Stop Exercising!

A recent study in the American Journal of Health Promotion analyzed a survey looking at 6321 patients that took a survey from 2003 – 2006 primarily looking at health and lifestyle in America.  What has caught on with the media were the following results:

  • only 10% of people actually exercised to meet the threshold of 30 minutes of recommended daily exercise
  • 43% of people who led active lives still managed to meet the 30 minutes of recommended daily exercise but in shorter bursts

In this study they defined an active life as walking a lot, doing manual chores, taking the stairs, and many more activities that force us to move.  The study was also able to look at all of the information and infer that the people who led active lifestyles saw similar health benefits as those who exercised 30 minutes a day like the reduction in: the chances of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  It’s astonishing how a little bit can go a long way.  We as a culture need to rethink the way we exercise not as an activity that is external to our daily life but a part of it.

It’s funny but entirely true when I tell you that when I think and write these blogs or compose emails I’m either walking or doing it in short bursts where I do something physical and then sit down to write again.  I focus better and I’m most creative when I’m moving.  You’ll see this at Blitz all the time, the moment someone’s phone rings and they’re in the office they immediately get up and start walking around.  We don’t necessarily do this with the intent to increase our activity levels, it just seems like it’s a natural thing to pace around while talking on the phone.   Get a headset and try it out.  It’s amazing how these little bursts of activity can make such a big difference in your life.  Many people who don’t start exercising think that if I can’t workout for 30 minutes or an hour then there’s no use in even starting.  But here’s the catch, gyms and fitness as we know it have really only been around for the past 100 or so years.  So what did people do before to maintain a healthy lifestyle before this?  They walked, ran, lifted things, and just generally moved more.

We do need to look at a few points that were missed in the study and also in the news articles that reported on these findings:

  • Out of the 43% who were active during the day, how many of which had desk jobs and how many people had physically active jobs?
    • The study failed to look at the compounding effects of 30 minutes of exercise and an active lifestyle which is what most fitness people recommend.
    • It’s unrealistic to ask a person who sit’s down at a desk job to do the same level of activity as someone who is constantly on their feet. The study needs to report whether there is a difference in the number of people who were in the active category versus exercise category who had active and sedentary jobs to have a fair comparison.
  • Most news articles failed to present this point but the study did mention that they couldn’t find conclusively whether simply being more active allowed someone to significantly reduce their weight.  Exercise, proper nutrition, and increased activity was still recommended. (Don’t listen to hype-marketing!)
  • Day to day activity activity levels may still cause chronic problems like repetitive stress injuries or may increase muscular imbalance so exercise is still necessary to prevent these.
  • The study only talks about the minimal required level of activity for both the exercise group and the activity group but it didn’t look at the long term effects of people who exercise more than the minimum.  If we want drastic changes in reducing the chances of chronic health conditions and weight loss we need to look at the results from this study as a launch off point to a healthier lifestyle.
  • The news reports also failed to present everyone’s nutrition levels and how that correlates with the reduction in chronic health conditions.

Above all else, adopting a healthier lifestyle inclusive of proper nutrition, increasing activity levels during the day, and exercise is the most optimal way to improve quality of life.  We should start focusing on exercise as being a part of our lives instead of thinking that we have to stop everything to get a workout in.  The suggestion is always to make it fun so it doesn’t feel like a workout.  The definition of fun might be different for each person so try out a few things and see what works best for you.  The study is valid in looking at the benefits of increased day to day activity and how that effects a person’s health but it also leaves a lot of unresolved questions too.  So don’t ditch the running shoes and workout gear yet.  As a matter of fact, keep the running shoes on and do some laps during your coffee break, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and pace around while you’re on the phone.  Your heart will thank you later!

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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