Whether you want to tone up, slim down, or boost your mood, you've likely taken a stab at tweaking your fitness routine.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of fitness advice out there that won't help you meet your goals and could actually do more harm than good.
Here's an overview of some of the most enduring workout myths and misconceptions, as well as the real science that can help you meet your fitness goals in a healthy way.
Myth: To stay in shape, you only need to work out once or twice a week.
Truth: Once or twice a week won't cut it for sustained health benefits.
"A minimum of three days per week for a structured exercise program" is best, Shawn Arent, an exercise scientist at Rutgers University, recently told Business Insider. "Technically, you should do something every day, and by something I mean physical activity — just move. Because we're finding more and more that the act of sitting counteracts any of the activity you do."
Myth: The best time to work out is first thing in the morning.
Truth: The best time for a workout is whatever time allows you to exercise most consistently. Ideally, you want to make physical fitness a daily habit, so if late-night trips to the gym are your thing, stick with it. If you prefer a morning run, do that instead.
Don't have a preference? Some research suggests that working out first thing in the morning might help speed weight loss by priming the body to burn more fat throughout the day.
Myth: Weight lifting turns fat into muscle.
Truth: You can't turn fat into muscle. Physiologically speaking, they're two different tissues. Adipose (fatty) tissue is found under the skin, sandwiched between muscles, and around internal organs like the heart. Muscle tissue — which can be further broken down into three main types — is found throughout the body.
What weight training really does is help build up the muscle tissue in and around any fat tissue. The best way to reduce fat tissue is to eat a healthy diet that incorporates vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and — somewhat paradoxically — healthy fats like olive oil and fish.
Myth: Puzzles and games are the best 'brain workout' around.
Truth: Plain old physical exercise seems to beat out any type of mental puzzle available, according to a wealth of recent research. Two new studies published this spring suggest that aerobic exercise — any activity that raises your heart rate and gets you moving and sweating for a sustained period of time — has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain.
"Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart," wrote the authors of a recent Harvard Medical School blog post.