The Truth About Exercise

The Truth About Exercise was a documentary that recently aired on BBC 2, it looked at how modern day people go about exercising and how we could possibly improve the way we do things. It also looked at how simple changes to our day-to-day routine could have a positive impact on our long term health, and it discussed some of the latest research with regards to how well some people respond to aerobic exercise. Over the last couple of days a number of people have asked me about the program and what it discussed – so, what do I think?


It Really Is Important to Warm-up Correctly

Michael Mosley’s competitive side got the best of him when during the warm-up he attempted to race Will Sharman, a professional 110 meter hurdler, and within three strides was rendered incapable of moving due to a pulled hamstring! Use a dynamic, movement based warm-up to promote quality of movement and activate the muscles you’re about to use – be specific, address your weaknesses and get dynamic!


NEAT – Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis 

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It’s this concept which has shaped so many of the guidelines that have been released by the government over the last few years – advice such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to the local shops instead of driving the car. This is great advice and a large percentage of people would benefit from increasing their NEAT due to the positive affect it has on our metabolisms and energy consumption. However, this is nothing new – the idea that you can improve your health by moving more throughout the day is just common sense. As well as accumulating fatty deposits around our bodies due to, amongst other things, being so sedentary, we also develop all manner of postural issues and movement disorders that lead to issues such low back pain – something that 80% of the population will suffer with at some point in their lives. Just the fact that we can go out-and-about and experiencing things is what makes being human so awesome, well, most of the time! Everybody knows that our modern lifestyle is making us lazy – we’re not designed to spend large parts of the day in a seated position. We used to run after our prey for hours on end until it collapsed due to exhaustion – a practise know as persistence hunting – we were, and still are, machines.


HIT – High Intensity Exercise

The expriment which Michael Mosley took part in required him to undertake 12 minutes of exercise over 4 weeks, consisting of 20 second bursts of extremely high intensity exercise. After the four weeks were up he ended up with an improvement in insulin sensitivity of 23%, that is, his body had become better able to absorb blood glucose and stabilise levels within the blood. Having too much glucose in the blood stream can lead to diabetes and heart disease – so it’s fair to the say that the results of the experiment were pretty good! 

High intensity exercise, or interval training, or whatever you want to call it has been around for donkey’s years, and there’s bags of evidence to prove that you’ll see better improvements in anaerobic and aerobic capacity in a fraction of the time when using this method. There are two other really good benefits to high intensity interval style training as well. The first is you’ll maintain your muscle mass, especially when using weights, which results in a faster metabolism at rest (you’ll burn more calories when you’re doing nothing). The second is a phenomenon called Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC); after an intense bout of exercise, the metabolic cost to the body is very high and in the hours following our bodies burn loads of calories in order to balance hormones and replenish energy sources.

But, and there’s a huge but, an hour is not enough time to show all the other aspects that should be included in a well designed health and fitness plan; they did well to highlight the fact that people spend far too much time endlessly plodding away on a treadmill, but neglected other important factors that also have an affect on metabolism (there are many other positives as well) such as resistance training. Maybe this was to be expected, but I just fear that it reinforces the notion that the quest for aerobic fitness is the be all and end all for people looking to improve their health – it’s only part of the puzzle.


Horizon – The Truth About Exercise

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