A student sitting at their work from home desk space while doing arm stretches
February 9, 2023
3 mins read

3 movement myths debunked

Misinformation can be a barrier to engaging in physical activity, so it’s important to check the facts!

Common barriers to physical activity include time, weather, and access to equipment. But did you know that misinformation can also prevent us from moving more? Using research, let’s debunk 3 common myths about movement!

Myth #1: Movement is only for enhancing your appearance.

Growing up, media and cultural influences falsely taught me that A) my body should look a certain way, and B) exercise was the only way to achieve this body ideal. I know I am not alone in having fallen prey to this myth based on the sheer number of fitness programs that hyperfocus on weight loss or getting “ripped” as the main benefit. 

So, what’s the truth? While appearance enhancement can make some people feel better, a peer-reviewed study from Illinois State University shows that individuals benefit more physically and psychologically when they focus on the health benefits that exercise offers rather than bodily appearance goals. Physical activity is so much more than a tool that sculpts our appearance. The many physical, mental, and social benefits include: 

  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, and cancers
  • Decreased risk of depression and anxiety
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Enhanced function for everyday tasks (e.g. dressing, bathing)
  • Enhanced sleep quality
  • Improved mood, cognition, and energy
  • Opportunities to connect with friends

Myth #2: Movement has to be intense or else it doesn’t have an impact.

I used to believe intense workouts that left me dripping in sweat or got my heart racing were the only kinds of movement that “counted”. Perhaps this way of thinking stemmed from the Canadian 24-Hour Movement guidelines that recommend 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week as the minimum threshold to see health benefits.

However, UBC Kinesiology’s Dr. Darren Warburton and Dr. Shannon Bredin published a systematic review that challenges this guideline. In their review, Drs. Warburton and Bredin confirm that any increase in exercise is beneficial, even if it falls below this 150-minute cut-off! So movement does not have to be long and intense to reap the benefits. Here are some examples of simple movements you can incorporate into your day: 

  • Squatting while you wait for your food to reheat in the microwave
  • Stretching while working at a desk
  • Doing calf raises while waiting in line for the bus
  • Walking or rolling for 5 minutes
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Hula hooping
  • Jogging in place

In short, any movement is better than no movement!

Myth #3: “Sitting is the new smoking.”

Up until a few months ago, I believed this saying without question. When looking for a place to study at on campus, I would always try to find a standing desk, avoiding sitting at all costs. It wasn’t until I did a deep dive into the literature on lumbar spine mechanics for my KIN 492 Directed Studies project that I learned how misleading this saying was. While sedentary behaviour has been linked to risks similar to smoking, such as decreased bone mineral density or increased mortality, University of Lethbridge kinesiology professor Dr. Jennifer Copeland points out that the quote erroneously implies that any dose of sitting is as bad as any dose of smoking, and therefore, sitting should be avoided at all costs.

However, it’s important to recognize that sitting isn’t inherently bad! From a biomechanical perspective, it’s prolonged sitting (or standing, or any other position) that can lead to low back discomfort or pain. For example, a study by UBC Kinesiology’s Dr. Kayla Fewster advocates that frequent changes in lumbar spine positions is healthier than a singular static position. Breaking up long periods of sitting can look like:

This means that I no longer stand for hours when I study at a standing desk. You can now find me switching between sitting and standing, swaying my body weight from one foot to the other, or even doing calf raises while typing. 

So, don’t let this catchphrase fool you or make you feel bad about sitting! Sitting is normal. Many individuals with disabilities have to sit for extended periods of time. The key takeaway is that sitting is not the end of the world especially if accompanied by small movement breaks.

In celebration of Move UBC, challenge these movement myths by finding meaningful ways to get moving more this February and beyond!