Sunday, 19 August 2007

you've got to work up a sweat

reposted from Guardian

The era of gentle exercise is over. It's official: you've got to work up a sweat

Polly Curtis, health correspondent
Friday August 17, 2007
The Guardian

Runners in the London Marathon
Runners in the London Marathon. Adults are now being told they need regular vigorous exercise. Photograph: Rebecca Naden
Official advice that 30 minutes of gentle exercise a day is enough to improve your health has been revised by the scientists who first developed the international fitness guidelines.

Until now, government recommendations have suggested that people can achieve a minimum level of fitness through their normal daily routines. But amid fears that the lightest of activities such as dusting and the stroll to the car are being counted as exercise, a new study by the public health experts behind the formula concludes adults need to add jogging and twice-weekly weight training sessions if they want to cut their risk of heart disease and obesity.

The scientists, world-leaders in public health and exercise advice, say they want to clarify the fitness guidelines for healthy adults which were adopted by the World Health Organisation and later used as a template for healthy living by the UK government. Some people have misunderstood the original message and are doing too little exercise, they argue. But they go even further saying explicitly that people should do vigorous as well as moderate aerobic exercise because of the "substantial science base" that it is good for you.

The paper published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, includes authors who are influential members of the American College of Sports Medicine. They write: "There are people who have not accepted, and others who have misinterpreted, the original recommendation. Some people continue to believe that only vigorous intensity activity will improve health while others believe that the light activities of their daily lives are sufficient to promote health."

The new guidelines say:

· 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is still the minimum, but vigorous as opposed to moderate activity should be "explicitly" recommended

· Combining days of moderate exercise with other days of vigorous exercise is better for you

· Moderate exercise should be in addition to daily activities such as casual walking, shopping or taking out the rubbish

· People should do two weight-training sessions a week

· Adults over 65 or those who are infirm during their 50s and early 60s should also do balancing exercises if they are at risk of falling and draw up appropriate exercise plans with their doctors.

"Many adults, including those who wish to improve their personal fitness or further reduce their risk of premature chronic health conditions and mortality related to physical inactivity, should exceed the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity," it says.

But their apparent change of heart exposes the dilemma facing health officials of how to encourage an increasingly overweight population to exercise without deterring them with over-ambitious programmes. Anti-obesity experts suggested that advising people to do weight-training was unrealistic.

David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: "If you suggested everyone here should do weight-training twice a week they wouldn't do it. They don't have the time or money for the gym, it would be an unrealistic guideline. I'd rather see healthy habits built into daily life - gyms aren't a sustainable habit."

Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University, said: "Scientists keep changing the goalposts but this advice is trying to provide more specific information for specific groups of people to encourage them to do appropriate exercise.

"It's the age-old problem of one-size-fits-all public health advice versus tailored programmes. People who are very overweight would have to do an hour of exercise a day just to maintain their weight if they aren't going to change their diets."

The authors include several experts who are on a high-level committee in the US which next year will announce America's new physical activity guidelines. Their revisions this month are widely expected to be adopted as official advice there. Their original recommendations in 1995 were quickly adopted by the WHO and by the UK government in 1996.

In 2004 the chief medical officer for England and Wales, Sir Liam Donaldson, republished the recommendations in his attempt to underscore the importance of more rigorous exercise and show that people could achieve the total through smaller 10-minute chunks. It was revealed then that up to two-thirds of men and three-quarters of women were failing to meet the 30-minute goal. Scotland's advice is similar to that in England and Wales.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was watching developments in the evidence about how much exercise was optimum but there were no plans at the moment to change the advice.

keep pace with the constantly changing advice on how much exercise is healthy.

reposted from Guardian

No Sweat. Never mind jogging, I can't keep pace with the constantly changing advice on how much exercise is healthy.

He can work it out: Tim Dowling being himself, only better. Photograph: David Levene.

Now they tell us: the scientists who developed the fitness guidelines for adults, the guidelines adopted by the World Health Organisation, have decided to "clarify" their advice. They would like to point out that when they where they said "moderate" exercise, they meant "vigorous", and that where they implied that a minimum level of fitness could be maintained through one's normal daily routines, they now wish to include "in addition jogging and two weight-training sessions a week". If you're not regularly breaking a sweat, they say, you're not doing enough.

This new advice come just days after the release of a study that said that even low levels of physical activity - say, three brisk walks a week - could lower the risk of heart disease in people who took no other exercise. What are we supposed to believe?

In hindsight, the old guidelines always seemed too good to be true. To suggest that doing the hoovering and using the stairs counted as exercise was to give almost everybody the idea that they were already immensely fit. People could congratulate themselves for simply negotiating the dull routine of daily existence. I had taken to including the sweat I broke into whenever a tax demand arrived as part of my overall exercise regime.

Everybody knows that maintaining fitness involves a certain amount of bother, and that improving fitness requires a degree of discomfort. If you're only walking between the sofa and the fridge, you're better off not exercising at all.

Perhaps the health officials have they taken their revisions a little too far. How many minimally fit people have been reclassified as dangerously unfit by this shift in emphasis? Lots of us do a bit of regular, actual exercise - beyond the realm of vigorous ironing or trudging to the bus stop - but how many of us do two weight-training sessions a week? I've done two weight-training sessions full stop, and it seemed like more than enough to me.

But then I don't have to worry about fitness, because I lift myself out of the bath every day, rain or shine.