Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can exercise save us? If so, will we take it up?

Americans are fat, or at least most Americans. In fact, statistics reveal that more Americans are obese than are merely overweight.

While I didn’t qualify for the former category, I certainly was on my way there, until reversing course back in June. My own experience the past 18 weeks has taught me some really important lessons that were validated this morning, when I found a link to this great story in the Financial Times, about Jerry Morris.

Who is Jerry Morris, you ask? Well Jerry Morris is a British researcher who came upon data that indicated an unprecedented number of people dying of heart attacks in Britain. Morris was the one that set up a vast study to look at heart-attack rates in people fromm a variety of occupations, primarily civil servants—schoolteachers, postmen, transport workers, and others.

As he began carefully sorting through this data, just after WWII (there were no computers to do this work back then), Morris had an inkling that heart attack rates were related to occupation. He was particularly interested in the busmen that were part of his data set. Partly this was do to the sample size being large, but also, he noted that the data was particularly telling in that the drivers and conductors were from the same social class, yet, conductors rates of heart attack was half that of the drivers. The only explanation that Morris could come up with was that the drivers were sedentary and the conductors on the double-decker busses had to climb up and down stairs, taking tickets all day.

Today, it’s a given that exercise can help lower the risk of heart disease. In 1949, however, Morris was the first one to make that connection.

The article goes on to mention that Morris began his connection to exercise in early childhood.

“My father used to take me on a four-mile walk from Glasgow once a week, when I was a schoolboy. We used to aim to do the four miles in an hour. If we did that OK, I got an ice-cream. If we did it in even a minute less, I got a choc-ice.”

Morris himself is now 101, and still regularly shows up for work at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where his office is.

The most interesting part of Morris’ study for me was the correlation between heart health and vigorous exercise.

When Morris compiled his research, an inordinate amount of these civil servants were gardeners—91 percent actually—it’s what “kept them sane,” Morris reported. He originally believed this would keep them from heart disease, but he found out that only vigorous exercise—running, biking, playing football, swimming, etc. had the capacity to do that.

In my own case, it wasn’t until I ramped up my activity, as well as becoming more conscious of how many calories I was taking in that I began to see any significant and consistent weight loss. Merely cutting calories wasn’t going to do it. Continuing to overeat also wasn’t helping. It required a combination, but physical activity was certainly a key factor in my success. It will continue to be, if I am to remain successful in keeping the weight (47 pounds as of this morning, btw) off.

I’ve mentioned Tyler before, he of He’s now down 123.6 pounds in 40 weeks. How’s he doing it? Yep; reducing calories, and of course, ramping up his physical activity.

Here’s a running routine he’s adopted.

Now that the days are growing shorter, I can’t bike after work. I’ve rediscovered my treadmill in the basement, and most mornings, I’m on it 35-40 minutes before work, and sometimes another 20-30 minutes in the evening.

This week’s been a challenge—for the past two mornings, I’ve had to leave the house before 7:00, headed to early morning appointments for work. Last night, I came home after a very long day and hit the treadmill for 35 minutes. I have been alternating somewhat like Tyler, between walking/running. I’ll usually walk for the first five minutes, starting first at 3.9 and then increasing to 4.1, or 4.1. Then at 5:00, I crank it up to 6.8 and run for two minutes, or sometimes, 2:15, then walk for another two, or three minutes, run two, et cetera. I also try to get a 3-4 minute burst in about midway through, and do some light weighted exercises for my upper body.

After that routine, I came up and hit the Lifecycle for 30 minutes watching the Celtics pregame. Burned about 800 calories, which helped offset the 2,300 calories I consumed for the day.

As Morris’ study shows, obesity, and all the attendant health issues connected to our sedentary lifestyle and lack of activity will continue to plague us in the U.S., as well as developing nations that refuse to learn from our mistakes here in the west.

No comments: