How much exercise can I really manage to do?
Journalist James Gallagher, host of the show, wondered that InsideHealth (Internal Health) BBC Radio 4. To answer this, he underwent a series of scientific tests and spoke to several experts.
The result of his experiment was encouraging, especially for those, like him, who don’t have a lot of time and may really want to exercise formally every week.
What follows is his first-person testimony.
In a parallel universe: I practically live by the pool, bike everywhere and run 10km just for fun.
But in the real world: I work, have a family, and am a caregiver, so my weekly visit to the pool feels like a real accomplishment.
Although about two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise is recommended each week, approx a quarter of the population does not exercise for even half an hour.
So is there anything easier we can strive for? What is the least amount of exercise that could improve our health?
If anyone wants to make exercise advice less intimidating, it’s Dr Zoe Saynor, Assistant Professor of Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, who is also a retired elite rugby player.
She will help me find the answer. To achieve this, I agreed to wear an activity tracker for a week.
The results were terrifying. I only managed one minute of vigorous exercise (equivalent to jogging) each day and 16 minutes of moderate exercise (something like brisk walking)
“It’s an image we see over and over again in many people living in modern society,” says Saynor.
So, whatever condition my body is in, it will depend in large part on that one-hour swim I do most weekends.
Go faster or go further?
If I want to spend less time exercising but still achieve high results, then the only option is to work more.
“There’s clear evidence that if you want to do shorter workouts, they need to be more intense,” says Saynor.
In the official guide, the alternative to 150 minutes of moderate activity is 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short but high-intensity bouts of activity, is getting a lot of attention.
However, Dr Saynor says most people can’t stick with it because HIIT requires exercise at a very intense level.
What is minimally acceptable?
When it comes to the minimum amount of exercise people should get, Dr. Saynor is a firm believer in 5,000 to 6,000 steps a day.
And while it’s easy to scoff at tips like getting off the bus one stop earlier or walking at lunchtime, it seems they can make a difference.
Research on almost 80,000 people published in the specialized journal JAMA Internal medicine (JAMA Internal Medicine) showed that walking a little more each day reduces the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease or early death.
This pattern continues until you take about 10,000 steps a day, but again, faster steps are worth more than slow ones.
“If you don’t have time to do 10,000 steps a day all at once, can you do 5,000 faster? This would show an improvement in their health,” says Saynor.
You don’t even need to do formal exercise like running, going to the gym or swimming to see noticeable health benefits.
A study published in the journal natural medicine (Natural Medicine), analyzed 25,000 people who did not formally “exercise” but did small intense bouts of activity in their daily lives.
These are activities that may seem disreputable: running to the train, pushing a vacuum cleaner, playing with children or dogs, carrying heavy groceries or climbing stairs.
Research has shown that three to four minutes of short bursts of vigorous activity throughout the day have profound health benefits.
“People who engage in this occasional activity can reduce their risk of serious diseases such as heart failure and cancer by up to 50%,” Mark Hamer, professor of sports and exercise medicine at University College London, tells me.
“Over the past decade, the guidelines have slowly moved away from the 30-plus minutes a day message to the ‘everything counts’ message, and I think these results support that message,” he adds.
Dive into the water and get fit?
If there is still a little time to achieve this, there may be another way that also sounds much nicer.
How about a bath, jacuzzi or sauna?
I put on my favorite swimming shorts and plunged into some kind of pool with very hot water.
This is a precisely controlled experiment, so I couldn’t just jump into the water. Researcher Thomas James had to drag me into a pool of 40 degrees Celsius water so that only my head and neck were above water.
The key thing is that 40 degrees is higher than my internal body temperature (37 degrees Celsius), so the whole time I was there my body was working hard to lose heat.
Very soon I felt sweat pouring down my forehead, but the rest of my body was just wet and not refreshing.
“Hot water is particularly deadly in this regard,” explains James.
If I spent too much time there, I would overheat and die of heatstroke. My heart was beating faster and harder as I tried to lose heat by bringing blood closer to the surface of my skin.
“Your heart will be working hard, similar to what you’d see with light-intensity exercise,” he says.
“We see a reduction in blood pressure, even in healthy people.”
The big idea is to improve exercise.
“This is a very good way of mimicking some of the benefits you get from exercise, but the evidence is pretty clear that exercise is the best and that the two together have greater health benefits,” says James, adding: “I think these are really going to play a big role in the future .”
So if you go to the gym and then the sauna or jacuzzi, you could get excellent results.
However, the Portsmouth team is warning people to follow the recommendations.
“Don’t say, ‘I’ll stay here as long as I can’.” Do it to enjoy it,” says James.
The recommendation is usually between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the type of facility, so it is very important to check beforehand.
Obviously, we should all try to get the recommended amount of exercise, but since this is impossible for many of us, it’s very comforting to know that significant benefits can be achieved by simply doing a little more than we already do.
Bryan Ayala is a highly respected author and journalist, known for his in-depth reporting and analysis on healthcare issues. He currently works as an author at 247 news agency. With a background in medicine and a keen understanding of the complexities of the healthcare system, Bryan’s writing provides readers with a unique and informed perspective on the most pressing issues in healthcare today.