When I first wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago, I started writing about how my week looks currently in terms of movement (hereon in referred to as my movement practice, even if that does sound a little wanky). But then ended up prefacing it with several hundred words explaining the reason my movement practice might look so big and overwhelming to some of you – because it goes way over and above the recommended levels of physical activity for Australians. I didn’t press publish, as I was thinking about the benefits of the post – would it actually be helpful in the way I wanted it to be, or would it just be a source of comparison and not-doing-enough for other people? About a week later, I came across this article– which basically says exactly what I wrote – that the guidelines for the recommended physical activity are way too low if we really want to be preventing disease. The next part of this blog is what I wrote before I read the article above – (with current-day notes made in italics). I just didn’t feel like rewriting it #sorrynotsorry.
“I just don’t believe the Australian guidelines for healthy physical activity. The current recommendation is (for adults) “Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 – 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 – 2 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week” and in my opinion, thats not really enough (also in the opinion of some researchers now!). That means that you could do 30 minutes of moderate physical intensity physical activity (this could be something like slow jogging or cycling, for example) on five days per week, and that would be enough. I just don’t believe this.
I have heard the opinion that when ‘they’ made the recommendations, they actually downgraded the amount recommended because they thought that if they put the real (higher) number, it would seem impossible for people to achieve so they wouldn’t even do anything. I see the logic behind this, but I also think we should be realistic about what our bodies need. And hey, the main source of evidence I base my opinions on is ME, so perhaps it’s simply that my body needs more movement than 2.5 hours a week (Not any more! I can now base my opinions on evidence provided by science!).
Here’s why I say I don’t believe the guidelines – I used to consciously limit my movement because I knew that I had reached the recommendation. Not that I would stop myself from moving if I really wanted to, but, for example, I might consider riding my bike to work, and decide not to if I knew I was going to an hour long aikido class after work. I think I had the idea that if I did a couple of hours of exercise in a day, I would be wearing my body out. However, I now believe that we should be moving our bodies for the majority of the day (note – I don’t mean exercising – see below). So now I just do as much movement as I can. And some days, that is still sweet fuck all (I’m a normal person, after all, called to the couch and TV as much as the next person), but I also have days where I do several hours of movement in one go, or over the course of the day. And I no longer think this is over the top.
(A quick definition of how I define movement vs exercise: movement is anything where your muscles cause a part of your body to move, possibly done for the purpose of achieving a purpose unrelated to improving your health; exercise is a repetitive action using a major muscle group/s (repetitively clenching your jaw doesn’t count, sorry) that is done for the purpose of improving an aspect of your health and fitness)”
Ok and now we’re back in the present day. Are you impressed with my almost psychic knowing that physical activity recommendations were going to increase? Just in case you haven’t noticed, I am 😉
I also want to explain the difference in what this study found compared to the current guidelines. The study looked at activity in METs – metabolic equivalents – per minute. A MET is a measure that takes into account the energy expended doing an activity. 1 MET is how much energy you use just hanging out doing nothing, if you are jogging at a level of 5 METs, you’re using 5 times more energy than if you were sitting still. A MET minute is the energy expended doing an activity, measured over time.
Let’s use walking for pleasure as an example. This has a MET value of 3.5. Which means if you walk for 60 minutes, you times 60 by 3.5, and therefore will expend 210 MET minutes.
600 MET/minutes per week is currently the minimum recommendation, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – which if you use walking, equates to about 170 minutes of walking over the week, or approximately 25 minutes a day. The Aussie guidelines aren’t advertised in METs, but they were used to develop the guidelines, and are equivalent to: 675 – 1350/week. So the lower limit is pretty much the same as the WHO.
This recent study though, says that getting 600 MET minutes/week only leads to a 2% reduction in risk of developing disease, compared to doing nothing. It suggests that the recommendation (for a more significant 19% decrease in risk) should be more like 3000-4000 MET/minutes per week. Again using walking, this would mean more like 1,142 minutes of walking per week, or 2.7 hours a day. Wow. Big jump. (Before you freak out – that’s just an example for walking. If you jogged at 8km/h for 30 minutes on four days a week, you’d cut down your walking required to two hours a day). It goes on to say that higher levels of exercise/movement were correlated with even more decreased risk, but that the decrease in risk was less significant – so the difference between 9000 and 12,000 MET minutes/week was only a 0.6% decrease.
I can imagine the response of some people might be something along the lines of Fuck. Off. Hell no. Or, quite possibly ‘but I dont have enough timmmmeeeee!’ And fair enough. The idea of doing several hours a day of exercise seems unrealistic. So here’s the thing – you can actually do less exercise – if you do more movement. Remember, movement doesnt have to equal exercise. So if you spend 25 minutes riding your bike to work (each way), walk up the stairs to the third story office, walk to the shop and buy just enough groceries for one meal – so you can carry them in your arms around the shop and then home again, you’d be getting close to a couple of hours of movement, with no real structured exercise. As opposed to, walking to your car and then sitting on the way to work, catching the lift and sitting in the office, driving home again, via the supermarket, wheeling a trolley around the supermarket and then to your car, and carrying the stuff from your driveway to your house
They are subtle changes but they can add up to make a difference of active vs sedentary.
Am I sounding judgey? I hope not. It’s something I feel really strongly about, that our entire society has been constructed to support us to move less, and if we want to be healthy and happy in our bodies, we need to take a deliberate stand against it – or we’ll easily fall down the rabbit hole of easier-is-better. I am still thinking about posting what my current movement practice looks like, just because personally I have an almost voyeuristic interest in what other people do…let me know if you’re interested!
PS, because I know you’re wondering/hoping, sexual activity with active, vigorous effort is 2.8 METs. I’ll leave it to you to calculate how much that equates to.