Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Weekly Fitness Challenge

One of my great learning's this year has been social media in general and Twitter in particular. One of the interesting things to me has been the sense of community that develops in online gatherings. Whilst you may not personally have met the people,you certainly get a feel for who they are through the words and comments posted.

As in any gathering of people you tend to gravitate towards those who have similar interests and passions. With this in mind I find that I have “met up” with some wonderful people who are passionate about health and wellness and are doing something each day to make a difference.

One of my new Twitter buddies is Geoff Hampton who is the founder of The Weekly Fitness Challenge as well as being an author speaker and internationally respected business consultant. It is a great honor for me to have been appointed International Medical Director for The Weekly Fitness Challenge. There are a number of top people who have gotten involved on the board that Geoff has set up. (see link)

So what’s the big deal you may be asking? As I write in Dr Joes DIY Health-Putting You in Charge of your Health “The body is designed to be active and until recently, we didn’t have a choice as movement and physical activity were a normal part of life.
Our early forebears had to chase after food in order to survive and up until the industrial revolution most work was physical in nature.

Cars, labor-saving devices, escalators and remote controls have made for a very “easy” life. Collectively, the developed world is paying for its ability to automate simple everyday tasks and chores. The price is the growing rates of obesity and lower rates of fitness. It is worth noting that regular exercise is important at any weight and that being fit plays a role independent of weight in keeping you healthy.

Unfortunately, many people recoil in horror at this suggestion because exercise is seen as a chore. Furthermore, like many simple tasks where researchers and experts get involved, exercise has been portrayed as being far more complicated than it needs to be. “

Yet it doesn’t need to be hard. Exercise can be simple and most importantly fun.

This is why initiatives such as the weekly fitness challenge are so important. It is a program designed to get people who aren’t doing exercise to do so. It does this by encouraging those who do regular exercise to “reach out” to their family, friends or co-workers and get them active. There are 12-week cycles and each week there is a different activity. Each one is for group involvement emphasis is on fun and participation.

Geoff has designed the program to appeal to the unconverted. In other words it is fairly easy to get the message about exercise across to those who are exercising This is about reaching those who are not currently exercising regularly and helping them get started in a supportive environment.

The health benefits of regular activity are many. Whilst it may sound obvious, there is only benefit if you do it. Those who don’t exercise will get the benefits when they change behaviors and get active. The weekly fitness challenge is about getting people involved at a grass roots level and changing peoples lives for the better. I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this initiative.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Smoke,mirrors and farm animals.

Two issues caught my eye this week. In my home of West Australia new legislation is being passed to make smoking in cars illegal when there are children present( link 1). This is as usual being hailed as a measure that will “save lives”.

Whilst this sounds great there are some unanswered “awkward” questions. Firstly how exactly is such a law to be enforced? Police are busy enough without trying to see whether cars contain someone smoking in the presence of a child under 17. Practically speaking unless a police car pulls up next to you at the lights your chances of being caught are minimal. Furthermore those who smoke in cars will also smoke at home. Given most people spend more time at home than in a car then how much less smoke are these children being exposed to?

Now the supporters of the bill will say that now that it is illegal, people wont do it because they don’t want to break the law. In other words they will do the right thing. This is the crux of the matter. Issues like this are a matter of personal judgment and not law enforcement. Those who want to smoke in their car will continue to do so, children present or not. Given the extremely low likelihood of penalty the behavior will not change. Those who wouldn’t do so already are doing the “right thing”. Legislating in areas of personal behavior (such as smoking) sends a message that it is the governments responsibility not that of the individual.

Lets be honest-Smoking is not good for you. No one who has started smoking in the last 35 years is not aware of this - yet choose to do so anyway. Petty laws will not change this. As I wrote on June 5 (link 2) the best way to stop smoking is to just stop smoking.

The other issue this week is our old friend the swine flu. Australian Health Department figures show that the spread in Australia is diminishing and that the virus is generally mild. Total deaths associated with H1N1 have been 150. This is significantly less than the usual flu toll in winter.

Despite this plans continue for a mass vaccine roll out. As I predicted on August 28, the government has stepped in to indemnify doctors who administer the vaccine. A special consent form will be used and its distribution will be under a legal clause that endorses its safety. We now have special immunity from damages claims for both manufacturers and doctors, a vaccine which has had little testing and is to be administered from multi dose vials which were effectively banned many years ago.

Public health officials worry that the row over indemnity may have damaged public confidence in the vaccine. If the vaccine is so safe why the need for special indemnity for the manufacturers and the doctors?

For unknown reasons and despite clear evidence to the contrary, public health officials continue to treat H1N1 like they were chicken little and claim the sky is falling. Is this some bizarre farm animal thing? Chicken little doesn’t like the pigs?? Memo to the powers that be -the sky isn’t falling.

Interestingly according to Australian Doctor magazine (Sept 4) a poll of UK doctors revealed 60% would refuse to be vaccinated and 71% of Australian doctors were either unsure or would refuse.

This tells you something. For the record I am in the group that will refuse a vaccine and I will not let my family have one either.

1 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/11/2682811.htm

2 http://drjoesdiyhealth.blogspot.com/2009/06/stopping-smoking-made-simple.html

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Keeping fit may be easier than you think.

For many people exercise is something extra to do in a busy schedule. This was not always so. In previous years we had to be active to stay alive. Our more ancient ancestors could only eat what they caught or gathered. Through the ages most work has been physical right up to the advent of the technological age. This included work on farms or factories. Until the 1950s most people had to walk or cycle to get to places, as cars were not commonplace.

Cast your minds back even one generation. To change the television set you had to get up out of your chair. To open the garage door meant getting out of the car and opening the door, walking back to the car and then driving in. Clothes were mainly hung out on lines rather than bundled into driers and dishes were mainly washed by hand.

Now there is no case to be made for going back to live in caves, nor any need to abstain from devices which make our lives easier. However there is never such a thing as a free lunch. I have seen estimates that all the labor saving efforts of the last 25 years mean we use up about 2kg worth of calories less each year in our normal day to day lives. After 10 years this is 20kg.

The main reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Given that most of the devices, which reduce our “labor”, also save us time, where is all this time going? Statistics show that the average American spends 151 hours per month watching television. I suspect Australian and European stats may not be too much different. This is 5 hours per day. One tenth of that (30 minutes) per day is enough for an exercise program.

As I write in the book Dr Joes DIY Health-Putting you in charge of your health

“Exercise can be broken down into three main types: aerobic, resistance and flexibility. It is important to incorporate all three into your activity program to include elements, which develop fitness, muscle strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor in numerous diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis and a contributor to premature ageing.”

You need to do something you enjoy as this will mean you stick to it. Whether it’s running, swimming, tennis, bike riding or something else the key is to do it regularly.

There are also simple things you can do to be more active during the day .As link 1 shows walking or riding to work is good exercise (this wont suit everyone but is an option worth considering before dismissing). Given parking costs this could be a financial winner too (link 2).

Even easier is using the stairs at work instead of the lift or escalator. Again if you are on the 50th floor this may be impractical but you could walk the first 3 or 4 and see where that leads you. Many workplaces provide showers for employees, as the boss knows that a fitter employee is a more productive one.

When you go to the shops instead of looking for the closest park, look for one further away. This will man you get a walk and don’t have the agro of competing with others for that just outside the door spot.

Now many will be saying, I don’t have the time to do this sort of thing. Just pause and consider all the time you are not using with all the labor saving devices we now have. In fact next time you reach for the TV remote to change channels, why not push the off button instead and do something active.

1 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31893120/ns/health-fitness/?ocid=twitter

2 http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14029444&fsrc=nwl