We know that the recommended minimum amount of physical activity for an adult is 30 minute of moderately intense activity, 5 days a week. These recommendations are expounded by all of the world’s major health institutions such as the World Health Organisation, American College of Sports Medicine, the British Medical Association and our Department of Health. Bearing in mind there are 1440 minutes in each day, most people are awake for 720 of them. To be active for 30 minutes of the 720 doesn’t sound like so much. Unfortunately, we find that even this cannot be achieved by many of us. 57% of all women aged 40-60 are obese (NHS 2009). A significant reason for the rise in obesity is our leisure and work lifestyle changes. We sit at desks much more, we sit in front of the TV for longer, we have houses full of labour saving devices that do the physically hard work of housework for us. Our parents and grandparents had to do a lot more physical activity just to get through a day. Because we are not forced into daily manual labour we must decide to stay fit and healthy by our choice of leisure pursuits.
Boost life expectancy by 3 years
This week it was reported in the national press that research had found that ‘Just 15 minutes exercise a day can boost life expectancy by three years and cut death risk by 14%’ (BBC News 16/8/11). It reported England’s Chief Medical Officer said that doing a little bit of physical activity each day can bring health benefits and a sedentary lifestyle carries additional risks.
I completely agree with her. Those of you who read me regularly will know that one of my mantras is little and often and I’m the first one to say something is better than nothing. Nevertheless, I have a sense of disquiet. I think it comes from what already was quite a low baseline of 30 minutes activity is now halved to 15. Because it comes with the best of official intentions to get people up and moving, it will be heard. I worry that there will be many sedentary people that do not see it as the instigator for health but as an excuse to do as little as possible. 15 minutes a day is a walk to the shops and back but does that count as exercise if walking to the shop is part of your existing routine? I would say no.
Are we handing people excuses not to exercise?
If you’ve ever talked to someone very overweight you will know that there are as many excuses as to why they have not tackled their weight problem as there are people. It seems to be the nature of us to find excuses for anything we do not want to deal with, so I worry that this interesting research might not produce the effects it is hoped for and instead hands people a jolly good excuse on a plate.
Lifestyle change is a positive decision. We move from seeing ourselves as people who don’t do exercise to people who do and exercise is not a dirty word because it is synonymous with being fit and healthy. This becomes a part of our identities, about ‘who we are’. I am a fit and healthy person and I do x minutes of exercise a day. So if you’ve made that decision to be a fit and healthy person I applaud you. I hope that whatever form of exercise or physical activity you have chosen will not only bring health benefits but is a fun and stimulating way of using your time and the more the merrier.
Photo credit: Simon Howden