When it comes to exercise, everybody thinks they’re an expert. Unfortunately, as we all have probably come to realize, very few people are experts. I recently came across this article on 10 Stubborn Exercise Myths That Won’t Die. The two that I identify with most strongly are numbers 4 and 5.
Myth number 4 is that you need to replenish yourself with sports drinks during and after exercising. As the article points out, it is important to replenish both body fluids (yin from a Chinese medicine perspective) and electrolytes, however it is not always necessary, particularly during low intensity exercise. Furthermore, over consumption of sports drinks can go so far as to create electrolyte imbalances rather than to rectify them. I’ve seen patients in clinic who were having strange symptoms related to cramping in the muscles, fatigue, malaise and urinary problems that all resulted from over consumption of sports drinks. The thing to remember is to use your judgement. As a classic daoist parable says, “Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired.” I think we can expand this to drink when you are thirsty.
Myth 5 pertains to stretching before and/or after exercise. There have been many studies to debunk the efficacy of stretching prior to or after exercising. One recent study of runners actually found that the incidence of injury increased when runners stretched prior to running. (I wish that I could cite the reference, but I don’t remember where I read it) The bottom line is that stretching can be dangerous. Stretching basically takes the muscle to the endpoint of its range of motion. This is an inherently unstable, and therefore unsafe, position. It makes sense that stretching would make one more prone to injury. This also seems borne out by recent investigations into yoga, particularly the article in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Yoga can be a wonderful form of exercise, but it must be done properly. There needs to be an attention paid to proper alignment and utilization of the body’s structures, otherwise injury is likely to occur.
Anyway, with all of the poor information out there on exercise, I’d encourage everyone to read the article and decide for themselves what the best way to work out is.