. When you're exercising and also attempting to lose weight, it becomes difficult to get all of the nutrients that your body requires to recover from exercise. This is the realm of the highly effective supplement. Proper supplementation can allow you to eat fewer calories than you normally could and still allow you to recover from hard workouts, which greatly enhances your results. Beachbody's ActiVit® Multivitamin is a great way to make sure you get the nutrients you need each day to get the most out of your fitness program.

  6. CardioCardio is the only exercise you need. Cardio isn't even a scientific term for a type of exercise, yet it's still often trumpeted as the be-all and end-all for exercise effectiveness. This, in my experience, is often a cop-out by medical practitioners who feel the need to recommend exercise but don't want to risk being specific. Cardio as a general term means anything affecting the heart. The problem with interpreting the term is that everything you do has an effect on your heart. And although intense exercise works the heart much more than easy aerobic exercise does, it seems that most people define cardio as aerobic, meaning low-level movement. And low-level movement is not the only exercise you need, unless your physical state inhibits you from doing something more intense.

    The key to changing your body composition, staying young, and remaining healthy is to do short bouts of high-intensity exercise. If done correctly, this is all the "cardio" you need. It also promotes muscle breakdown and hormonal releases that have a pronounced effect on your health. All "cardio" training is good, including low-level aerobic training. It just should, however, not be the only exercise you do.

  7. Mueller Exerciser BeltYou can plug in and get ripped. Remember the old exercise machine that had a strap you placed around your butt that would vibrate like a washing machine? Back in the 60s, this odd contraption filled fitness centers worldwide and, undoubtedly, made someone a lot of money. It also never shed a pound off of anyone. And even though it's used in many gimmick jokes, we just can't stop trying to replicate it. If you ever see an advertisement for something that does all the work for you and claims you'll look better because of it, start searching for the remote. The calories you burn looking for it will exceed any amount you'll burn using the device.

    As is the case with most gimmicks, there is a scientific example at their root somewhere. Most of these modern contraptions are some type of electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) device. These machines use electrodes to contract your muscles while you do nothing. They were designed for physical therapy and work well within this application of keeping your muscle tissue from atrophying when you can't work your muscles naturally. So, yes, these machines do build muscle. But they lack the ability to stimulate anything near what you would do naturally. To keep the type of physique you would acquire in a round of P90X® would require you to be plugged in for most of any given 24-hour period. And if you're going to go to this much trouble, you'll save yourself a lot of effort by doing any 30-minute exercise video—shoot, one 10-Minute Trainer® workout will do a lot more for you than a full night on an EMS machine!

  8. Working Out with WeightsA single type of workout will make you fit. Beware of exercise that promises to be "the only workout you'll ever need." Even if one workout did cover all of your energy systems using each workout modality, it still would not be all you need. The reasons are many, but, primarily, it's because your body adapts over time to any exercise regimen. To achieve continued progress, you need to alter what you do from time to time. The more planned out this is the better.

    There is a reason that Beachbody designs fitness programs. For best results, you should train your body progressively and periodizationally. That is to say that you need to progressively overload your system as it becomes used to any one thing. Then, you should change the focus of your program to target various energy systems. By doing this, you keep your body stimulated and your progress curve will continually ascend.

¹ There is, actually, a medical procedure that removes the fat from your abdominals to make them visible. It does nothing for the rest of your body, does not help your fitness, and has potentially damaging effects over time.

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Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Thursday, October 16th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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10 Urban Food Myths

By Joe Wilkes

There have always been rumors spread about food. Remember the one about the Kentucky Fried rat or Mikey, the kid from the Life cereal commercials, who allegedly expired after washing down his Pop Rocks with a Coca-Cola? These, like so many, turned out to be apocryphal; but now, in the age of the Internet, it seems like there's always some story making the rounds about a grocery item that will poison you or a food that will miraculously cure what ails you. Here are some myths we were able to dismiss.

Local Grocery Market

  1. CarrotsEating carrots improves night vision. This rumor was apparently started by the British during World War II, after a new British radar device began greatly assisting in the shooting down of German bombers at night. Not wanting to alert the Germans of the new technology, the government spread a disinformation campaign about how the British pilots' love of carrots was the cause of their keen night vision. It spread like wildfire, and it has become a staple in parents' arsenals for getting kids to eat their veggies. Carrots are generally good for your eyes though—studies are beginning to show a link between increased beta-carotene (carrots are loaded with it) consumption and a decrease in macular degeneration.

  2. TurkeyTurkey makes you sleepy. It's true that turkey contains tryptophan, the amino acid credited for the poultry's alleged soporific effects, but beef, chicken, meat, milk, and beans also contain tryptophan, and they don't seem to make you pass out on the couch after dinner. Turkey's bad rap probably comes from the famous post-Thanksgiving food coma, which is likely not induced by trace amounts of an amino acid but more likely induced by consuming vast quantities of carbohydrates, like potatoes and stuffing, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine.

  3. Julius CaesarCaesar salad was created by or for Julius Caesar. Actually, despite what they might tell you at the Olive Garden, the Caesar salad is not Italian food. It was created by Caesar Cardini, a restaurant owner in Tijuana, Mexico, less than 100 years ago, not in ancient Rome. The recipe includes romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, coddled eggs, and Parmesan cheese, among other ingredients, but the original recipe does not contain anchovies—another myth debunked!

  4. Mentos in a Diet Coke BottleMentos and Coca-Cola, combined, will make your stomach explode. As any YouTube connoisseur can attest to, dropping a Mentos candy into a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke can create an effect that will give the fountains at the Bellagio a run for their money. However, despite rumors of Brazilian youths dying of burst abdomens, this myth seems to be another of the endless variations on Mikey and the Pop Rocks. There seems to be little evidence that eating any combination of anything generally considered edible will make you explode. (Although that Chinese food I had for dinner came pretty close around midnight.)

  5. BBananaseware of flesh-eating bananas! There was an email forwarded by many well-intentioned people not too long ago that asserted that the FDA was covering up the fact that several thousand bananas covered in germs causing necrotizing fasciitis (the flesh-eating disease) had entered the country. This turned out not to be true. A reverse rumor, that humans were killing bananas, has also circulated. This one says that due to varying explanations, such as climate change or genetic modification, bananas will be extinct in less than a decade. This is also false. So, eat your bananas. They're full of potassium, won't make your skin fall off, and there are plenty more where they came from.

  6. KangarooMcDonald's uses kangaroo meat in their burgers. This is one that's been around since I was a kid. Common sense can answer this one. While we wouldn't put it past the Golden Arches to put anything in their food, kangaroo meat seems an unlikely beef substitute as it costs much more per pound than actual beef. Although, adventurous eaters might consider adding 'roo meat to their diets, as it has more protein and about half the fat of beef.

  7. Chocolate MilkChocolate milk is tainted with cow's blood. This is a popular playground myth that milk too contaminated with blood to sell as plain white milk is colored brown, flavored, and sold as chocolate milk. Chocolate milk and all dairy products go through the same rigorous FDA testing process that regular moo juice goes through. However, the added sugar in chocolate milk isn't doing you any favors.

  8. Aspartame causes multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus. Aspartame, often branded as NutraSweet, has been rumored to cause many serious diseases. While we consider the jury to be out on whether aspartame is completely safe, there have been no reputable scientific studies linking the sweetener to MS, lupus, cancer, or any other life-threatening illnesses. However, it still can't be claimed as being totally healthy.

  9. Canola OilCanola oil is toxic. It's been rumored that canola oil contains the same toxins found in mustard gas. Canola oil is made from oil pressed from the seeds of the rape plant, a member of the mustard family. There is actually no such plant as the canola, but it's easy to see the marketing problems that would result in calling it "rape oil." This may have been one of the reasons scurrilous rumors have circulated about this noble oil, which is perfectly safe and rich in monounsaturated fat, the best fat—also found in olive oil and avocados. As for the mustard gas claim, while it is true that canola oil is made from mustard plants, mustard gas is not. It's called that because of its acrid smell, not its ingredient list.

  10. Red BullRed Bull causes brain tumors. As a favorite beverage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, it's easy to make a case based on anecdotal evidence, but there is actually nothing in Red Bull that has been linked to brain tumors. It has been banned in some European countries because of its high caffeine content (a can has about as much as a cup of coffee), but aside from the typical health concerns regarding any sugary, caffeinated beverage, Red Bull appears to be safe. Claims that it will give you wings seem unfounded; however, when mixed with vodka, it reportedly makes underpants disappear.

Related Articles
"Answers to Your Top 10 Diet Dilemmas"
"Don't Stop Believin'"
"Should You Exercise When You're Sick?"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Thursday, October 16th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom! Joe Wilkes

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Stress IQ!

By Monica Gomez

Feeling a bit stressed lately? With words like "financial meltdown," "recession," and "mortgage crisis" being heard a lot in the media lately, it's natural to feel stressed and worried. How much do you know about this all-too-familiar, and sometimes debilitating, feeling?

  1. Roller CoasterWhat is eustress? Not all types of stress are considered negative or harmful. In fact, eustress, as outlined in Dr. Richard Lazarus' stress model in 1974, is a positive type of stress related to fun and excitement. Examples of eustress include the thrill experienced on a roller coaster, the excitement felt after winning a race, the thrill experienced while watching a scary movie, and the happiness felt toward the birth of a child. And exercise is also stress—and that's definitely good for you. However, any type of stress can still prove taxing after a while on your mental and physical well-being, so it's important to allow for downtime to recover.

  2. What are some effects of having high and prolonged levels of cortisol? Cortisol, commonly referred to as the "stress hormone" because it's excreted in higher numbers during the body's "fight or flight" response to stress, has both positive and negative effects on your body. Cortisol is necessary for several important bodily functions: proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, and immune function. While small increases of cortisol have positive effects, including heightened memory functions and lower sensitivity to pain, high and prolonged levels can impair cognitive performance, decrease bone density, raise blood pressure, and lower immunity, among other negative effects. To maintain healthy cortisol levels, several activites are recommended: yoga, breathing exercises, and, of course, exercise! A healthy diet can also help maintain cortisol levels. If your diet is out of sorts, a fish oil supplement, like Core Omega-3™, can help your cortisol levels, too.

  3. WorkWhat are leading sources of high and significant stress in the U.S., according to a 2007 American Psychological Association survey? According to the American Psychological Association's (APA's) 2007 survey, "Stress in America," survey respondents listed work (74 percent), money (73 percent), and workload (66 percent) as the most significant sources of stress in their lives. Other factors were ranked as follows: children (64 percent); family responsibilities (60 percent); health concerns (55 percent); health problems affecting spouse, partner, or children (55 percent); health problems affecting respondents' parents or other family members (53 percent); housing costs, i.e., mortgage or rent (51 percent); and intimate relationships (47 percent). And 79 percent of respondents stated that stress is a natural part of life—with 32 percent experiencing extreme levels of stress. We at Beachbody® are familiar with the impact of stress on eating habits. The APA asked the following of study participants: "During the last month, on the days you ate too much or ate unhealthy foods because you were feeling stressed, what kind of foods did you eat?" And the top three answers: Candy/chocolate (candy bars, chocolate, hard candy, gum, mints, etc.) ranked number one at 65 percent; ice cream ranked second at 56 percent; and potato chips (Cheetos, tortilla chips, potato chips, Terra chips, etc.) ranked third at 53 percent—not surprisingly, perhaps, fruit and vegetables ranked at 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

  4. What is PTSD? Mayo Clinic defines PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as "a type of anxiety disorder that's triggered by an extremely traumatic event. You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when a traumatic event happens to you or when you see a traumatic event happen to someone else." Myriad symptoms are associated with PTSD and may include flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days; irritability or anger; trouble sleeping; and memory problems, among other symptoms. People of any age can have PTSD, though it's more common among adults—according to Mayo Clinic, about 7 to 8 percent have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 5 million U.S. adults have PTSD in a given year, and it is especially common among people who have served in combat.

  5. TennisWhat "feel-good" hormone is released during exercise? Endorphin—which we at Beachbody write about often. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce pain perception. They act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. As Mayo Clinic states, "Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner's high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling." So whether it's a round of 10-Minute Trainer®, Turbo Jam®, or Yoga Booty Ballet®, or a walk, hike, or game of football, you can reap the benefits of the "feel-good" hormone.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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