Why ‘Exercise’ May Not Be The Answer

As someone to whom the word exercise brings on a strong sense of faintness, unless it is dancing, walking or chasing the cat round the room, there is a case to be made apparently for reassessing what we think of as beneficial exercise.

The idea that exercise is good for us is constantly pummeled into our brains by the medical community, by health coaches and by the mass media – and indeed by my good self. Now it seems that while certain types of exercise can certainly be beneficial in context, placing too much emphasis on formal exercise may be highlighting the wrong issue and contributing to long term health problems–because it`s movement rather than exercise that has the most dramatic impact on our health.

Let me ask you a question: who is more sedentary, the person who exercises for one hour several times per week or the one who never exercises at all? You are all probably chorusing that of course it must be the second person, but it may not be the case at all when other factors are taken into account.

It is more important how much you move during your everyday life than how often you exercise. Why is that? Because how much time you spend sitting adversely affects your health far more than how much time you spend doing formal exercise. If you spend several hours a day sitting (in front of the tv, at a desk, commuting, at restaurants and so on), it can negatively impact your health–even if you exercise regularly. Basically, regular exercise is not enough to counteract an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.

5 Simple Changes To Help You Get Moving
There has been an enormous shift in how sedentary our lives are. We once had a lifestyle that included plenty of movement but the last 20-30 years has seen us shift so that the majority of our day is spent sitting down. Desk work is far more common than it used to be; commuting for at least an hour every day is not uncommon; and activities that used to require movement now require much less of it. Think how much bending and stretching was involved in washing clothes for instance which machines now have mostly taken away from us.

So instead of going to the gym, you just need to incorporate more daily movement and it is much easier than you think. Try some, or all, of these ideas:

1. Get a portable phone and walk round while you talk. If you have a fixed phone then stand up and talk and shift your weight from foot to foot.
2. At work make sure you take frequent breaks to just walk down the corridor, get some water, or walk up and down the stairs.
3. Watching TV all night? Don’t sit there during the commercial breaks and try to get up and walk around for about five minutes during each hour..
4. Wherever you can, don’t use a lift or elevator in a store or at a station but use the stairs instead. .
5. At the supermarket, don’t park as near to the door as you can, but aim for the very furthest spot away from the entrance. It’s a small thing, but can make a big difference to your overall movement.

What you are aiming for is to be unconsciously moving more instead of unconsciously sitting more–and you will both look and feel better as a result.

Exercise moderately for best effect

April 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport


You know that you need to exercise to stay healthy and lose weight, but if you are feeling guilty because you haven’t enough time, don’t want to ‘go for the burn’ or end up red faced, sweating and out of breath then take heart. You don’t need to exercise like a fast forward Jane Fonda video, in fact it is much better if you don’t.

Aerobic and/or cardiovascular exercise for at least an hour, four days a week is often recommended, but the best way to lose fat, build muscle, strengthen your heart and lungs, and add years to your life is with short duration, high intensity exercises.

Typical cardio and aerobic exercises can not only put you at risk for repetitive motion injuries, but can make your heart and lungs less resistant to stress. Exercising over a longer period means they get used to the routine and don’t have to work as hard so can actually shrink. A recent study showed that the muscle fibre of marathon runners actually had decreased and atrophied – in other words they had shrunk.

If you exercise to lose weight and look leaner, then be aware that those who train at low to medium intensity for long periods have a much higher body fat percentage and less muscle than people who train for strength with short duration, high intensity, interval-type exercises. Working out in short bursts of high intensity exercise will burn glycogen stored in muscles as fuel rather than fat. This then teaches your body to store more energy in the muscles and not as fat. This process helps you burn fat and get lean.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that men and women who exercised at a higher intensity had lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, higher HDL (good cholesterol) and less body fat. Plus, short bursts of high intensity exercise can also help you exceed your aerobic capacity, which increases your lung volume and lung capacity is the best predictor of longevity and absence of disease.

Back to that red-faced sweating, because when you push yourself to where you need to stop and pant, as with high intensity exercises such as a 50-yard sprint or a good set of calisthenics, you are asking your lungs to provide more oxygen than they are able to use at that time. This response signals your body to increase your lung volume. It is important because as you age, you lose lung capacity so that by the time you are 70, you will have lost 50% of your lung capacity. If you stick with high intensity, short duration exercise, you can prevent this from happening. But if you run marathons or do hour-long aerobics classes, you will make this loss even worse.

Ideal Workout? Really 10 to 20 minutes a day is ideal to strengthen your heart and lungs, and exercise so you work at a pace that gives them a challenge. You want to break a sweat, but not so intense that you can’t finish at least 10 minutes.

This is a simple routine you could try:

Run sprints, walk briskly on a treadmill, or cycle at high intensity for one minute and follow up with a period of recovery. During recovery slow down to an easy pace to give your body a chance to rest and recover. Repeat that sequence 5 times.

Do this outdoors if you can for maximum benefit and if you want to increase the degree of difficulty exercise on streets with an incline, or use your staircase.

Exercise? Pop a pill

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Natural Medicine

Athletics and drugs have sadly often gone hand in hand, and now a new research breakthrough which is intended to help people who cannot exercise much or at all, due to incapacity or illness, could be high on the list for cheating athletes.

Steroids boost muscle power so are misused by those needing strength in their events, but so far a drug that can build the endurance needed to run a marathon or take part in the Tour de France has not been available. Now, it could be. We have two types of muscle that move our body: bulky, fast-twitch muscles for power and speed, and slender slow-twitch muscles for endurance. Fast-twitch muscles burn sugar that must be stored in the muscle itself, while slow-twitch muscle burns fat.

A new study on mice at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California suggests that there is a drug that can trick the body into “believing” it has exercised. A drug that has been developed for the treatment of metabolic disease, when taken in combination with exercise, gives mice the ability to run farther than exercise alone can and a separate chemical gave them greater endurance, even without the exercise.

Earlier studies had found that a red wine ingredient called resveratrol could build endurance, but only at enormous doses and by uncertain means. The natural route’s success, however limited, as usual set up a search for a pharmaceutical substitute. The chemicals tested in the new study are thought to work by specifically tapping into the molecular mechanisms that normally re-programme our muscle genes in response to exercise.

Of course it might not work on people, but the research team had previously found they could genetically engineer mice to produce more of the fat-burning slow-twitch muscle fibres, giving them nearly twice the running endurance of untrained adults. The key was boosting the activity of a gene in muscle called PPARd, known to control other genes important to muscle metabolism.

The researchers gave mice an experimental drug, known only as GW1516, that increases PPARd activity and is currently being tested for the treatment of metabolic disease in humans. However, the drug had no effect on the muscles and so they tried giving it to mice who were undergoing exercise training. I have a cute but entirely unfounded vision of a Stuart Little character with mini barbells in satin running shorts – or is that just me? The same dose and duration of GW1516 that had previously failed to alter performance, when paired with four weeks of exercise training, increased the animals’ running time by 68% and their running distance by 70%. The muscles of those mice also showed a unique “endurance gene signature,” including patterns of gene activity not seen with either the drug or exercise alone, according to the investigators. They then decided to try one more thing: a chemical known as AICAR that was known to act on a protein in the body called AMPK. The results are impressive, even in sedentary mice, four weeks of AICAR treatment alone induced metabolic genes and enhanced running endurance by 44%.

When developed and trialled fully, this has therapeutic potential in treating certain muscle diseases such as wasting and frailty as well as cases of obesity where exercise is known to be beneficial but not physically possible. We also appear to be training mice for the 2012 Olympics, or at least increasing their fitness to levels which should help them run from the fastest cat in your home.

Cholesterol and Exercise – getting it right

October 27, 2007 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Health, Lifestyle

Being recommended to take more exercise is usually what happens if you talk to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol levels. However, what they may not tell you is that what makes the difference is not how hard you exercise, but how long you do it for. A Japanese study has shown that working out extra hard has no effect on cholesterol, but exercising for at least 40 minutes several times a week raised the levels of HDL (beneficial cholesterol) by 2.53 points. It’s particularly important for women as for each point the HDL level increases means that our risk of heart disease gets reduced by 3 per cent. And don’t think 35 or 39 minutes will do, apparently it takes a full 40 minutes to activate an enzyme called LPL, which helps raise HDL levels. Anyone for a long walk?