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Now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving the road to hell with them as usual.   Mark Twain

New Year Resolutions

NY resolutions are defined by their seeming need for self-denial. No-one resolves to eat more chocolate in the New Year. After the Covid-ridden year of 2020 it might seem sadistic to make any recommendation which looks likely to make life less comfortable or pleasurable.

So how about  “I will take more exercise!”? Exercise has a bad reputation for being difficult and unpleasurable – but it doesn’t need to be. Exercise can and should be fun and life enhancing. The key is to find an activity which is enjoyable for you – and it does not need to be called exercise.

So I will not make a recommendation for any particular form of exercise – but I will exhort everyone to move about more. This has the virtue of not requiring immediate action – unlike giving up fags or alcohol.

Who needs more exercise?

Nearly everyone. If you don’t take any exercise it is time to start. There are any number of possible ways to do this but the most popular might be to take up serious walking or sign up at the local Sports Centre or join the couch to 5k movement. If it is to be the Sports Centre I’m afraid that you will have to wait if you are in Tier 4.  If and when it is possible see if you can get a prescription for exercise from your GP. This is an option in most areas of the UK.  You can get a limited number of weeks or sessions for reduced price – but sooner or later you must fork out. Walking or running are cheaper. 

But why?

Everyone knows that they should take regular exercise but few understand the enormous benefits for those who do. These include better quality of life, less obesity, lower blood pressure, less likelihood of a variety of diseases such as diabetes,  cancers, Parkinson’s, mental illness and frailty of old age. It also means a  longer life. Perhaps the biggest gain is the improved wellbeing that comes with just being more active.…

I could go on and on and that is what I have been doing in these blogs for the past 18 months – and will be doing for months to come.

How much exercise?

If you are already an exerciser, could you increase? The official advice is to take 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. And don’t forget the muscle-strengthening exercise on two days a week. If you think that you meet this target you are probably deceiving yourself. When exercise taking is measured and compared to questionnaire responses, a big disparity is revealed – people take about one third to one half as much exercise as they claim.

Even if you do meet the guideline target, you could almost certainly benefit by doing more. The NHS Guidelines and the US guidelines do point out that there are real benefits to doubling the recommendations above – and there is substantial evidence that more vigorous-intensity activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate intensity activity. Health benefits continue to accrue up to ten times the officially recommended levels of exercise.

The Guidelines bar has been set low to encourage people to get active – on the grounds that any amount of exercise is much better than taking no exercise at all. The target is a compromise between what might be acceptable and what are more effective but unrealistic levels which put people off.

 Who benefits most?

As we get older the benefits of exercise get greater and greater but we take less and less of it. In the US, average walking time for 20-29 year olds is about 30 minutes per day which has fallen to about nine minutes per day by the age of 70-79. In the UK, based on self-reported data, 39% of men and 29% of women meet the exercise recommendations but increasing age and increasing body mass index are associated with decreasing levels of activity. At age 16-24, 52% of men and 35% of women meet the recommendations but the numbers fall steadily over the next three decades of life to 41% and 31%. Thereafter the fall is more precipitate to 9% and 6% for the over 75s.

It is futile to advise the elderly to triple their exercise – they just won’t do it. The target for everyone should not be a fixed amount of exercise but an increase which is within the bounds of possible attainment. The biggest gain comes from increasing from doing nothing to doing just a bit.

Your New Year Resolution

So for your New Year resolution:  If you take no exercise just make a start. If you are an exerciser, increase by perhaps 10%? – unless you really do a lot already, in which case resolve not to be too smug about it

Next week we will get back to the individual benefits of regular exercise. ~The next Chapter is about Longevity