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The best exercise

By Jennifer Stern

, |

The best exercise

By Jennifer Stern

, |

Now that would seem strange, as we all know that exercise is good for us. So, while we certainly would not discourage you from going to the gym, perhaps some kinds of exercise are better than others. But which?

Slow and steady

Most of the people in the blue zones are not desk jockeys, so they are constantly moving. They spend a large part of each day cleaning, gardening, digging, building, fixing, washing, lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying – the things the functional zone at your gym is trying to emulate.

Fast and frenzied

Elite athletes have long known that HIIT (high-intensity interval training), or fartlek, is an effective component of a comprehensive training programme, but the general public is slowly catching on to the idea as well. A recent study by Victoria University in Australia showed that HIIT had positive benefits in terms of fitness and health – especially in people who previously did not exercise. And, even where the benefit did not seem that great, when adjusted for the amount of time spent exercising, the benefits were enormous.

So what does that mean for us desk jockeys?

Most of us have to spend at least a few hours a day at a desk – and/or in a car getting to that desk – so the HIIT concept is tempting. But does that mean we have to get into exercise gear to work out for 10 minutes, and get all sweaty? Or is there a better way?

Looking at HIIT, or – more precisely – fartlek, gives us a clue. The Swedish word ‘fartlek’ means – literally – speedplay. Now there’s a hint that 10 minutes spent chasing a ball around in the garden with your kids and/or pets may be one of the healthiest things you can do – for your body as well as your mind, and family.

And it gets better. A paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year, while supporting the value of HIIT, shows that it can be not only time-efficient, but also possibly the easiest and cheapest form of exercise there is. And, surprisingly, it falls somewhere between the slow and steady of the blue zones and the fast and frenzied of elite athletes.

Incidental physical activity

The BJSM paper showed that incidental physical activity was as effective – if not more effective – than conscious working out sessions, and it’s easy to ‘plan’. The simple expedient of parking further from the door and closer to the exit at the mall will increase your walking time, and decrease the frustrating stop-start through the parking bays. If you shop regularly, and buy only what you can carry in two bags, lugging those four or five kilos across the parking lot will get your heart rate up for a minute or so. Bingo!

Incidental exercise can be as simple as taking the stairs rather than the lift, or walking up the escalators rather than just gliding up. And then there’s housework, gardening, carpentry, and, of course, the gold standard – playing with the kids and pets. In fact, learn from your kids how to play – but it’s best to do this before their natural, inborn playfulness has been suppressed by school and screen.


Making it happen

That’s one of the reasons living in an estate is such a good idea. If you have on-site retail, you can walk to the shops, and you can explore the paths and open spaces with your whole family – creating one more opportunity for incidental physical activity. And, if you are a desk jockey, park a block or two from the office, walk up the stairs (better still run up the stairs), walk to your colleague’s desk to ask a question rather than send an email, and take a stroll at lunch time. It’s not going to turn you into a blue-zoner but it will improve the quality (and possibly length) of your life.

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