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It’s all in the mind – or is it?

For someone who played a lot of sport in my youth, albeit in a ‘keen but averagedly talented’ fashion, I reckon I’m in reasonable shape. I’ve had the occasional twinge over the years – e.g. two broken matatarsals in my feet (one retaining its metal pin some four decades after it was implanted, initially because they said taking it out was entirely optional and more recently because – when I was asked about ‘metal objects’ by a junior doctor – I literally couldn’t remember which foot it was in); two broken fingers; a dislocated shoulder; a ruptured Achilles tendon; a chronic back vertebrae issue; and seventeen days in hospital after a burst appendix/peritonitis.

I don’t think that’s too bad a score after nearly sixty-five years on this planet.

In common with many others in my situation one of the biggest transitions or growing-up episodes in my life was the gradual realisation that I wasn’t immortal and that there would come a time when I would no longer be able to pick up a racket or ball, jump onto a court or pitch, and immediately play a decent game to my own standard.

In terms of logic the issue was blindingly obvious but then what’s rationality got to do with being young?

We all know people who seem to defy their age, either in terms of sheer physical capability or attitude to life. Carpe diem. ‘He who is tired of London is tired of life’. Live in the present. If you don’t keep pushing forward you’ll begin going backward … and all that.

However, coming to terms with the fact that one day we’ll all reach a place where taking exercise, or keeping fit – the one thing that comes 90% naturally when we’re active and playing often enough – begins to slip from our grasp. After that going to the gym, or walking briskly, or watching what you eat, all become new lifestyle goals or vague ambitions for the purpose of … er …what? Staying healthy as long as you can? Fending off old age – or perhaps just that dreaded middle-age spread? Pride? Vanity? Self-esteem? Giving in to that ‘denial’ thing, e.g. kidding yourself that you’re still young, still fit and quite capable of doing whatever it is … or indeed, folks, anything but the sad acceptance that you’re ancient and past it?

Yesterday I came upon a piece in The Times by health editor Chris Smyth on a new study by a consultant at Southampton Hospital named Gorav Datta who has noted a fourfold increase in the number of patients under the age of thirty with knee, hip and back injuries (of the kind normally associated with those heading for retirement age) since ‘explosive’ or ‘high intensity training’ (HIT) became fashionably popular.

The theory behind the craze is the notion that (happily) contrary to traditional received opinion, long periods of training, or even a commitment to excessive numbers of training sessions per week, is futile in terms of overall fitness and other benefits, e.g. losing weight.

Instead, so moves the logic, short but very intense training sessions – even as low in duration as fifteen or thirty minutes, with some individual exercises lasting only two or three minutes – are apparently the way to go. Naturally, in our frantically hectic normal lives – with work, family, socialising, video gaming and numerous other distractions taking priority and what little spare time we have left being at a premium – the suggestion that HIT sessions are superior to other forms of training seems logical, straightforward and strangely attractive.

However, Mr Datta thinks not.

Although he concedes that HIT training can improve cardiovascular fitness and control of blood sugar, he maintains that any general benefits for the heart from this type of training does not take into account its risks to other parts of the body: “These short but intensive bursts and repetitions can wreak havoc with joints and, longer term, lead to the need for surgery”.

Food for thought, there, perhaps!

In the same newspaper science correspondent Olive Moody reports that for a small but unfortunate group of the Human race – he says ‘small’, but significantly as it happens I am one of them – the more physical activity they take, the more weight they put on.

Apparently scientists at Montpellier University have discovered why – arduous exercise is liable to make some people get heavier simply because their bodies are significantly worse at burning off fat.

Dr Jean-Frederic Brun, head of the project, apparently signed up 26 people between the ages of 21 and 69 – all weighing between 9 stone 11 and 22 and a half stone who found that running and other forms of exercise only made their waistlines expand. As a control group, he brough in another group of 15 who tended to lose weight when they exercised.

The results were significant. On average the ‘poor fat burners’ (committed gym attendees who on average did two or three hours of surprisingly energetic sessions per week) were 20% less efficient at burning off their fat.

The advice emerging from this study seems to suggest that those of us who are ‘poor fat burners’ should actually be less ambitious, i.e. scale back our exercise sessions and do far fewer!

This Dr Bruin chappie is my kind of guy!



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About Martin Roberts

A former motoring journalist, Martin lists amongst his greatest achievements giving up smoking. Three times. He holds to the view that growing old is not for the faint-hearted. More Posts