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Don't Die of Indolence

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The Olympic legacy was meant to be a fitter, more active nation, but research published this week in The Lancet shows that two out of three Britons are not meeting the weekly physical activity guidelines.

In fact, we are among the least active nations in the developed world.

Constant extolling of the many and varied virtues of exercise appears to be falling on deaf ears, which is why the researchers who penned the report have opted to take a different tack and, instead of trying to sell the public something they evidently don't want to buy, have resorted to shock tactics.

For example, the report suggests that a sedentary lifestyle is as detrimental to health as smoking -responsible for 5.3 million (that's 1 in 10) premature deaths worldwide each year as a result of non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Got that, couch potatoes? Your unwillingness to work up a sweat is not only contributing to the likelihood of ill health but is also likely to knock years off your life.

But the researchers aren't just appealing to the inactive majority to get off their butts - they're also making a 'call to action' to the powers that be to take the issue of physical activity as preventative health much more seriously. "The global challenge is clear: make physical activity a public health priority throughout the world to improve health and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases," they write.

As someone who has been in the fitness industry a long time, I believe that physical activity has long been underrated, and even missold, in the UK. One problem is that we have an inaccurate perception of what exercise can 'do' for us.

For example - we're told that we don't need to go to the gym or don running shoes, we can simply get off the train one stop earlier and walk, or do some gardening. That's fine, in general health terms, if it's done frequently enough to amount to the recommended activity guidelines - but it won't assist with weight loss or improve fitness, which is what most people want to achieve from exercise. And it certainly won't get you Lady Gaga's body.

People expect to get a lot more 'bang for their buck' than is really achievable from small amounts of low-intensity activity, and when they don't get the results they hope for, they give up. Just think how easy it is to eat a couple of chocolate HobNobs. You'd need to be weeding your flower beds for 45 minutes to burn those off.

I blame misleading media coverage (promising instant results from miracle diets and workouts), confused messages from government and celebrities pretending they don't have to exercise to get their super lean, toned bodies. Unlike countries like Canada, Australia and the Scandinavian nations, it seems as if exercise is viewed in the UK as a 'lifestyle choice,' - like, say, going to concerts or camping holidays. "Oh, I don't like exercise," people often tell me when they find out what I do for a living.

But exercise - be it a physically active daily lifestyle or structured exercise in a gym, pool or out on the roads - is as essential to health and wellbeing as eating and sleeping. The body needs it in order to function properly - and the catalogue of diseases that are a result of not doing it stand testament to that.

While we're constantly told how important it is to be active, I believe that many of the opportunities to be so are being taken away, both physically and culturally.

Playing fields being sold off for development, parks that don't allow cycling, a working culture in which taking your lunch break is often frowned upon.

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