Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Banishing Exercise Guilt
The concern of this blog is the overall idea of getting old. Drilling down a bit, that means “what it is really like” to do so because there is hardly any place to find the truth about it.
Among the realities of aging is health. Our bodies mostly serve us well for many decades. But as they age, parts wear out, things go wrong. What doesn't kill us, can limit our choices and what we once did with ease can become problematic.
Our physicians help with the big things – modern-day tests to diagnose diseases and conditions before they are serious, drugs to control deficiencies and surgery to correct malfunctions.
What the doctors can't and don't do much beyond the occasional lecture is care for the day-to-day maintenance of our health. Eating well, exercise, enough rest, etc. are our individual responsibility.
For that, there is no dearth of information, especially online - although sometimes on the same website the useful and honest cozy up to the questionable. But if you're smart about it, it is not much of a chore to separate the good from charlatans. Hint: if the expert/guru/health organization is selling any kind of pill, look elsewhere.
There is another category of information, however, that I've had enough of. I've never liked it but what pushed me over the edge was a story last week in the Health section of The New York Times reporting on a group of studies about exercise.
This time they have gone way beyond good suggestions to total craziness.
What appears to have driven the researchers 'round the bend is the fact that no matter how much or how little time their study volunteers exercised, “they spent an equivalent amount of time the rest of the day being mostly torpid physically.”
There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of health advice stories telling us that we will die no later than early next week if we don't start jogging and lifting weights before 5PM today. But this story goes further than any yet in the guilt-inducing department:
”...their results suggest that normal exercise, which fills so few hours of even active people’s days, 'may not be enough in terms of health.'
“Of course, exercise remains valuable, she and Dr. Dunstan are both quick to add. It reduces risks for cardiovascular disease and other conditions and burns calories.
“But exercise paired with otherwise unalloyed sitting should be avoided, Dr. Dunstan says. 'It is important the general public become more conscious about what they do in their non-exercise time,' he says.
“'Almost everybody, he says, 'should look for opportunities to reduce their daily sitting time and move more, more often, throughout the day.'”
Reading this, I was livid – even moreso, as the week progressed, when I couldn't get Dr. Dunstan's words out of my mind. What would he have us do, I wondered, spend the eight hours remaining after sleep and work at the gym? Or hand mow the south 40?
In another part of the story, Dunstan notes that even 90 minutes of exercise every day is not enough if the person spends 90 minutes in another part of the day sitting.
I recalled that our ancestors spent most of their days on their feet tilling the land, cooking, washing clothes by hand, milking cows, riding horses, mucking out barns, harvesting crops, etc. And they all died by age 40.
And what's this “unalloyed sitting” Dr. Dunstan refers to. Unalloyed means pure, uncontaminated, not mixed with other things. How does he know when his volunteers were staring into space while sitting (which can be time well spent) or if they were reading a book, taking a class, writing a paper, eating a meal.
There are many things for which we need to sit – a job, for example, for most people. I suspect even research scientists spend a great deal of time on their tushes to get their work done.
This story so got under my skin that several days later, I went back to read it again and I found I wasn't alone in my anger. More than 150 comments and nearly all agreed with me. A few good examples with some excellent points:
From ekeizer4 in Oregon:
"You know what? I don't care. I exercise religiously, probably obsessively, and if I want to sit on the couch in the evening, I am darn well going to do so. I'm sick of daily life being tagged as unhealthy."
Concerned Citizen in Anywheresville:
"The Nagging Industrial Complex survives - and gets paid big bucks - for CONSTANTLY ragging on people and trying to make them feel guilty. Why? guilty, shamed people will buy ANYTHING - standing desks. Treadmills (that end up an expensive coat stands). Diet plans. Diet books. Diet foods."
marymary in Washington, D.C.:
"What really gets to me is the institutionalization of down time. Hang on the couch and read, maybe catch a laugh? No way! Must meditate instead, and must be 'mindful' at all other times."
grammyofWandA in Maine:
"I, for one, have a desk job. On any given day, whether I swim laps or use the treadmill before and/or after work, I am going to spend 9 hours tethered to my desk."
dc lambert in nj:
"Most people are sedentary for three reasons not discussed here, and they don't have to do with laziness...
- Their jobs require them to be sedentary.
- They don't have *any* time in the day to exercise. Many of us have two jobs and have to drive an hour to get to them.
- They are beyond stressed by their jobs - threat of being fired, losing their homes, working for a downsized department - and when they get home, they collapse and can barely move."
And one of my top five favorite of the Times comments from one of our contemporaries [emphasis is mine]:
joan in Sarasota
"HA! Seriously, at age 70, me, how much extra moving time every day would I need to extend my life for how long?
"My cat, rescued 13 years ago in Madagascar, now on his third continent, and I, a retired diplomat who spent most of my adult life overseas, are happy, respectively, to race to the window when the raccoon appears and go to the museum for a special exhibit as well as relax dreaming of lemurs or reading a great book.
"I'm happy to move to tend the orchids. I make myself move to bring in the groceries, but make myself move, park further away so arthritic knees could hurt longer, for what - live a fortnight longer? CARPE DIEM and sweet dreams."
Of course, I'm not saying that we should not make the effort to get enough exercise but this is just one more story designed to make us feel guilty enough to buy more stuff. I have a lot more belief in the Times' readers who responded to this crap than the study itself.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: Grammar School Hierarchy