Walking our way to health and happiness

Lynda's Life
Lynda's Life

Were scientists telling us anything we don’t know already when they announced this week that we should all be doing exercise for 20 minutes a day?

The boffins at Cambridge University say a lack of exercise could be twice as deadly as obesity and they’ve proved this through a study of more than 300,000 people in Europe over the past 12 years.

A woman enjoying a wintry walk

A woman enjoying a wintry walk

In a nutshell, twice as many deaths were put down to a lack of physical activity compared with the number attributable to obesity. Just a moderate increase in physical activity, they found, could have huge benefits for our health. They’re suggesting we do 20 minutes’ walking per day – to the bus, around the shops, with the dog – which could help us on the way to a longer life.

Well, a sedentary lifestyle where we sit on our bottoms at a desk all day, drive home and plonk ourselves down on a sofa in front of the television for a few hours a night – it’s never going to spell out the words ‘picture of health’ for any of us, is it? But didn’t we know this already?

Medics, fitness experts, scientists, the government, have all been pushing this message out to us for years, have they not? Thirty minutes’ exercise on five days a week was the last I heard we should be doing. And the NHS website advises that all adults should break up long periods of sitting with light activity. Sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor for health, leading to diabetes, heart problems – and now death itself, earlier than we might have been expecting, apparently.

Years ago I gave up the annual tradition of joining a gym in the month of January when the over indulgence of Christmas is all too apparent around the waistline. By February my enthusiasm for the treadmill had usually worn off. Happily though, March was in sight and with it, spud planting time. I’m telling you, after a day spent digging potato drills you know all about the benefits of exercise as you crawl wearily into bed at night, every muscle and bone in your body aching.

Until gardening season begins properly then, the good news is that those of us who are least fit, and in the winter time I think I’m probably in that group, will benefit most from a daily walk, according to Professor Ulf Ekelund who led the study at Cambridge. He said it was a simple message, that just about 20 minutes of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who aren’t physically active. Exercise, he says, has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life.

I absolutely agree. And to be honest, Prof, your research proves what we kind of already knew. I am reminded of Basil Fawlty, who suggested his nagging wife Sybil should enter the TV quiz Mastermind: “Specialist subject – stating the bleeding obvious.”

In January and February I go to work and it’s dark, I come home from work and it’s dark again. The most I’m motivated to do is stay in and lie low.

So what most of us would be far more interested in hearing from these scientific studies about our health and fitness is this: how exactly do we motivate ourselves to get out and actually DO 20 minutes’ exercise a day? That’s the sort of research we want to hear about – and that would be telling us something new.