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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Banishing Exercise Guilt

category_bug_journal2.gif 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...
  1. Their jobs require them to be sedentary.
  2. 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.
  3. 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


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

It is always about balance. We need some aerobic activity, some strength building, some yoga and stretching and balance activity (taking a walk), some meditation, some dreaming, some mental stretching, some laughter and it all depends on our time sumps, of course. Just a little of each is better than nothing.

At last...some sense about exercise. I do not exercise and do not care if I die 12 months before all those who obsessively walk and work out! At 72 I would far rather sit and read or spend time online (reading Ronni!!)

I am pretty much to the point of hating to read any health related story. To get their thesis air time, they have to come up with something new-- so (as an example) diabetes comes from doing ____ or from ___ and is made worse by___ and ___. So do ___. That wouldn't be so bad except the next writer will say the exact opposite. Statins will help you avoid _____ no wait, they will ____. One day hormones are going to kill you. The next you can get this and that benefit from them. Aspirin will save your life-- no wait, it'll kill you and on it goes. They get money for studies and they get their papers publicized by them being shocking or controversial even. If they say whatever anybody else said, they won't get anybody caring. So it's always something new. It is enough to drive a person nuts. I do read some of it for the same reason others do-- it sounds like a new idea. Generally I am sorry I did.

Excellent thoughts well stated!

Wah, wah, wah. Getting off your butt does not mean running four miles. It means just that - get off your butt. It can be as simple as standing during commercials, while reading or knitting, while on the phone or in a meeting. I know I feel better physically and mentally if I get up and walk around the house or office periodically during my work day or add some stretches when I go to the restroom. One BIG payoff - I have more energy for my granddaughter. Move it or lose it.

I might be considered an exercise fanatic -- because moving makes me feel good! -- but I too read that in the Times and was furious. It's stupid. We move because we want or need to -- and we sit for the same reasons. There are societal reasons why some of us may get less exercise than our ancestors. That's mostly a good thing! Plueeze...

And we start training kids to sit all day starting when they are around six. Preparing them for a life spent at a desk.
I'm going to do what makes me happy for this last stretch of my life. And that involves a fair bit of sitting around with a cat on my lap, though I'm still up for a 20k ski or bike ride.

Amen. Most of my "exercise" comes from pottering and going back to the room I was in trying to remember what I left to get, ha, ha. I have two conditions with food lists that are polar opposites, the heck with them.

Thank you for venting for me. Quite a while I realized that according to media reports about all the different things that "can kill you", the only really healthy option left is to die.
Still, the occasional story will catch my attention and either unrealistically give me "hope" or scare me to death. Focusing on the fact that ALL these stories are really just ads helps. Thank you.

Life is all about choices.

If I feel like moving, I do. My preferred exercise is walking/hiking, lifting heavy groceries/boxes and doing my own housekeeping and gardening.

Eight years ago, I chose to decline treatment for a major inflammatory degenerative disease and instead did my own research, changed my diet and reversed the disease even though my doctor said it couldn't be done. Now I read science for a hobby.

Carpe Diem indeed!

If sitting is so bad for us, why are there chairs in doctors' waiting rooms?

If sitting most of the day will kill you I should have died ten years ago.

I read that NY Times article and some of the comments, I was particularly struck by the comment from a 70-yr-old who said that since she set up a adjustable standup desk for her computer she has recovered substantial mobility and balance, more than she previously considered possible.

I agree that Health writers do like to natter at us about what is bad for us, nevertheless as someone else here said, just getting out of the chair is what helps. Less sitting, more anything else. Even if it's wandering around trying to remember what we got up to get.

I love sitting around reading, I really do. But I have become conscious of how easy it is to lose one's mobility simply by not being mobile. I have too many friends who really regret not being able to go for a simple walk anymore.

Maybe getting off one's butt extends one's life, maybe not. But for sure it improves the quality of life you have left.

If you let articles like the one you reviewed make YOU feel guilty, honey, you're going to die from excessive anxiety, not lack of exercise. All they're trying to say is movement (especially for those of us with arthritis)is good for us.

Jogged for a month. Shin splints. Never again.

Boy, did you ever strike a responsive chord - as if no one is entitled to any off-time for rest.. "Phooey" to the "experts".

The key is balance--get some exercise every day and forget the experts. IMHO

Thank you thank you thank you Ronni!
I, for one, love to read with my
Dachshund on my lap. If this is bad for my health, I'm a sandwich.

You're right, Darlene.

We should be up there polishing those Pearly Gates together.

We would make a deal with the Lord to only have to polish the bottom half of the gates.

Wouldn't want to have to get out of our chairs to polish, would we?

I realized recently that during those periods of time when I’ve spent most of the day outside, doing manual work of some kind—homesteading in my fifties or more recently in my seventies creating a brand new veggie garden which involved day after day of heavy digging—I have felt more alive, glowing and healthy than at any other times in my life. And I’ve slept heaps better than usual. So for a few days after the new garden was dug, I tried to find other ways to fill the whole day with manual activity so that I’d keep feeling that good. But of course I couldn’t. There just aren’t that many physical things that need doing. Even though I hand-wash and line-dry my laundry, walk to the store and carry the groceries home, do a bit of housework, work a bit in the garden and take time out to dance at some point in the day and even though I am no couch potato and walk several miles a day, I was simply unable to find ways to keep physically moving for more than a few hours in any given day. For a while there-especially after I read that report - I started to feel guilty every time I sat at the computer or curled up with a library book. But I soon came to my senses. I reminded myself that if I’d had to do manual labor all my life I could never have followed the profession I loved, or written books or edited a magazine or created Web pages or done any of the other dozens of things that required hours and hours of sitting in one spot and I am glad I’ve done those things. The researchers may well be right. But if they are, that’s just too bad. I make my choices and I accept the consequences. The best I can do is make sure there is some balance between sitting and moving—and hope for the best.

We're all born dying. I do get tired of people telling me how to do it. Thanks for ranting for me.

Affluent yuppies are leading lives so strenuous that they are unwittingly reproducing the conditions of overwork that caused their forebears to age prematurely and die young. Then there are the people who give up on themselves and get fat and sedentary. Americans are such extremists, unable to find a golden mean, eating sensibly, exercising moderately, and above all enjoying what they do.

Kudos to you for writing this! It needed to be said and I don't know anybody who could say it better than you! But if we live long enough, we'll find out from some study or another what we already know! There's a lot more to attaining longevity than exercising yourself to exhaustion! like peace of mind that comes from knowing you're not going to live forever and feeling grateful for it!

So, let me see:

Alarm clock sends signal to sound system. It plays "I'm Too Sexy for my Sheets."

I pole vault out of bed, commence to dance on the spot, BOOM, lie down, do 200 situps and 100 arm weights with cat balanced on my head.

Jog into bathroom, do my morning thing to "Like a Prayer,"

Shower to "Crocodile Rock."

Drop soap, 50 squats, stumble bum punishment in shower.

Emerge dizzy. Who cares? Nobody around. Do the twist to kitchen.

Swing back and forth on refrigerator door.

"Boogie Woogie Woogie Dancing Shoes."

Yank out food, eat balancing on two watermelons.

Oh, forgot clothes.

Ah, I'm sweating already.

Okay if you insist.

Salsa backward to bedroom and into duds.

You can't make me wear panty hose.

Bunny hop to mail box. Keep moving or else.

Or else what?

The fitness cops will take me in, and you know you don't want to see me perp walked out of my suburban home in cuffs.

Toward the end of world war 2, glossy magazine articles extolled the virtues of women quitting their respected home front jobs and settling into suburbia, with nice shiny appliances, picket fences and a family.

Some chose to follow, others to lead.

Later, Betty Friedan had some words to say on that. She had a point.

Now I'm noticing similar vein articles pushing people to work forever, although I have yet to see pages of job ads or respectable opportunities for seniors.

But I do see manipulative articles aimed at seniors:

"You're not good enough, strong enough, you don't eat properly, you're not working out enough, you shouldn't be working at 80, you must fake looking younger if you want a job, you can't dance, sing, think, so why don't you get out of the way?"

What a bunch of conflicting crud.

Which way is it?

Seniors must work forever, but at the same time get out of the way?

Message to writer of said article:

Check the number of hours teens sit in front of their technical devices.

Quit trying to manipulate seniors.

We weren't born yesterday.

We are all victimes of "Publish or Perish" which holds in academia and in the "news" media. Today's people are just rehashing and refining stuff from years gone by. This stuff is "make work".

I keep saying: There are not enough things that need doing, today, to support all of the people who need jobs to support themselves and their families. So...tell me, again, why we look down on people who have no job, and why we complain about our taxes supporting those who do not work.

I'm not sure this is what they're talking about, but as someone who sat behind a desk for 30-odd years -- and has the bulging discs and carpal tunnel to prove it -- I can second the opinion that you shouldn't sit for too long, but should get up and walk around and stretch and get the blood running, regardless of how much exercise you get at the gym or over the wknd.

But, I agree, those health writers sure like to scold us, don't they?

. . . .and have you noticed that every night on National News there is a segment on health - usually women's - usually something on cancer? A few nights ago they talked about a diabetes drug that was a cancer-cure all. I agree, pretty soon we all just dial out!!! Personally, I just came home with wonderful brownies, thoroughly enjoyed them AND I worked out this AM. I know they are no part of my approved healthy eating program BUT I sure enjoyed them. . . . .living life in the fast lane!

A great post and excellent comments. There really are lots of contradictory studies out there about health and exercise. I love to exercise but also love to sit and read or work at my computer.

A bit of a quibble about our ancestors dying young due to all the hard work: Many of them lived about as long as we do today. However, many young women died in childbirth-- which is now almost unheard of in the U.S. And many children died young due to infectious diseases before the days of vaccinations and antibiotics.

Most studies have shown that even 30 minutes a WEEK of exercise is beneficial, and 15- 30 minutes a day is plenty. Don't sweat it. ;^)

The nagging classes have found senior health a never-ending source of material for magazines and newspapers. Forget it! Next year we'll breathlessly be told that all that swimming, tennis, aerobics, etc. are really very bad for the"oldies". This tendency is paralell to the American media's way of excessively building up some person and then delighting in tearing them down. (And then generating a million talk show analysts.) A-A-A-r-g-h!

What interesting responses!I just today heard a comment on Dr. Oz that I've been hearing for several years now--that people who fidget constantly burn up a lot of calories. I must admit that is me--my sister accuses me of having a spring in my butt. And I AM skinny, so who knows?

I SO agree with your rant (er, post), Ronni, and with most of the respondents' posts, as well. I'm a pretty active person, but I hate-hate-hate being guilt-tripped constantly about what I SHOULD be doing! Like if I don't take 10,000 steps a day every day, I might as well update my obituary right now.

There's so much conflicting information floating around about what is/is not O.K. to eat and how much exercise is "enough". How do we normal human beings with other things going on in our lives sort it all out? My plan: keep doing as much as I can for as long as I can. I've never been Ms. Athlete of the Year and I'm not about to start now. Although I'm sure the "authorities" are right that exercise is a very good thing, I reject the idea of being shamed all the time.

I have come to the conclusion something is afoot. We need a large study so we can prove that studies such as this one are commissioned and funded by life insurance companies (who are jealous of the health insurance companies). That way when we die they can say it is our own fault and deny death benefits.

We had a documentary on television recently in Britain which showed the latest research on exercise which was that strenous exercise i.e swimming or running followed by 8 hours sitting was not as beneficial as what they called "fidgeting" time - getting up and moving around every hour just by stretching , walking or just pottering around the house.
It had nothing to do with age. The key seemed to be to keep moving.

Have just read online the original story in the New York Times. It is based in the documentary I saw.
I am not certain why folk are getting so bothered about it - all they are saying is that you don't have to hit the gym three times a week to be healthy - just make sure you don't sit for hours on end..
And surely that is good news for us all whether we are 17 or 70?

A great thing about being a fully mature adult is I can pick and choose how much of that unsolicited and conflicting health advice I want to pay attention to. Then, with the wisdom of age, I can analyze it rather quickly and do as I damn well please.

I just happen to enjoy exercise. I’ve always been engaged in one way or another whether it was during my school years, while at home with a Jane Fonda tape or presently at the Y. I also sit a lot reading and just relaxing. And I’ve learned that if I want to keep the few friends I have to just stop talking about it.

Just a quick note before I head off to the gym: I truly appreciate your take on these things, Ronni, but my hat is off to your commenters! Some had me laughing out loud. Since I retired, exercise is central to my life, and I'm enjoying myself mightily. But I still sit and read for hours at a time, ponder the world while sitting at the computer, and who cares, if I am enjoying my life? I am also turning 70 this year and I can do whatever I please! :-)

Bravo Ronnie! Excellent post. One month shy of my 62nd birthday and looking at a full knee replacement, your article and Joan in Sarasota's comment reminded me of something my dad often said later in his life. The gist of it was "what exactly am I trading for what?" and "what is the value of that end result?". It goes to the quality of life in the time left.

I am truly glad for all the people who love their 5K runs and their gym workouts and their bike treks in the mountains. But I do tire of listening to them lecture the rest of us.

Sometimes I feel the nagging has reached the overkill stage. And if you read the comment sections of major blogs and news outlets you hear a lot of ugly comments about overweight people and smokers that are (in my opinion) over the top.

Tethered to a desk for 8-10 hours a day - by CHOICE! To me that is liberating and screw the joggers whose knees will give out about the time they get skin cancer from being out in the sun so much. I'll live to be old AND healthy (thanks to my wee grandsons who wrestle with me on the weekends) - my resting heart rate's 47 - what's yours?

Spending hours at the gym will result in you living longer.

But what if the extra years just add up to the hours you spent at the gym? Would that be worth it?

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