Some people go crazy if they can’t make it to the gym every day, while others struggle just to work out once a week. Whatever side of this equation you’re on, learning some new fitness facts can help you to make better use of your exercise time (and maybe even have more fun while you’re doing it).
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite health and fitness facts below. You may just be surprised to learn the many benefits of a regular workout routine. We’ve also debunked a few common myths that many people believe about exercise. Ready to bone up on your fitness knowledge? Let’s dig in!
- Only 1/3 of adults reach the minimum recommended guidelines for weekly physical activity. Even worse, fewer than 5% of adults in the United States engaged in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and about 1 in 4 aren’t active at all. All told, more than 80% of adults fall short of the recommended guidelines for aerobic and strength-building activities.
- Scheduling rest days helps you meet your fitness goals. It’s not a bad thing to skip the gym every once in a while—in fact, rest days are a key component of any successful fitness plan. Your body needs periodic time to recover. Over-exercise causes injuries, joint pain, and muscle strains, along with fatigue and loss of workout productivity.
- It takes at least 12 weeks of regular exercise to get into shape. While you’ll likely see some results like fat loss and muscle gain in as little as 6-8 weeks, most people won’t experience measurable changes in their fitness level until the 3 to 4 month mark. If you don’t see results right away, don’t get discouraged! Stick with it and the good changes will come.
- A pound of muscle burns three times as many calories as a pound of fat. While it’s a myth that a pound of muscle burns 50 calories a day, the advantages of building muscle are still significant. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn even when you’re not exercising.
- Switching up your workout will help you lose more weight. When you do the same workout day after day, your body adjusts and you’ll often hit a weight loss plateau. Doing a mix of exercises with different intensities is a better way to train, and also reduces the likelihood of injury from repeated stress.
Fun Fitness Facts
- Music really does help you work out better. Listening to music distracts your mind from your workout, improving both your mood and stamina. Fast-paced music can even improve your performance, encouraging you to run or pedal faster than you would otherwise.
- You’re more likely to stick with your exercise plan if you work out with a partner. In a study conducted by the University of Aberdeen, people who had a “gym buddy” exercised more often than those who worked out alone. The encouragement and emotional support were the most important factors.
- Working out can make you better in bed. People who work out tend to have higher self-esteem, and that makes them less self-conscious in the bedroom. It can also improve your stamina, give you more energy, and stimulate the release of sex hormones.
- Dancing is an excellent form of exercise. The best workout is one you can motivate yourself to do regularly. For a lot of people, that’s easier with something like dancing. It also improves your cardiovascular health just as much as jogging or cycling.
- Being dehydrated impairs your exercise performance. Water is very important to your body. It regulates your body temperature, blood volume, and muscle contractions. These are all very important to effective exercise. If you work out without hydrating, you’ll get tired faster and won’t see as many gains from your effort.
- It only takes 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity to see cardiovascular benefits. That breaks down to less than 30 minutes a day—something everyone has time for. What activity counts as moderate? Anything that gets your heart beating, like a brisk walk or even heavy cleaning. A good rule of thumb is that you should still be able to talk, but not to sing.
- People who don’t exercise regularly can lose 80% of their strength by age 65. Muscle loss due to aging is known as sarcopenia and naturally starts happening once you pass age 30. Without exercise, you’ll lose from 3%-5% of your muscle mass per decade.
- Walking briskly burns nearly as many calories as jogging. You don’t have to go fast to see benefits. While running is still the best calorie-burner, burning more than 500 calories an hour, if you’re jogging slowly you’ll burn almost as many calories taking a brisk walk. If you’re concerned about high impact exercises and joint health, increasing the incline for your walk is a better choice than picking up the pace.
- People who are single work out more than those who are married. In a study of more than 13,000 Americans, currently married men spent about half as much time exercising per week as those who were single. Married women also worked out less than their single counterparts, though not by as great a margin.
Health and Fitness Facts
- Only 10% of people succeed in losing weight through only dietary changes. If weight loss is your goal, combining an exercise regimen with a balanced diet is the best way to shed pounds—and keep them off. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 89% of people who combine diet and exercise successfully lost weight and maintained their new weight for a year, compared to 10% of people who used diet changes alone.
- People who exercise regularly have higher vitamin D levels in their blood. This may not be caused by the exercise itself but instead be more of a correlation. Those who exercise regularly also tend to spend more time outdoors.
- Staying active reduces your risk of many cancers. Working out helps maintain a healthy weight and regulate your hormones. Those who exercise regularly are at a lower risk for developing many types of cancer, including colorectal, uterine, and breast cancers.
- You’re never too old to benefit from exercise. Some people think working out is just for the young, but the truth is it becomes even more important the older you get. About 75% of elderly Americans don’t get enough physical activity, and this contributes to a range of health problems associated with aging.
- More than 60% of gym memberships go unused. Thousands of Americans make a New Year’s resolution to exercise more—and unfortunately, most of them just end up wasting their money. About 20% of American adults have a gym membership, and a full 63% of them are completely unused. Even those who do use them don’t go often—around 82% of gym members go once a week or less.
- There are twice as many gyms in the United States as there are McDonalds restaurants. If it seems like there’s a gym on every corner in your town, you’re not wrong. There were over 30,000 gyms in the US in 2012, compared to about 14,000 McDonalds. That gap is widening, too. Growth of fast food restaurants has slowed since 2005 but the number of gyms has increased by 10%.
- Half of new gym members quit in their first six months. The reasons people quit the gym vary, but the main reported reason is that it’s just too expensive. Others cancel their membership because they realize they’re not using it, feel out of place with the other members, or lose their exercise motivation.
- Half the people who go to the gym aren’t there to work out. In a recent study, 50% of the 2,000 participants said they never even exercise when they’re there. Instead, they show up to hang out with friends or check out the opposite sex.
Facts about Exercise Benefits
- Regular exercise improves your mental health. Studies conducted at Harvard’s School of Public Health showed a 15 minute run each day reduces risk of depression by 26%. It can also reduced anxiety and stress, and even have a positive impact on conditions like PTSD and ADHD.
- The endorphins released during exercise give you an energy boost. Logically, you might think you’d feel more tired after exercising. Physically that’s often true, but anyone who’s experienced a runner’s high can tell you it also gives you a boost. This is due to endorphins, brain chemicals that decrease pain perception and increase positive feelings, making you feel energized overall.
- You’re more productive when you’re active. Along with the energy increase from endorphins, exercise increases your brain’s production of serotonin. That gives you better mental clarity and focus, ultimately making you more productive. If your energy drops off in the mid-afternoon, a brisk walk could do more to help than another cup of coffee.
- Regular exercise can prevent illness. And we’re not just talking about chronic illnesses like diabetes, though it helps with that, too. When you engage in physical activity, bacteria are flushed from your lungs. Exercising regularly also improves your antibody production and increases your body temperature, both of which allow your body to better fight infection from viruses and bacteria.
- Aerobic exercise is linked to a better memory. When you do aerobic training, the hippocampal volume in your brain increases. A controlled trial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed this can reduce cognitive impairment in older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Fitness Facts and Myths
- Fat does not turn into muscle when you exercise. These are two different types of tissue. Fat is stored energy, which is broken down and burned when you use more calories than you take in. Muscle is built from protein in response to being worked repeatedly. You may feel like you’re converting fat to muscle when you work out, but the truth is you’re burning the former and building the latter.
- Heartrate monitors are not an accurate measure of your workout intensity. While your heart rate is a great way to gauge the intensity of your workout, the monitors on most machines don’t give you a true reading. This is because they clip on your finger instead of measuring your arterial pulse. For a true reading, use a monitor that straps to your chest.
- Ab workouts alone won’t give you a six pack. Crunches and sit-ups do increase your abdominal muscle tone, but you’ll never see any abdominal definition if these muscles are covered in a layer of fat. Cardio exercises that burn fat are a key part of building visible muscle tone. It’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet with lots of high-protein foods. Interested in cardio machines? See our top picks here.
- A skinny person isn’t necessarily healthier than a larger person. Associating weight with health is a dangerous myth that we have culturally bought into. While obesity is often linked to health problems like diabetes and heart disease, the truth is there’s no one right BMI for everybody. You can do as much harm to your body by being too thin as you can by being overweight. True health is the result of a balanced diet and sufficient exercise, not the number on the scale.
- Sitting is not the new smoking. This trendy catchphrase was based on a single study from 2010 that suggested higher mortality for those who sit more than 6 hours a day. The reality is more complex, however. An excessively sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of chronic diseases, but not nearly as much as smoking does. What you’re doing while you’re sitting matters, too. Working at a computer burns more calories and keeps your metabolism running better than just watching TV, for example.
Surprising Fitness Facts
- The pressure on your feet when you run is as much as 4 times your body weight. That’s a lot of impact and strain on your feet, especially considering most people take about 180 strides per minute while running. That same pressure impacts the joints of your ankles and knees, which can lead to long-term health problems. Paying attention to your gait and how the pressure is applied is the best way to combat this.
- You use 200 muscles to take a single step. Walking might not seem like the most intense form of exercise, but it’s still a whole-body workout. Every time you take a step, you use about 1/3 of the muscles in your body—and not all of them are in your legs. While most of the muscles used are those in your thighs, calf, and buttocks, you also use your stomach and pelvis muscles for balance, and may even use your shoulder muscles, especially if you’re power walking.
- Women burn more fat than men during exercise. Conversely, men tend to burn more fat post-workout than women do. While studies are still looking into why this is, it likely has to do with the ratio of fat to muscle in each gender. Women tend to have more fat, but their bodies are better at utilizing it for energy. Men, on the other hand, have about 60% more lean muscle tissue, which uses more energy when at rest.
- Regular exercise improves your bone density. Your bones are living tissue, just like everything else in your body. Both weight-bearing aerobic exercises and strength training exercises can reverse the effects of osteoporosis, reducing the risk of fractures and increasing bone mass. These effects are seen in people of all ages, though they’re especially important for older adults.
- If you’re constipated, working out can help. When you exercise, blood flow in your muscles is increased—even the muscles you’re not actively using. This can help to move food through your intestines and keep you regular. Exercise has other positive effects on digestion, too, alleviating heartburn, gas, and stomach cramps.
Diet and Fitness Facts
- Cholesterol can give you a more effective work-out. Not all cholesterol is created equal. While LDL cholesterol is responsible for plaque build-up in arteries, your body actually needs HDL cholesterol to make hormones, build cells, and drive your metabolism. HDL cholesterol can even lower the total cholesterol in your blood and is necessary for production of testosterone, one of the main hormones linked to building muscle.
- The best time to exercise is 2-3 hours after eating. If you’ve eaten within an hour of starting your exercise, you won’t burn as much fat. Instead, your body will get most of its energy from the carbohydrates in your stomach. While you have to be careful working out on an empty stomach to avoid faintness and weakness, it’s a much better idea for weight loss.
- Eating protein before your workout increases gains in muscle mass. Resistance workouts like weight lifting damage your muscles, and protein is necessary to rebuild them. If you eat 20-30 grams of protein prior to your workout, the number of amino acids in your body increases. This increases the rate at which your muscles synthesize proteins for several hours afterwards.
- About 33% of the average American’s calories come from fat. Even worse, about 11% of those calories were from saturated fat. Most of this fat comes from meat. In the year 2000, the average American consumed 57 more pounds of meat each year than they did in 1950. Cutting out meat a few nights a week is an easy way to reduce your overall fat intake, and that can have a positive effect on both your weight and your overall health.
- Most people don’t need to take vitamins. If you’re eating a well-balanced diet you’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you need from the food you eat. The most important part of this equation is making sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables. Vitamins can be useful for those who have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, but for the majority of adults they’re redundant.
Mind-Blowing Fitness Facts
- Stretching before you run can actually lower your endurance. Most people stretch before they start a run to loosen their muscles and avoid injury. A recent study indicates that might not be the best idea. In a test of trained runners, those who engaged in static stretching before their exercise expended more energy and experienced reduced stamina. A bit of walking is a better way to loosen your joints and muscles without sacrificing your endurance.
- The average person walks about 70,000 miles in their lifetime. Most Americans walk around 5,000 steps a day. Even if you’re not trying, you’ll probably end up taking about 2,500 steps just doing your day-to-day activities. If you meet the oft-stated goal of 10,000 steps a day, you’ll end up walking more than 130,000 miles in your life.
- Heavy workouts in the morning can compromise your immune system. A light jog or yoga session can be a great way to start your day, but you should save the serious training for late afternoon or early evening. A study conducted at Brunel University showed heavy workouts early in the morning can impair your immune system, even though the same exercise done later in the day could have the opposite effect.
- Working out increases your lifespan. Research conducted at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas found that doing even 30 minutes of cardio 3-5 days each week can increase your lifespan by 6 years. This is primarily because exercise strengthens your heart and slows down many of the physical effects of aging.
- When you break a sweat, your blood pressure lowers for 16 hours afterwards. Exercise is an important part of reducing high blood pressure. While it takes a few months of regular exercise to have a lasting impact, the temporary effects of even a single workout can last for as much as 16 hours after your session.
Knowing when and how to exercise best to get maximum results can help you make the most of your time in the gym. We hope you learned something about working out and staying fit from these diet and fitness facts! Was there anything on the list above that surprised you? Or are you a fitness expert who knew all of these exercise facts already? Let us know in the comments!