How much exercise should we take?
The answer is: More.
I am surrounded by fit people and for years they have told me I need to exercise more.
How much pressure can a guy be under? – my wife is a Health Visitor, my kids swim competitively and my doctor’s lad swims with them so I also know him socially. A fellow director in my company runs marathons – yes that is in the plural – and another friend is working up to swim the channel (that is swimming the 21 miles from England to France for those of you from further afield).
You can understand therefore why the following headline caught my eye this week – ‘Public misled on exercise needs’.
Was this to be good news? Had they finally found out that exercise is actually bad for you?
Not a bit of it I am sorry to say – the news was more ammunition for my tormentors.
According to a study in Preventive Medicine, many Britons wrongly believe (count me in those numbers) that moderate exercise is as beneficial as a vigorous work-out. The authors assert that it’s actually vigorous exercise that is best for averting disease. I had a quick check to see whether one of the authors was my wife – as the message sounded so familiar to me. The depressing article added that the public has been misled by NHS (National Health Service – UK) guidelines saying that a brisk walk, doing the gardening or a few laps of the pool can improve health.
All of this at a time when I had finally accepted a few weeks ago that moderate exercise (for example brisk walks) would become a normal part of my life. This new mindset has been achieved with a little self-hypnosis – but that is another story.
Now I learn that moderate exercise is not enough – pahh and humbug!!
In 2004, the Chief Medical Officer recommended five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise a week – the given example being brisk walks.
So was the NHS advice based on scientific evidence or was it just pragmatic in the face of a bone-idle nation? About 80 percent of us – in the UK – do no formal exercise which lends weight to the suspicion that the bar needs to be set low, so as not to put people off.
Scientists are at logger heads on the subject and it is easy to find conflicting advice. Two studies were released in August contradicting each other: one saying that 20 minutes of vigorous exercises three times a week was needed for good health, while the other said that a regular walk gave significant health benefits.
Are you as confused as I am?
My first personal measure of my fitness followed my undertaking a course called ‘Think Yourself Thin’ produced by Adam Eason my marathon running friend. In the first week of the course you are encouraged to walk up and down a flight of stairs 10 times daily. Sounds easy I thought. Pahh and humbug again. My breathlessness when I first tried that told it’s own story. By week three of the six week programme however I was achieving 30 flights a day – still pretty breathless – BUT…
What is great about this is that there is measurement.
It is not helpful that there are no simple official measures to guide us in judging whether we’re getting enough exercise for it to have a health benefit. To be fair some experts suggest that being able to walk a mile in 15-17 minutes is a good test of your fitness and common sense would probably support that as more or less right.
What I say is some exercise is better than none. If I work up a sweat I know that the heart is getting the workout it needs.
The irony of what I am doing has just struck me. I am writing this beside the swimming pool as I wait for my son who is doing his normal swimming training – an hour and a half very tough workout before he goes to school.
I have some way to go but I will tackle the stairs again later today.