Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Truth About Exercise

I am very excited. Excited enough to write a blog post first thing on a Sunday morning.

I have just watched the BBC Horizon programme The Truth About Exercise. Have you seen it? Here is a scientific, television documentary which backs up and validates the Beyond Chocolate MOVE! principle 100%.

It supports what Audrey and I and many women have known instinctively for years; that we don’t have to go to the gym or put ourselves through formal exercises regimes in order to be fit and healthy and that exercising for weight loss is rarely helpful for the vast majority of people.

The Truth About Exercise backs our view that while it’s fine to go to the gym, to go running, to attend exercise classes and that doing so may be beneficial in some ways for some people, those forms of exercise are not necessary or helpful for everyone. It also suggests that the government guidelines about how much exercise we should do are pretty useless because they don’t consider the individual and how differently we all respond to different types of exercise. The guidelines are based on the average person and, as we all know, there is no such thing as the average person. And the programme also makes a new a somewhat shocking revelation… more on that later.

So, here, as I understand them, are some of the points made by the The Truth About Exercise which dovetail beautifully with the Beyond Chocolate MOVE! principle:

The most important thing is simply to MOVE, it doesn’t have to be exercise, in fact it’s just as good, if not better, if it isn’t formal exercise. It’s most effective when it is part of your everyday life - being active, moving around as we go about our day is the best kind of moving we can do. Even if we do ‘sit down’ jobs, incorporating more walking or moving around of any kind into our lives will have a positive impact on our health.

Walking is great. You don’t have to walk fast and furious. You don’t have to break a sweat. Just walk.

Exercising more won’t necessarily make you fitter, healthier or thinner - our responsiveness to exercise seems to be genetically determined and so some of us can spend hours exercising frantically and it will make very little difference.

It is visceral fat that’s the cause of disease, NOT subcutaneous fat. So losing weight will not necessarily make you healthier.

Exercising to lose weight can be a thankless task - we have to do one heck of a lot of exercise to burn fat so only the true die hards who are willing to put a lot of time, effort and energy into traditional forms of exercise are likely to sustain weight loss for any period of time in this way.

Doing something you will do, making moving a part of your life, an almost effortless part or enjoying what you do if there is effort involved are critical, since if you don’t then you won’t keep doing it for long.

As humans we were not designed to workout in the gym - that doesn’t mean that there are no benefits from the gym nor that if you enjoy it you shouldn’t do it - it does mean though that if you push yourself through arduous regimes which don’t make your heart sing, there is probably far, far less benefit than you imagine.

There is probably more - so do add anything I’ve missed in the comments.

And here is the surprising revelation from The Truth About Exercise, which I am curious to experiment with myself (in the spirit of being my own Guru I don’t just believe it because the TV tells me it’s true. I want to experiment and see for myself). The scientists have discovered that 3 minutes of very high intensity workout a week (that’s not a typo - I really did write 3 minutes a WEEK) - just one minute, three times a week broken down into three 20 second bursts, can significantly help prevent diabetes (by improving insulin sensitivity) but it also improves our overall cardiovascular health - in other words it’s great aerobic exercise. Fascinating.

What I love about this idea is that it fits with my thoughts about us as humans. I doesn’t makes sense to me that we should spend hours sitting in offices and that we can undo the damage of a sedentary life-style by going to the gym every day for an hour.

It does sounds right somehow that we are designed to be almost constantly moving at a very low level of intensity (as I do when I am at home pottering about the house and garden - my absolutely FAVOURITE activity) and occasionally (only 12 minutes total a month) moving at breakneck speed for a minute or so, and not without pause for breath, just as we would naturally do… running for the bus, digging over a particularly tough section of the garden, scrubbing viciously to get rid of a stubborn stain at the bottom of the pan, dancing furiously to loud music just for the hell of it…

If you haven't watched The Truth About Exercise - Horizon, I would highly recommend it, as you’ve probably gathered.

Oh, and many, many thanks to D for sending me the link. Would hate to have missed it.


  1. 3 minutes? The average pop song is 3 minutes, I'm sure I can crank one up full volume and go nuts dancing like a loon once a week! And of course, highly enjoyable ... most gyms seem to play the same old same old music, and when you're an indie kid at heart that doesn't always sit well :)

    I have this documentary on my hard drive ... time to check it out, methinks ....

  2. Yes I watched it yesterday on the iplayer and thought how LIBERATING it all is - just like Beyond Chocolate! Thanks for clearly demonstrating the link between the BC principle 'MOVE' (JUST MOVE!) and this programme... I hadn't thought about it!

  3. Thanks for posting Sophie. I got the tip off from the forum.
    After watching this programme I have been increasing my walking which has felt really good and something I can easily sustain. I also did 3 x 20 sec sprints one day during a run and must say I found it totally knackering... to the extent it put me off a bit, so I wonder if this would be sustainable for me?? Thinking of going to a cheap gym just to use their exercise bike, but could be a lot of palaver getting in and out of gym gear. I will look into the cost of this because I still think the research is a stroke of GENIUS!
    I researched the programme a little more and apparently they are soon going to offer blood tests to establish whether you are a responder or non responder to exercise. Fab.

  4. Hi Denise,

    A thought, maybe you don't need to get into any kind of sports gear to use the bike for 1 minute. Just slip on a a pair of trainers with whatever you are wearing. The presenter did it in his suit and didn't break a sweat.Would love to hear how you get on if you have a go.

    1. just noticed this reply Sophie. Yes I did begin to think along your lines re gear and so I phoned the local gyms and even the council gym was going to be a bit expensive considering only thing I want to do is use the bike for 3 mins a week! So am considering buying a fold up exercise bike, but need to actually see one so I can gauge whether t will be too bulky. will keep you posted. Btw did you see the Truth about Fat, another horizon programme. Quite interesting science and it was good that there are people looking to explore the real reasons for obesity.

  5. Thanks for posting this!
    I agree that natural movement, generally just being active is more beneficial than dragging oneself to the gym.
    I happen to be one of those people who likes exercising. I do it at home, in my pjs, and it helps me wake-up. I love trying different forms of exercise (dancing, kickboxing, pilates, yoga, ballet exercises...), and won't do anything that has a "dread factor". So far, I've stayed consistent with this for the last three years. I tried doing high intensity interval training for the prescribed 10-20 minutes per session and it made me feel sooo tired, grumpy and hungry, I didn't see the point in continuing! 3 minutes a week of high intensity sounds doable.

  6. Although I do love the feeling after a particularly hard workout session(especially with A P.T)if I was honest I wouldn't workout as much if I wasn't trying to lose weight.This programme was fascinating so much so that I've decided to wear my pedometer again to track my steps -not as good as the "fidget" pants....but makes you realise how truly active you are....


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