If you're looking to kickstart a new fitness regime - or just to shake things up by trying something new - then you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information telling you what to eat, what to buy, how to exercise, and more.
Our first piece of advice: don't make perfect the enemy of good. If you're eating better, moving more and listening to your body, then you're living a healthier life on the whole.
But there are still exercise pitfalls that many fall into, as well as persistent myths that just won't go away.
Whether you're kickstarting a cardio routine or you want to start weightlifting in the gym, we've covered some of the most common mistakes people make, to help you stay on the right path.
In 2020, we surveyed thousands of people* to find out which exercise equipment brands they rated highly and which ones disappointed.
We asked owners of exercise bikes, treadmills, weights and more to rate their equipment for value for money, ease of use, build quality and overall satisfaction; some were distinctly dissatisfied with what they got for their cash.
Exercise is exhausting enough without having to deal with poorly designed products that will hold you back from achieving your goals. A bad investment is a surefire way to kill your enthusiasm and derail your plans.
Choosing new gym equipment with care could mean the difference between gear you use every day and an eyesore that gathers dust in the corner.
Fortunately, we've found you don't need to spend a fortune to get great kit - our survey reveals the budget brands that keep customers just as happy as those who've invested in premium equipment.
Once you've narrowed down your choice of brands, check out individual product reviews on manufacturer and retailer sites - but take these with a pinch of salt, as our investigations have found that the internet's awash with reviews that are incentivised or outright fabricated.
Eager to lose fat from around your midriff or thighs? Don't be persuaded by the promise of so-called spot reduction.
Spot reduction is a claim that you can lose weight in a specific part of your body by only working that area. Some trainers and health businesses have preyed on this desire in the past, and the internet has amplified the myth more recently. For example, you might come across advice that you only exercise your abdominal muscles to reduce fat around your midsection.
Sadly, this is a long-standing fitness myth that misconstrues how the human body works.
It's easy to understand the appeal of being able pick and choose exactly where you gain and lose weight. But while it's true that you can work specific muscle groups to build and strengthen those muscles in isolation, you can't target fat loss in the same way; stomach crunches won't shift abdominal fat any more precisely than a run will.
Body-fat distribution varies naturally for different people, and there's a large genetic component to this; for example, some people are more likely to store it around their waist, while others might carry it on their hips.
When you lose fat through reducing calorie intake or sustained cardiovascular effort, you'll lose it over your entire body. Running, cycling, swimming, rowing or even regular brisk walks will all help you to do this.
And although your body might burn fat faster in certain areas, this is something you have little say over; going for a run is as likely to result in a trimmer waist as slimmer legs.
That said, if you want to tone your muscles and increase muscle mass, concentrating on muscle groups is advisable. Improved muscle tone can be as important for achieving the physique you want as losing fat, so don't skip leg day.
Just be aware that honing muscle and losing fat are very different processes for your body.
It's all too common to focus on physical activity at the expense of maintaining a good diet.
The truth is that a lifestyle change begins in the kitchen more often than the gym.
A good diet has to come first, and it has to support your fitness goals - whether that means lowering your calorie intake or changing what you eat to have a more balanced diet. In some cases, it could even mean eating more (of the right things) if your goal is to build muscle.
Diet is about far more than calorie counting, it's also about being properly nourished. This could mean:
Make sure that dietary changes are proportionate and that they're something you'll be able to continue with even when life gets tough. The odd vice here and there can give you something to look forward to.
When you're starting a new fitness regime, it can be tempting to throw yourself in all guns blazing. But, believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much exercise, especially if you're starting from scratch.
Not only could overdoing it risk early burnout, but rest is as important as activity when it comes to fitness. They're two sides of the same coin, so it's important to treat downtime as an instrumental part of your regime. Rest gives your body time to repair tissue damage and reduces the risk of injury.
Ultimately, long-term consistency and routine is the key to a fitter life.
There are three things you should always do:
A fitness plan will help. You can also use fitness apps or fitness trackers to monitor your exercise and give you incremental targets, so your regime gets progressively harder.
One of the most pervasive fitness myths of all time is that fat can be transformed into muscle and muscle can be transformed into fat.
Some ask optimistically how long it will take to turn body fat into muscle, while others ask with some trepidation if their muscle will turn into body fat if they stop exercising.
Although a Google search will provide ample cases of this myth being debunked, forums and fitness communities still see a steady stream of beginners posing this question.
Body fat, also known as adipose tissue, is not the same as muscle tissue. And one can't convert into the other.
Of course, you can lose adipose tissue while growing muscle tissue, but it's simply not the case that losing one will cause a growth of the other in equal amounts. And muscles that aren't used over a long period of time go through a process called atrophy and they simply shrink, rather than turning into fat.
If you ever read a source that conflates these two things, or implies that you can turn body fat into muscle, then it's a sign to head elsewhere for your research.
* In October 2020, we carried out an online survey of 3,548 members of the public.