Saturday Miscellany

Just a couple of things you might like to know about. The first is a BBC Horizon documentary entitled The Truth About Exercise. You can find the documentary here.

Mister Litlove heard about this and watched it because, as you may be aware, he is quite keen on his exercise and I am frequently a rowing widow. Exploring the results of the most recent research, the programme suggests that there is a large chunk of the population (about 35%) who get little to no quantifiable health benefit out of long-term exercise. There’s a sliding scale, as you may imagine, with a small percentage of what they call ‘super receptors’ at the top of it, people for whom exercise training pays back big dividends. Quite a lot of us can go down the gym all we like; it’s not going to make a significant difference.

Now of course that doesn’t mean we can all take to our sofas with a sigh of relief. We still have to watch out for our risk of diabetes and our overall cardiovascular fitness. To get health benefits from exercise, these scientists are suggesting that three 20-second sessions a week of intense physical exertion (they get the documentary narrator to pedal an exercise bike as ferociously as possible) are sufficient for a significant impact on health. Or we can look at it another way. Another expert they talk to argues that it’s the sedentary lifestyle that does us the most damage. Our bodies aren’t designed to do nothing (and another part of the programme looks at the way we can all do more physically than our minds believe). What makes a big difference is simply moving around, being ordinarily active. Again, that makes a significant impact on overall health.

I must say I felt quite encouraged when I heard about this. I definitely feel much better if I can get out once a day just to wander round the shops or walk around the town. And I do stretching exercises every evening just to keep limber. But I have no inclination towards exercise and simply can’t make myself do it. My other favourite exercise-related information came from the survey suggesting that if we imagine doing exercise very vividly, we can become up to 8% fitter. So I prescribe one thriller a week, to ensure we get the vicarious benefits of reading about those bionic protagonists who rush around securing the safety of their community in the face of lethal menace.

Which leads me into the other thing I had to tell you about, and that was a message that came from the Bloomsbury Beauties about a monthly crime fiction competition they are holding. It is apparently the Year of the Short Story (I’ll bet you knew that, although I didn’t), and the Bloomsbury peeps are challenging writers to write a crime short story in less than 1,000 words. Each month one of their crime authors will write a short story, which will feature on the home page of the site, setting a theme for that month’s entries. Have a look at the website which has all the details of entry and prizes, yay!

This month the theme is deception, which naturally made me wonder about a short story in which someone watches the Horizon television programme and then murders their personal trainer in revenge for all the unnecessary torture they have suffered. Ha! But don’t look to me to write it, not my sort of thing at all so I offer you that idea entirely gratis.

If exercising the brain is something you would so much rather do only for three brief intervals a week, then I also suggest you have a look at the Bloomsbury short story podcasts, which look wonderful to me. Maybe I’ll do 20 seconds on the exercise bike and then reward myself with one.




26 thoughts on “Saturday Miscellany

  1. *giggles* Well I can certainly THINK about exercising. I’m actually totally up for this hell-for-leather 20 seconds a day thing, which is an awesome idea (I withhold belief for the time being), if they would produce a modified version for those of us who do not have exercise bikes in the home.

    • Jenny – the exercise bike is not necessary – you can do whatever you like, so long as it’s intensive. I’m wondering how far I can get if I imagine really, really hard… 🙂

  2. My husband would love the idea of vicarious exercise! Especially if he can get it while watching television 🙂 He is quite allergic to all forms of exercise, although I can get him to ride a bike when the weather permits. Unfortunately, the local bakery is one of his favorite destinations!

    I love walking, and walk my little doggies outdoors a lot. In the past year, I’ve become quite a fan of an in-home series of walking programs on DVD. The “walking” is actually a mixture of light jogging and several combination of steps, but they are easy to follow and the 30 minutes each day goes by quickly. I do feel I’m healthier and have more energy since I’ve been doing this regularly.

    • Becca- I like walking more and more as I get older, but I’m ashamed to say, the best walking I like is round the town where I can look at the shops. I don’t have to do much buying, I just like the scenery! Having dogs to walk is an excellent way of getting out, and the DVDs available nowadays are often really good. My stretching exercises came from a DVD and it was very helpful.

  3. Why does this seriously depress me? I hate to think going to the gym after work every day is a totally useless task. Since I am trying to lose weight and indeed have lost weight I hope it means I am not part of that 35% who is getting nothing out of it all whatsoever. I’m dubious about that 20 second claim, but then they are doctors and scientists so what do I know? There must be more to it–maybe they’re talking about people who fit a certain group–in the right weight bracket and are already fairly fit? Although I have read that sitting all day at work is so bad for you that working out for a hour a day doesn’t make up for it–so that sounds in line with what I’ve read elsewhere. Pity the BBC doesn’t allow anyone outside the UK to watch their programs online. I won’t stop going to the gym, though, as it is where I get so much reading done–strange as it sounds. I guess that is my (mental) health benefit! 🙂 What did Mr Litlove think? I imagine he won’t give up his rowing?

    • Oh no, Danielle! I didn’t write this to depress you. Of course you’re not one of the 35% if you are losing weight and feeling better for the exercise. Clearly you are benefitting from the gym. And Mister Litlove give up rowing? Not for anything in the world. He was interested in the programme and its findings, but he enjoys being on the river and would be a sorry person indeed if he didn’t get out there.

      • That’s okay! I’m over it! 😉 In another year there will be another study that will tell everyone something else entirely. And you can’t deny a certain mental health benefit–the idea you are trying to do a good thing. Even if I am one of the 35% (and the way things usually go, I probably am!) I’ll take that hour for the reading opportunity alone!

  4. 20 seconds plus imagining some exercise? That is a fitness regimen I could manage. Thank you Horizon! Thank you litlove! I love you both! [subsides back onto sofa]

    • Lol! I confess, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t actually harming myself in my total inability to find an exercise regime I could commit to! I wish I liked sport, I just…. don’t. [joins helen on sofa]

  5. I saw this programme and found it quite fascinating but far too frenetic. I read a book once (will have to see if I still have it), to the effect that if you imagine doing an exercise it has a similar result to doing the exercise up to a point. They also say that the human brain is hardwired for empathy and the brain uses lots of energy especially when thinking hard. So putting all this together I figure that if I sit on the comfy sofa with with the leg supports up and coffee and biscuits to hand and watch furious activity videos with intense attention, I’ll be fine, right?

    • Bookboxed – it’s a plan I’ll be following myself! 🙂 Actually it is true that we use up a lot of energy thinking hard, and especially when forcing ourselves to overcome dislike or disinclination. Or any sort of hard genuine trying. This explains why we have classrooms of slumped and exhausted children when teaching them French grammar, for instance…..

  6. That’s an interesting statistic about people getting little to no benefit from exercise. I am pretty sure I am not one of the 35%. I exercise quite rigorously several times a week (I do quite a bit of interval training and sweat buckets!), and it has helped my weight as well as my mental state. I have lost approximately 50 pounds from my peak weight–and I take prednisone–and I am convinced that I could not have lost that weight from diet alone. I also lift weights on a regular basis. I will never have an athletic body like Madonna because I am naturally curvy no matter how thin I get, but I do enjoy the effects of exercise. Plus, it truly helps with my anxiety levels. I am naturaly a high-strung person, and exercise helps calm me down a little. (More about my program in my next email that I send you. I read yours, and I loved it–but I always love getting fun and interesting emails from you.)

    • Ali – it’s wonderful that exercise helps you and that you have achieved so much by means of it. No, I don’t think you are one of the 35% (which after all leaves a big 65%, twice as much, who DO benefit). It sounds like you’ve found just what you need.

  7. Sorry I lost interest after the sentence “Now of course that doesn’t mean we can all take to our sofas with a sigh of relief.”. I’d already turned the running machione off and sat down to read a book instead.

    • Lol! I swear there is a sneaky part of the librarian course where they take you aside and teach you witty remarks. The librarians in college can be really quite droll at times.

  8. I must say that I’m someone whose body just doesn’t feel quite right if I don’t get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. That being said, I’ve never felt the exercise had to be something that feels like it’s killing me, whereas I’m married to someone who thinks he has to run 3 miles as quickly as he can to get any benefit. I wonder if I could do even 20 seconds of vigorous exercise? I so despise doing anything vigorously. Probably not. Would much rather just very vividly imagine myself doing so, possibly running alongside the likes of Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer while reading the thrillers you describe?

    • Emily – I remember ages ago you started walking around the area where you live as if you were walking to work in the morning, and this was something you very much enjoyed. As far as I can tell, the programme seems to be suggesting that this sort of exercise is just as beneficial as any other. I confess I am not much good at vigorous myself. Langurous is the word that fits me more closely! 🙂

  9. This was hilarious to read! If only we burned calories thinking! So were they really saying, you can think yourself thin or fat? I know i need to do something daily, just to burn up some tension and energy, and also because I am diabetic. I enjoy my exercise bike, at home, it’s one of the best things ever invented. I don’t have to go to the gym! I prefer walking though, outside in nature, and can hardly wait for winter to be over. Other than that though, sitting on the sofa and reading is my favourite activity. I’ll have to think of some activity and imagine doing it furiously for 20 minutes while I eat my chips, what do you think? lol or, put another way: 35% of the world are thin (or can be naturally), the rest of us were meant to be plumper! yaaaaay!!! now if only we could get the media to stop blaming us for not being in the 35%…..

    • Susan – don’t you think people just are what they are? And sure, we can alter things a bit here and there (and some people have put on weight that they can take off) but most people are pretty fixed. I am a thin person who would like to be a bit fatter, but can I put on weight? No chance. Bear in mind that I have a special diet for chronic fatigue that involves not eating any sugar, and I think without that it’s impossible to get fatter (so don’t imagine I sit around eating eclairs – I wish!). We also have an exercise bike (although it’s out in the conservatory which is rather chilly in winter and so not inviting) but I’d much rather walk around town. I think it would be great if all my blogging friends put these theories to the test so absolutely – do your 20 seconds and then eat chips (probably messy to do both at once) and let me know what happens! 🙂

      • litlove, I don’t know if people are what they are, in terms of body shape. It’s such a struggle to sort through what is natural and what isn’t, because there are so many conflicting images and theories and health topics and ideas……I often think of 100 years ago, and wonder – they ate butter, and meat, and yes once in their late middle years became stouter – is this normal progression of the body? Were they healthier overall then? If so, what is the difference? diet? cars? stress? Less everyday exercise today? I am wondering as i read middle-age now. And then I think I ought to be slenderer, once I was, so why not now?

        I don’t envy you not being able to eat any sugar, it’s a struggle I have to not eat any. Did you find it difficult to stop eating it, and has it helped with your CFS? I don’t eat much now, though my one real weakness is chocolate.

        I still like the idea of imaging vigorous exercise for 20 seconds! though I love my walking, not because it’s exercise (though i feel the benefits!) but because I love being outside in nature.
        Can we think ourselves thin? Now that would be interesting!!!

  10. How quick I am to embrace what you have to say here about exercise! Your summary works for me, so likely I’ll try tthe 20-second thing and then continue to ramble through our neighborhood, through the varous offices that need visiting for work and then the usual back-and-forth and up-and-down in our house as I clean or fetch stuff (never on the same floor as I am) and be satisfied. Nope, not a purist in terms of excercise either – I’d rather climb a (small) mountain with husband and friends, talking all the while, rather than stand on any sort of machine and watch the frantic numbers pile up as seek to burn calories.

    Completely enjoyed this entry and will not think about all the ones I’ve missed over the past few weeks, but am anxious to get a note to you, here, and say “hello” and hey, I saw some daffodils today, doing quite well. Which means Spring is just around the corner (of course the calendar affirms this, but pooh, those calendars are so scientific, even pedantic in their way).

    So here’s to shorter (or no) jackets and some very cool stuff to read at the links you so generously provided!

    • Oh – it’s so nice to have you visit! And I do so hope that spring is coming. We had it lovely last week, and then on the weekend, it snowed!! Not that the snow settled, but still, it was surprising in not a very good way. Now we have a wind that wants to cut you in two as you walk along, and blows right in your face whatever direction you are pointing in. Sigh. It sounds to me like you have a very active lifestyle and so that probably sorts you out just fine! Hope that work, neighbourhood and family are all good for you (and I will come and see what you have been doing!).

  11. Somehow I don’t think 20 seconds three times a week would work very well for me. My job is so sedentary that I need a good hour of vigorous exercise six days a week for my physical and mental health. I also have the metabolism of a sloth and since I do so much like to eat more than carrots and celery a regular sweaty and hard breathing workout is something I have resigned myself to.

  12. Stefanie, I think the only thing that really matters is that people listen to their own bodies. I’m convinced that they tell us what to do. And if you like exercise or it feels necessary then it is surely a good way to go. The programme only really speaks to couch lovers like me who are desperately lazy! 🙂

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