Whenever there is a documentary about exercise and fitness, it's usually not long before a member asks me about the claims made in the show, so I have to be on my guard at all times! I don't watch an awful lot of TV, but yesterday I did catch some of Michael Mosely's "The Truth About Getting Fit" (It's on BBC player if you fancy it) and I can say that it is well worth watching if you get chance. There are some good takeaway bits of information on there, and also a few which could do with a bit more explanation, so here are my 6 key pieces of info from the show!
1. Don't be one of the statistics!
The first thing to takeaway from the show is just how bad things currently are. The opening line of the show, Dr Mosely says "I know I should do more regular exercise, but the honest truth is that I have neither the time or the inclination". Well I hope that was just a set-up line as he goes on to demonstrate that exercise does not have to take hours, and also it can be fun! I firmly believe that part of the problem in the UK is that our default position on exercise seems to be negative. We always seem to start off with a reason as to why we can't exercise. Even in the show, Mosely seems to reel off excuse after excuse of why he can't run, or doesn't have time to visit the gym. But, he also goes on to explain that 20 million brits are physically inactive. I'm an optimist when it comes to exercise, so keep watching, because he does go on to explain just how accessible 'fitness' can be!
2. You don’t need a personal trainer to test your current fitness level
According to Mosley, you can embark on your fitness journey for free by testing your base level of fitness in your living room.
One way of doing this is by finding out how long it takes you to stand up and sit down from a chair 10 times, without using your hands. All you need is a hard chair and a way to time yourself to get a “quick but relatively accurate” idea of your current fitness level.
As a loose rule it’s a case of the faster, the better. But men under 35 should be able to do 10 chair stands in 10 seconds or less, while women of the same age should be able to compete 10 in 12 seconds. Men aged 35-55 should be able to complete the test in 13 seconds, women in 15 seconds. Finally, men over 55 are considered in good physical fitness if they can complete the test in under 18 seconds, while women of the same age should aim for under 19 seconds.
3. 10,000 steps per day isn’t the holy grail of fitness
Walking 10,000 steps per day has been widely adopted as a health goal, with 13 million Brits now tracking their steps each day. But research suggests the 10,000 figure is pretty arbitrary when it comes to improving your fitness level.
With the help of six volunteers and supporting researchers, he investigated what might have the greatest impact on fitness: walking 10,000 steps per day or completing three 10-minute sessions of brisk walking per day (equalling around 3,000 steps), known as ‘Active 10’. A brisk walk should make you a bit out of breath but shouldn’t be gruelling. As Mosley said, “you should be able to talk, but not sing”.
The volunteers were split into two groups and given activity trackers to wear. The first group incorporated 10,000 steps into their day, while the second completed Active 10.
On comparing the data from the trackers by the end of the week, although the Active 10 group spent less time moving, they completed 30% more “moderate to vigorous activity” than the first group. This is the type of activity that has the most health benefits, and is linked to lowered risk of diabetes and heart disease. So in conclusion for this point - short bursts of dedicated exercise are more beneficial than simply "keeping active" however I'm sure we can agree that we should all be doing both!
4. Just two minutes of exercise per week could improve your fitness
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, could be the key to upping your fitness if you’re short on time. In fact, just two minutes per week could make a difference.
During the show Mosley enlisted the help of a group of office workers to test the impact of completing HIIT cycling sessions. Three times per week, the volunteers peddled as hard as possible for 20 seconds on an exercise bike, took a brief break, then peddled as hard as they could for another 20 seconds. This added up to just two minutes of intense exercise per week.
At the start of the experiment, a team of scientists tested the groups’ aerobic fitness by monitoring their oxygen levels while using an exercise bike. When the test was repeated five weeks later, the volunteers had increased their level of aerobic fitness by 11%.
Using an ultrasound scanner, the scientists were also able to see how HIIT altered the muscles. Just one session reduced the amount of glycogen (sugar) in muscles by 24% - you would have to jog for between three to five minutes to achieve the same results. This reduction will trigger other beneficial changes in the body, such as improved cardiovascular health.
“All exercise releases some glycogen from our muscles, but HIIT does it faster and more effectively,” said Mosley. HIIT training is a recent phenomenon so the jury is still out on it's effectiveness. My opinion is that it is certainly better than no exercise, but you should remember that there are lots of different types of fitness, and whilst HIIT can help cardiovascular help, it will do little for stamina, muscle tone, flexibility and strength. So don't rely on 2 minutes a week to reach your goals!
5. Bigger isn’t better when it comes to weights
Once you reach 35 you start to lose around 1% of your muscle mass each year, so building muscle is an important part of maintaining your overall fitness. The good news is you can benefit without lifting enormous weights.
A group of newbie weightlifters agreed to test lifting both heavy and light weights. They were instructed to curl a heavy weight with their right arm until they can’t keep going, then repeat the exercise on their left side with a light weight. The volunteers also did this with heavy and light weights on their legs.
After six weeks of gym sessions repeating these exercises, the researchers re tested their strength – only to find the size of the weight “didn’t make any difference”.
Arm strength increased by 18% across the group and leg strength by 25% - on both sides. And the participants didn’t appear lopsided because they were able to work out for longer with smaller weights. However, and there is a big factor here, the group were all training to the point of failure with both weights, and obviously that is going to take a lot longer with light weights. Also, 100% of the group said that they would not continue with the light weights and would opt for the heavier ones as they said the lighter weights seemed to be more uncomfortable to train with, and also down to the time taken.
6. You can't just rely on willpower to keep you motivated
The most interesting experiment to me was one where he got a group to perform a wall sit twice, however half the group performed their second one after their willpower had been tested with some delicious cookies. These people performed much worse after they had been tempted, whereas the ones who hadn't been tested performed the same both times. What we can take from this is that willpower alone is not enough. We all will have our willpower tested at some point, it might be the sofa, the kids or a rainy night that stop you from going to the gym but it is going to happen. So you need something more than just willpower. That is why at FIT we have monthly reviews, to keep you on track. We give you regular programme updates to keep it interesting. And, we create an atmosphere that you will enjoy going to!
So if you haven't been to see us for a while, give us a call today and get your trainers on - we can't wait to help you get fit too!