Sorry, but 10K steps a day is fiction: Why you need to ditch these 4 exercise myths now

August 25, 2022

In our perpetual quest to look and feel our best, the urge to search for hacks that give us the best results in the shortest amount of time is completely understandable. Who doesn’t want to get the most for the least? Fitness apps and our watches were designed to help us structure and track our fitness efforts, but there are a lot of assumptions we make about exercise that are a bit misleading.  

To get clear on what common exercise myths are based in fact and which are based in fiction, we asked Haley Perlus, Ph.D., a sport and performance psychologist and coach, and Deb Froehlich, a CSDS-certified fitness trainer based in Steamboat Springs, CO, to demystify some of the most common misperceptions about getting in shape.

Myth #1: Everyone needs 10K steps a day 

Perlus says the whole 10K a day thing goes back to the sixties, when a Japanese company invented a device called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” Since then, many fitness trackers have used 10K as their default daily fitness goal.  The truth is, everyone has different and unique fitness goals and 10K steps a day should not be a universal edict, Froehlich says. “Walking is the easiest, most accessible way to move, so that’s probably why they picked that,” she says. “When you give someone a goal, it gives them something to strive toward.”  

Instead, your fitness goals should be catered to your individual needs, Perlus says, mentioning a Harvard Medical Study that said, on average, approximately 4,400 steps a day is enough to significantly lower the risk of death in women. “If you are trying to lose weight, walking in the mall, taking your dog for a walk, and even taking a phone call while walking in circles are ways people get their steps in.” 

Myth #2: Meditation counts as exercise (like it says on our Apple Watch) 

If, like so many of us, your smartwatch has become an integral tool to track how much you move every day, it can be surprising to see meditation on the menu. Though meditation exercises you mentally, you still need to move your body. “Although it can be important to balance yourself and bring your body back to a more centered state, it is technically not an exercise,” Perlus says. 

Still, it’s important to know that meditation can really help you maintain overall wellness, Froehlich says. “The mental is very much connected to the physical, and it’s an excellent way to help with our crazy stressful lives,” she says. “Research supports it only takes 12 minutes a day, improves your focus and your outlook, and helps you rejuvenate, heal and repair from physical and mental stress.” So though it doesn’t count as fitness, it can help maintain fitness. 

Myth #3: Cardio is the best way to burn fat 

When we think of fat loss, cardio is immediately brought to mind, Perlus says. “Just 20 to 40 minutes of moderate to hardcore cardio daily is ideal for burning visceral fat and reaping other fat loss and metabolism-boosting benefits,” she says. However, other exercises like High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can help burn calories by combining bursts of intensity with short rest periods to keep your heart rate up, she says.

Froehlich agrees that cardio is just one way to expend energy by moving or exercising. “However you move, it will help you reduce fat storage,” she says, adding that strength training is another way to burn fat. “It builds active tissue, which increases your metabolic rate and builds lean tissue or muscle, therefore increasing your resting metabolic rate and moving metabolic rate,”  she says. Best of all, says Froehlich, is to challenge your body by moving with resistence in different ways, such as weights or bands, increasing the demand so your body is challenged.  

Myth #4: You burn more calories during the day if you exercise first thing in the morning 

“Exercising first thing in the morning doesn’t necessarily mean you will burn more calories throughout the day,” Perlus says. “However, some people claim to have more energy throughout the day and since they’re up earlier, they will be more active as a whole.”  

Froehlich says the lasting effect of exercise depends on the kind of exercise you do. “The benefit of working out first thing is you get out of the way and it wakes you up,” she explains. “Higher intensity exercise burns more energy over a longer period of time, which is why people choose to do it in the morning. But the benefits only last a half-hour to an hour.” Though it really doesn’t matter when you exercise, Froehlich says working out too late in the day can mess with your circadian rhythms and raise your cortisol levels in a way that impacts sleep. “You don’t want to weight train or do high-intensity cardio at night because it wakes you up not winds you down,” she says. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Murad, and are for informational purposes only, even if the advice of physicians and medical practitioners are included. This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered specific medical advice.   

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Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a storyteller whose work has also been featured in Shondaland, The Cut, The TODAY Show, NBC News, the New York Daily News and more. Based in and around New York City, she's a rabid culture vulture who can be found at a concert, museum, art gallery or restaurant near you.