Monday, 9 February 2015

Sedentary Lifestyles

Sedentary Lifestyles

During most of last year I did a job that basically involved standing still for 10 hours a day. That's a bit of an exaggeration but not much since I was spending hours up a ladder or standing wiring up electrics for an electrical company. I put on the best part of 1 stone (14lb) of weight.

The weight gain became a little worrying and I needed to lose it. I need targets and statistics so I used a pedometer app on my phone to count how many steps I do during a normal week and thereby I'd know how many more I need to increase by to become more active.

I've since stopped that job and have gone back to my normal lifestyle, which means I'm very busy and active during the winter and less so from about now, February, until October.

Reading up on how many steps we are "supposed" to do, and how much exercise health professionals say we need to do suggests that we should be aiming for approximately 150 minutes or 2.5 hrs of moderate exercise per week, or ideally 30 minutes per day. 

The number of steps a sedentary person does is around 2,000 to 4,000 steps per day and the goal of 10,000 per day would suggest that you are an active person. 12,500 and above is a "very active" person. 70,000 per week is active and above 84,000 per week is very active.

I knew that I always do more exercise even on a quiet week than 2.5 hrs but had no idea how many steps I'd do.

I managed to track my steps for the very last week of my winter schedule, when I am busiest. Most weeks during the winter are the same apart from the last week which was a little less busy, although it was only one active day less. 

The number of steps that I do during the winter weeks is around 130,000. The last week actually measured 127,500 steps and since that was slightly less busier than the normal week I presume for 12 winter weeks I would do between 120,000 and 140,000 steps per week.

The app also measured how many "active hours", calories burnt and distance travelled. My active hours measured 22hrs for the week, the distance was 77.5km and calories burnt were 5,000 during this exercise.

I was impressed by just how active I am compared to most people but that then got me thinking, what did I do and how would that compare to rural people with an active lifestyle many years ago?

During the week I only had 2 days that involved walking from a to b. Those 2 days were when I was bush beating for local game shoots - often during the winter I'd do 3 days of this but they are only relatively short days, 9am start, 4pm end although I walk there and back (or cycle). The other days were spent digging the garden and chopping wood and volunteering for 1 day at the Wildlife Trust and those days are much shorter.

Although I clocked up what I thought were very impressive numbers I then thought about what a farm worker, or rural estate worker would have done 100 years ago. Back then, in my area, they would have done bush beating, even more because there would have been many of them but not just beating, they would have had to have walked around the estate or farm on a daily basis checking the game birds and looking and protecting their nests all year. They would have also walked around fixing fences, chopping down trees for firewood, ploughing fields, feeding animals etc. I think that they would have done similar jobs to me, for more hours per day and often for 7 days a week.

I therefore think that they would have clocked up 200,000 steps per week and covered 100 km distance.

The idea that 84,000 steps per week makes someone now days a "very active" person seems to reflect the modern lifestyle change rather more than being a true reflection of an active person. It highlights to me why we are all fat and unfit if we class someone as very active and thereby fit if they only do 84,000 steps a week. That isn't active or fit compared to what even the average person would have done 100 years ago when most would have walked to work and many many people would have worked in the fields.

The following week I tracked my normal, non busy week. 78,000 steps and 13 hrs of being active which included some chopping of wood, a volunteering day at the WildLife Trust and just one day walking to school and back (1.5 miles each direction). This week included 2 days of doing absolutely no exercise at all. 2 days in the car or sitting down where I only clocked up 3,000 or 4,000 steps per day. Several things about this week caught my attention. Firstly sedentary people do around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day which means they literally sit on their backsides all day since that number of steps is taken up going to the loo and walking to and from the fridge and car and getting up to look for the TV remote and the odd walk up stairs to and from bed. The second thing that caught my attention was how little you have to do to almost be classed as very active, one day walking to and from a local school and 1 day out walking around a nature reserve - I did almost nothing for the rest of the week.

I think the government and health workers have got it all wrong by telling us what we should be aiming to do to become active. The goals are far too low but what is worrying is that they were, or are, considering lowering the amount of exercise they tell people to do, 2.5 hrs per week, because it is unrealistic and most people are ignoring it. I'm sure by setting a lower target their figures for how well their targets are being achieved will then look good but it is really missing the point. Just walking to school and back in the morning and afternoon would allow me to clock up "very active" status. 

It is all well and good saying that people don't have the time in their busy lives to exercise but something is clearly wrong with the modern lifestyle and surely changing the lifestyle to make time for exercise is better than lowering targets and accepting that there isn't time. I'd prefer to exercise than earn more money and then have health problems when I'm old and die younger. What's the point of not finding time to be active if all it will do is make you be ill and an invalid in later life. Once you get to 60, have a heart attack, and feel sorry for yourself I'm sure you'd wished that you'd found a couple of hours per day to walk.

I can see clearly for myself what exercise does for you, I go bush beating with 60, 70 and 80 year old men who have all had an active life and they are still fit right upto the day they drop dead. In the last 5 or 6 years the old beaters that have died have all been around or over 80. I've also seen 60 year olds retire, come bush beating, so as to get exercise, only to have a heart attack a couple of weeks later because their bodies simply aren't up to it. They retire and only then think of keeping active but unfortunately they find that they haven't got long for this world and they now have to keep taking it easy. They retire with plenty of money but can't spend it doing what they want.

The other thing the pedometer has been useful for is showing me how much I over eat. The busy week showed that I burnt off 5,000 calories and I know this is well under what I really burnt because it didn't take into account that chopping wood involves a lot more than a few steps and also bush beating isn't just walking, it is waving a stick and ducking and diving through bushes, hedges and walking over fields with clods of clay sticking to your feet. I would guess that I'm burning off another 1 to 2,000 calories during those weeks which suggests that I am eating upto 7,000 more calories per week than I need. That's a lot per day. It also shows that cutting out a few of the bits of junk food and only having slightly smaller meal sizes and the weight will have to fall off.

In fact, during the winter I lost most of the 1 stone I added during my sedentary job and the last 2 weeks I've been aware of what I have been eating and have not been on a diet but just questioned whether I needed that snack or not and have lost 3lb. I haven't gone without, haven't changed food, nothing difficult, just made myself aware of how many calories I'm eating.

I can see that I'd get down to a very good weight just by being aware of what I shove into my mouth. On quiet weeks I need to not stuff myself and on busy weeks I needn't worry about it one way or the other. 

Anyway, I'm off now to chop wood and move a pile of manure from one part of the garden to another.

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