In recent years, advancement in technology has made humans extremely sedentary, both at work and at home. In the last decade, enormous amounts of medical research has shown that a lifestyle which includes a good amount of physical activity has major benefits in almost all medical conditions, to the extent of decreasing mortality, and not limited to well-being alone.
This has prompted passionate experts like myself to start promoting a more active lifestyle, whether it be in the house, in the office, recreational activities, or in the sporting arena. Most ignore this advice as prevention is a very difficult sell.
Real deal: Sports and exercise must be combined with home activities.
Some who do heed it push it to the other extreme. They play sports regularly at a serious level, whether it’s wanting to run a marathon in under 3 hours, play five-set tennis matches or golf with a high level of competitiveness.
I find it disappointing to tell clients or patients who have been sporty for the last 20 years or so that the guy sitting on the couch is actually healthier and injury-free. Why? Because while doing their sports, they simply didn’t listen to their bodies, letting injuries and weaknesses accumulate over the years. It’s also because of an all-or-nothing approach. Many of these passionate sportspeople, when in situations where they can’t play for extended periods of time, become completely sedentary. Then there are those who play every weekend, but otherwise lead very inactive lifestyles. A simple example is people driving to the park for their run. Why not more active transport, like bicycles?
Playing a sport does not necessarily make you fitter or healthier. Every sport makes its own demands on the body, and every sport puts the body through stresses and strains that need to be addressed. Basically, you have to work towards building strength and endurance in those muscles that are used the most in your chosen sport, work on overall flexibility and stability, and on recovering from intense play sessions. It’s only when all these aspects come together that you are on your way to true fitness and health, and an injury-free association with your sport.
In an editorial, “Good news, bad news: sports matter but occupational and household activity really matter—sport and recreation unlikely to be a panacea for public health”, first published online in March in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Charles R. Ratzlaff, a radiologist at the Harvard Medical School, US, highlights startling data indicating that lifetime physical activity is influenced more by occupational and lifestyle activity than by “sport” as it is strictly defined. In 4,269 Canadian adults aged 45–90, they found that women spent about 10 times more energy on household activity and 5.5 times more on occupational activity than in sport/recreational activity. Men spent four times more energy on occupational activity and 1.5 times more on household activity than on sport/recreation. Household/occupational activities also used more knee and hip joint force than sport/recreation.
As Ratzlaff suggests, despite concerted, consistent and rigorous efforts, sports and exercise are not entirely the solution to health and fitness. They need to be combined with occupational and household activities. The simple reason is that on an average we spend 8-10 hours at work and almost the same amount of time at home. But like almost all studies, they found that for the people surveyed, levels of exercise fall below the well-known medical recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days.
How can we change the high-tech home, school or work environment to stimulate more active living? How can we change our idle habits, and spend less time sitting in front of the computer or the TV? If people could spend 350 kcal of energy per day in physical activities without getting involved in formal exercises, that could solve the big problem that everyone today complains about—“we don’t have time”.
Rajat Chauhan is an ultra marathon runner and a doctor specializing in sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and founder of Back 2 Fitness.
Write to Rajat at firstname.lastname@example.org