Ironically at a time when gym membership has never been so popular, most of us in the UK are not taking nearly enough exercise. We are a nation of largely sedentary workers who use our cars for the shortest journeys. We are urged by the government to exercise for thirty minutes a day, five days a week for adults whilst children should exercise for at least an hour every day. Around three in four women and three in five men do not take enough exercise and with a worrying trend of obesity in children there is clearly a problem here too. At one time there was no need to separate exercise from everyday life; most men worked in physical jobs, whilst running a house for women consisted of hard manual jobs, without the benefits of modern appliances and with little time for sitting around drinking tea and eating biscuits.
Physical activity is one of the cheapest and most effective medicines, if it were a pill it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented. People who take regular exercise have a lower risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. But it can also positively affect mental health, boosting self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy levels as well as reducing one’s risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Moderately intense aerobic exercise is what’s recommended, that is working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break into a sweat.
Rather than trying to schedule an hour at the gym or an aerobics class after work it makes more sense to include moderate exercise as a part of your ordinary life. Cycling to work, walking the dog, simply moving more. In this country we do seem to prefer taking the alloted amount of exercise in order to slob around the rest of the time feeling guilt-free. And of course there is usually the excuse that we haven’t enough time to exercise. Dr Michael Mosley has an answer to this with controversial claims that you can get fit with only three minutes of exercise each week. Three minutes of High Intensity Training (HIT) a week can apparently cause significant changes in insulin sensitivity and aerobic fitness. Dr Mosley describes the regime thus:”It’s actually very simple. You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for twenty seconds. A couple of minutes to catch your breath then another twenty seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then another twenty seconds going hell for leather. And that’s it.” The benefits of HIT are proven and would work well for those very short of time but I still believe it is better to live without this sense of “I’d better do my exercises” but just have an active lifestyle. Like the campaigns encouraging us to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, these prescriptive cure-alls lull us in to thinking we have done our bit, instead of embracing a life which is uncompromisingly healthy and active.