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.

Fit Flops Sneak Into Winter

November 30, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Fitness & Sport, Health

You may have noticed, as I did over the summer, an increasing number of women striding out in flip flops – except they weren’t. Unlike conventional flips there is a new development called a Fit Flop which has been biomechanically engineered to help tone and tighten your leg muscles while you walk.
Also, more importantly to me, they absorb more shock than a normal shoe so you feel less ache in your hips and knees, help realign ground force reaction closer to your joints and reduce foot pressure.

Studies at the Centre for Human Performance at London South Bank University showed that normal walking in FitFlop sandal can help with all those which is presumably why they were such a big hit over the summer, but striding out in bare feet in winter just doesn’t do it.

With this in mind the company has developed a range of boots and a sneaker called the FF Supertone™ described as a muscle-toning, energizing and shock-absorbing. This apparently took a year in engineering to develop with something they rather endearingly call Microwobbleboard™ technology so you get all the benefits of the FitFlop with the all-weather wearability of a classically-shaped leather sneaker.
It looks smart enough that no one knows you are getting a workout, but the idea of incorporating the word wobble into something to tone you up doesn’t strike me as immediately reassuring but presumably they know what they are doing.

Given the approval of by the American Podiatric Medical Association, the Microwobbleboard™ technology was independently tested at Salford University in Manchester and now you can stride out in all weathers and get the full benefit.

If you can’t find FitFlops near you, then visit their website at www.fitflop.com

Weight training for the over 50s

September 8, 2010 by  
Filed under At Home, Fitness & Sport, Health, Healthy Ageing

When you mention weights to me, I tend to think of dark and sweaty rooms full of people (well men actually) sweating away to the accompanying noise of clanging barbells. However it seems that I am wrong as I was just sent a new book which has been written by two very respectable looking ladies (one even wears pearls) which offers the complete program to what they describe as staying stronger longer and contains easy exercises to avoid the effects of the ageing process and be fit for life.

Pauline Eborall and Patricia Furber are the authors of ‘Wonderful Ways With Weights’ and were inspired to write it because of their own unsatisfactory experiences as middle-aged women in fitness classes and gyms. For both men and women osteoporosis is a real danger as we get older and weight bearing exercise is one of the best ways to combat it and these exercises focus on building a strong body and happily they also say that you do not have to be fit to start. The exercises are based on their own experience and were roadtested on a group of their friends for over a year aged between 40 to 80. What they found was that if exercise is regular and progressive than strength can be gained and maintain even by those in their 80s and 90s.

This regime is gentle and gradual and you never need push yourself beyond your current level of fitness as it is a continuous process. Indeed they even have exercises in their easy to follow illustrated guide that include exercising in water and from a chair. What I particularly liked was that the photographs used show people of the right age doing these exercises which makes it seem much more realistic.

As well as exercises there is also good dietary advice and tips scattered through the book on improving things like arthritis and even suggestions for spicing up food without using salt. If you’d like to get a copy then it is available from Amazon or at www.kintburypublishing.co.uk

Walking For Health – and Holidays!

August 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Health

As my regular readers know, I am all in favour of exercise provided it is enjoyable! So although you will never find me working out in a gym I do appreciate walking in a number of environments. The health benefits of walking are well-known and indeed I couldn’t put it better than this quote: “Walking is by far the best prescription for the 21st century”, says Professor Sir Muir Gray, Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS and Director of the National Campaign for Walking.

New statistics released by online service NHS MidLifeCheck reveal that 49 is the age when men are most likely to start taking stock of their diet and lifestyle and the results certainly indicate that as well is taking stock they need to take immediate action as these statistics show:..

• 63% of men are overweight with 21% considered to be obese.

• 31% did just 0-30 minutes of brisk physical activity in the previous week.

• 29% admit their emotional (mental) wellbeing is poor, with varying combinations of depression, high stress levels and pessimism.

• The average man is over 2 stone overweight and carries around a whopping 37-inch waist.

Just in case you’re feeling smug ladies it seems that we also need to be paying more attention to our health as a recent piece of research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that heart disease amongst women is also rising and walking is an excellent cardiovascular workout which in turn, burns fat.. Walking of course has far more benefits than just helping us lose weight and lower blood pressure because if performed in green, open spaces – rather than on a treadmill at the gym — it is clinically known to reduce stress, alleviate muscle tension and significantly improve mood and self-esteem.

If you want to combine those benefits with a holiday that takes place in a peaceful environment with stunning scenery then you might want to investigate Upland Escapes who offer several different locations (including France, Italy, Austria and Gran Canaria) to give the you exactly that. They are an award-winning company (Best in a Mountain Environment – Winner – Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2009) whose stated aim is to help you rejuvenate body and mind by offering walks to make your soul sing and who wouldn’t want that!

On an Upland Escapes walking holiday, there are no fixed itineraries and no timetables, so you can design your own day and go at the pace that suits you best. In each Upland destination there are a variety of activities on offer, such as horse-back riding, mountain biking and canoeing, which provide variety for those seeking more physical exercise and are ideal for families. Another bonus — at least for me — is the fact that they also provides nutritious and delicious deli-style packed lunches, full of healthy, organic local ingredients, chosen to compliment the season, so that your goal to eat more healthily can be worked towards, even on holiday.

If you can’t spare a week – or don’t fancy putting yourself at the mercy of the airlines — then they also offer one day walking experiences in England. For more information visit www.uplandescapes.com or call 01367 851 111

Online Pilates for Virtual (and real) Exercise

January 12, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Fitness & Sport, Health


Getting more exercise is usually one of the most popular New Year Resolutions, but what kind and can you get to weekly classes or a nearby gym on a regular basis? If finding time is a problem then you might be interested in a new concept which from Vitalflow which offers the first downloadable Pilates classes. If you have just got into exercise dvd’s, then this is the next step in the technological revolution as the online clips are downloadable to a laptop, MP3 player, or mobile phone.

It’s claimed to be the perfect way to practise Pilates from the convenience of your home or office at a time that suits you and most importantly, at your own pace. Not sure about the mobile phone, but certainly Pilates is a very popular and safe form of exercise that works on strengthening your core muscles in the abdomen to provide a strong natural ‘girdle’ to support your back. It is taken at a slow, concentrated pace and the small movements involved make it ideally suited to online tuition where the audio and visual instruction ensures you are doing everything properly and safely.

The clips are demonstrated by Josie McKenlay, a fully qualified fitness, Pilates and yoga instructor with 25 years experience in leading health clubs. A series of beginner and improver classes are being offered first, at a cost of US$24.99 (around £20) each, as well as a one off intermediate class for US$4.99 (less than £5).

The Vitalflow six minute work out video has achieved a five star rating on YouTube and attracted over 45,000 views. It’s not for beginners, but if you would like to have a look at it go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ-pDuwN4pU and for more information on the beginner’s pilates online go to www.vitalflow.tv.

Health Bite – Get Active For Autism Research

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is inviting people to join its 2010 active challenge team and raise vital funds to help and support people affected by autism. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism where people are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

Whatever your ability there really is something for everyone, from 5k fun runs to 500k cycles. Last year over 970 supporters raised an amazing £750k and you can walk, jog, run or cycle in any organised event and you’ll receive training and fundraising support every step of the way. All funds raised through active challenges will be used to support NAS services including Advocacy for Education service, Befriending scheme, Parent to Parent support service and help! programme.

For information on NAS active challenge events call the events team on 08450 509 001 or visit www.autism.org.uk/events and if you need help or support then the NAS Autism Services Directory is the UK’s most comprehensive directory of services and events for people with autism. Visit http://www.autism.org.uk/autismdirectory to find autism services and support networks in your area

Nintendo Wii Fit or Not?

December 29, 2009 by  
Filed under featured, Fitness & Sport, Health


Did you get a Nintendo Wii Fit for Christmas with the intention that it will be an easy way to get fit? Well sadly, University of Mississippi study seems to show that it may be great entertainment, but has little effect on family fitness.

The study was conducted by Scott Owens who is an associate professor of health and exercise science. Obesity is a nationwide problem, both in the US and UK, so he was curious as to whether the Nintendo Wii Fit console could help families get more physical activity, increase the amount of exercise they did, and ultimately improve family fitness.

It must be admitted this is a very small study of only eight families over a six month period who were loaned a Nintendo Wii Fit to use for three months. The study was broken into two parts so that each family’s physical activity was charted during three months without a Nintendo Wii Fit and three months with it in the home.

Before the study each family’s fitness was measured by using an accelerator that charted their movement and physical activity over a period of five days. During the time they had the Wii Fit, each family was evaluated for aerobic fitness, balance and body composition. Software on the game consoles used individual profiles to track how much each family member used the games and how much movement was involved in that use.

What the study found was that children benefited, but not their parents. The children showed a significant increase in aerobic fitness after three months with the Wii Fit but after three months of home use produced the study found no significant changes in daily physical activity, muscular fitness, flexibility, balance or body composition for families as a whole.

A familiar scenario occurred which is seen in the annual sign up for the gym that takes place in the first week of January, in that daily Wii Fit use per household declined by 82 percent over the three month period. It went from 22 minutes a day during the first six weeks right down to only four minutes a day during the second six weeks.

It seems that the psychology is the same whether it’s the gym or the latest gadget – it’s great at first, but what needs working on is staying power and discipline – which if you had then you wouldn’t need an expensive gym membership or high priced electronic trainer!

Tai Chi Reduces Knee Osteoarthritis Pain

November 2, 2009 by  
Filed under featured, Fitness & Sport


I am a fan of Tai Chi for many reasons: it benefits health, stamina, flexibility, co-ordination and reduces stress.  Now it seems it can also help with osteoarthritis – particularly if you are over 65 years of age.
Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine in the USA studied a group of people of that age with knee osteoarthritis and found that if performed regularly Tai Chi exercise improved physical function and they experienced less pain.
Tai Chi, if you haven’t come across it before, is a traditional style of Chinese martial arts that features slow, rhythmic movements and there are five major styles, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated: Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu/Hao and Sun.
The study was reported in the November issue of Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology. For the study each participant was asked to take part in 60-minute Yang style Tai Chi sessions twice weekly for 12 weeks. Each session included: a 10-minute self-massage and a review of Tai Chi principles; 30 minutes of Tai Chi movement; 10 minutes of breathing technique; and 10 minutes of relaxation.

This is good preventive news, because as we get older we are most risk for developing knee osteoarthritis, which results in pain, functional limitations or disabilities and a reduced quality of life.  In the US there are 4.3 million adults over age 60 diagnosed with it and they predict that half of American adults may develop symptoms in at least one knee by age 85.  Figures for the UK are probably similar
Because Tai Chi works on the mental and emotional/spiritual aspects, as well as the physical, the researchers believe these address the negative effects of chronic pain by promoting psychological wellbeing, life satisfaction, and more positive perceptions of health.
At the end of the 12-week period, patients practicing Tai Chi exhibited a significant decrease in knee pain compared with those in a control group as well as noting improved physical function, self-efficacy, better health and less depression.
Finding a teacher
A personal recommendation is always best and you will find teachers listed usually in natural health centres and often run classes from church halls and similar venues.

These websites can help you find someone locally to you:
The Tai Chi Union of Great Britain at www.taichiunion.com
Tai chi listings by place and at www.taichifinder.co.uk
If you can’t find a class near you, there are also instruction DVD’s.  Not really the ideal way to learn, but one I have heard recommended for a short programme is from the US at www.easytaichi.com

Successful dieting depends on vitamin D

July 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Vitamins & Supplements


The Endocrine Society reported at their AGM of 12 June that if you are planning on a low calorie diet to get in shape for those summer clothes then you need to have good levels of vitamin D in your body at the start if you want it to succeed.

The study was reported on from a study at the University of Minnesota and although we associate Vitamin D deficiency with obesity, it’s never been clear as to whether low levels of vitamin D causes obesity or the other way around. The study put their test subjects on a diet that provided 750 calories a day less than they actually felt they needed. Most of their people had low levels of vitamin D at the start, but surprisingly even low levels were able to predict how successful the diet would be. The more vitamin D in their blood, then the greater the weight loss – and vice versa.

Probably of more interest before you shimmy into that swimsuit is the fact that higher baseline levels of vitamin D levels also predicted there would be a greater loss of fat from the abdomen – the prime target for most dieters.

Just taking vitamin D as a supplement won’t help you lose weight on its own. Sadly the same advice applies as usual – eat less, exercise more and focus on healthy foods rather than saturated fats and alcohol. Liqueur chocolates are probably the worst combination, so wait until Christmas!

Massage after exercise – Not a good idea?

May 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport

It is a given that if you exercise regularly that having a massage afterwards will be beneficial as it disperses the build up of lactic acid in the muscles and helps blood flow.

Apparently it’s not a given at all, but a widely-accepted myth that has not been really investigated until now. A team from Queen’s University at Kingston in Canada have found that massage actually impairs blood flow to the muscle after exercise, rather than the other way around.

As a great fan of the positive benefits of massage – though rather less so of exercise – I find this distressing as it gives you no excuse for a nice relaxing rub down. The theory that massage improves muscle blood flow and helps get rid of lactic acid is a firmly held belief by both the public and physical therapists – and certainly masseurs. However it is just a theory, no one has actually ever examined and proved it, until now when Kinesiology and Health Studies professor Michael Tschakovsky and MSc candidate Vicky Wiltshire undertook this study.

They are set to put the cat among the pigeons at the annual American College of Sports Medicine conference in Seattle at the end of May when their firm conclusion that massage actually impairs blood flow to the muscle after exercise, and that it therefore also impairs the removal of lactic acid will I am sure be hotly debated.

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.

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