40 minutes a day

Back before many readers of this blog were born, there was a TV ad campaign “Life, Be In It“, encouraging us all to be more active. It featured a jolly, middle-aged, mildly overweight character called Norm (as in Norm Everage), and a jingle on the merits of “Thirty Minutes a Day” of moderate exercise.

I think of myself as a lot more energetic and exercise-oriented than Norm, and being a data fan, I record most of my exercise using Runkeeper. So, I finally got around to checking the duration stats and was surprised to find that I do only about 20 hours of running, cycling and swimming in the average month[1]. That’s just 40 minutes a day. You can take from that what you will, but my thought is that, unless you’re aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or, like me,you just enjoy exercise, Norm was right. 30 minutes a day is all you need.

fn1. That doesn’t including walking, short cycle trips to work and the shops, and occasional gym workouts, but those things wouldn’t add more than 20 mins a day.

20 thoughts on “40 minutes a day

  1. How’s your blood pressure?

    I got the message from my doctor on a recent visit (eye infection) that my blood pressure was on the edge.

    It is very hard in a long hour factory life to get the exercise. So I now……REALLY….have to get myself on the exercycle daily. I did the first stint yesterday and it was a real effort to pump out 50 calories. I’m so unfit. I used to have a bike a the factory and rode around the area rather than drive but my youngest said that I had to have the bike at home to ride with her (which we no longer do now that she is an older facebook busy teenager). Excuses excuses!

    Thanks for the shove!!

    General old man’s cures

    *Health hint 1: On a visit to the eye surgeon I was told that I had “dry eye”, for which one of the symptoms is recurrent eye lid infections, which I had been having. This puzzled me for a while until it occured that there might be a connection with the anti perspirant that I have been using. Stopped using it and the infections reduced to very little. After many months I thought that I could use the anti perspirant again, and wammo, super eye lid infection…hence the doctor. No more antiperspirant
    *Health hint 2: As we get older our teeth steadily fall apart. So as our teeth fall into pieces there are opportunities for gum infections around the tooth roots. So if you are sensing such infections brought on by a sweet palate feeding the bugs that produce the infections (ice cream is a mojor contributor here) a treatment that I have found to work is to swill your mouth with rough red wine, the higher the alcohol content the better (swallowing is optional). The working ingredients are the alcohol and the tannin that is the red part of the wine.

  2. I admire the self-discipline of regular exercise, but find it far too boring to devote any time to it. Fortunately, my sole income-generating activity these days is leading bush-walking tours through rough escarpment country, so at 61 I’m pretty fit. If I go a couple of days without bush-walking I really miss it. When not leading tours there is a lifetime of strenuous fencing and erosion control work to attend to.
    The other factor in fitness/weight control of course is diet. I try to eat what I call the hunter/gatherer diet, otherwise known as the natural diet, the diet on which H.sapiens evolved about 200,000 years BP, composed of fresh meat (of all kinds), vegetables and fruit, and very little grain-derived foods.
    Grain provided a minimal portion of the prehistoric hunter/gatherer diet, but since the advent of agriculture has become the dominant portion for much of the world’s people. The difficulty of adapting so quickly (in evolutionary time scale) to a radical shift in diet is well demonstrated by the high incidence of type-2 diabetes amongst those indigenous populations introduced to the modern diet most recently.
    Processed or compound foods are excluded, as they invariably contain artificially concentrated sugars, fats and starch.
    Of course, I’m no paragon of dietary virtue – fruitcake is always tempting, as is a Drumstick on the weekly trip to town.

  3. There’s a good interview with Steve Blair, Professor of Public Health at the University of South Carolina on the ABC Health report site that includes some numbers on this.


    Body fat doesn’t matter at all when you correct for fitness. (!) Fat people just tend to be unfit.

    Moderate fitness reduces your chance of dying in the next decade by 50%.

    With more fitness you can achieve up to 10% or 15% further reduction in risk.

    Intensity of the exercise is a significant factor. You can half the time to achieve a fitness level by changing from moderate to high intensity.

    A good target is 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as [fast] walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. This is the low-hanging-fruit that gets about 75% of the health benefit you might get if you devoted your life to exercise.

    Link: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/healthreport/how-exercise-can-change-your-life/4205740

    Also at the site, among a lot of interesting stuff, is an interview with Steve Boutcher (UNSW) on the importance of sprints for weight loss if that is your objective. However, the above work suggests it shouldn’t be your primary focus.

    Personally, I’m fortunate enough to be achieve the 150 minutes walking to and from work. This incorporates an 80 m climb up to West Hobart on the way home that I take at high walking speed so would be equivalent to moderate paced running. I also play two or three sessions of badminton a week. I only took this up a couple of year ago and can get trounced by good 13 year old boys but I can recommend this to improve fitness, agility, cunning, and, humility.

  4. There’s an interesting presentational question here. If you start with unfit people as the baseline, you get the “low-hanging fruit conclusion” that you get a 50 per cent reduction from moderate exercise, and 10-15 per cent more from vigorous, which doesn’t sound like much.

    But, if you take moderate exercise as the baseline, you get a 20-30 per cent reduction by going to more vigorous, which looks like a pretty good deal to me. After all, we’re talking maybe 10-20 minutes a day extra work to get that reduction.

  5. Clearly you don’t subscribe to the belief that you are born with a fixed number of heart beats, and, therefore, should avoid, at all costs, any activity that might raise your heart rate and thereby hasten your demise?

  6. I’ve been fighting a fitness versus overweightness battle for about 10 years now. In that time I have varied up and down several times from 75 kg to 88 kg. Currently, I am 88 kg so I guess its back to exercise and diet for me. My BMI is close to 28 which is not good. However, my blood pressure is fine and my heart results are also fine for a 58 y.o. male. I find a brisk 30 to 40 minute walk is good. Longer walks than that just get a bit too boring.

    Based on past experience, I can say it’s not worth trying to jog or run at age 50 plus if your BMI is over 24. You will likely get too many foot, ankle, shin, calf and knee injuries. So it’s best to walk, swim or cycle first. If you get your BMI below 24 then you can start gentle jogging. Probably ideally for jogging and running over 50 you need a BMI of 22 or lower. Also, I would suggest that the worst thing a jogger can do in training is plod the whole course at the same pace. Vary your pace from a slow careful jog on rough and stony ground and downhills to at least 3/4 pace on nice smooth flat grassy sections. Its the old-fashioned “fartlek” (Swedish for “speed play”) method of variable intensity training championed by runners like Emile Zatopek.

    Variable intensity training over variable ground (hills, grass, dirt, stony etc.) will work ALL the muscles which help control balance and gait. Same pace, same terrain training leaves some muscles relatively too strong and other muscles relatively too weak.

  7. The limitation of your life, Freelander, is the number of cellular regenerations. I forget the name of them but there is a molecular clip that keeps the end of your DNA from freying. These periodically fail and the passed on damaged information creates your ultimate demise……if……all of the other random hazards don’t get you first. I remember a quote in the earlier research on cancers which said that “everyone who dies has cancer, it just didn’t necessarily kill them yet”.

    Isn’t nature and life just a wonderous thing.

    I am grateful for my life span every second of it.

    I wonder how buying a gun features in shortening your life expectancy? In other words choices that we make that are not apparently related to our biological machinery, but ultimately indirectly are.

  8. @Ikonoclast
    I believe you’re wise to be very cautious about stressful/high impact exercise without gradually building towards it. But it takes a hell of a lot of exercise at any level to compensate for a poor diet or just too much good tucker.
    An unexpected benefit of the hunter/gatherer diet (above) for me, was that I very soon felt more energetic, more alert and more optimistic, without any additional exercise at all, and also no longer craved food – in fact, to borrow a phrase from a diet/exercise guru whose name I can’t recall, hunger became my friend, a sensation I enjoy and relish. I hope that doesn’t sound too weird!
    Currently, I eat bacon/eggs/steak and fruit for breakfast (no toast!) before doing a hard day’s work, and don’t eat again until the meat and vege in the evening – preceded by 2 cans of XXXX.
    Following the examples of Sir Thomas Mitchell and Edmund Kennedy, I find lunch an unjustifiable interruption in the day’s work – and lunch usually results in carpet snake syndrome.

  9. The problem with doing things at a high intensity relatively often is that most people simply can’t put up with it, so whilst it works great for those that can, they’re generally those that have a reasonable background in sport already.

  10. I’m a big fan of runkeeper -) It’s a fitness novelty, but it’s great to see how the numbers correspond to, I suppose, measures of fitness – like race times. I’ve been training consistently for the past four months, keeping track of everything via runkeeper and my garmin gps watch, and my 10K race times are falling down like dominoes.

  11. @Ron E Joggles

    Maybe I could try your style of diet. Do I have to give up rice as well as bread and pasta? Actually, I have thought that starchy foods weren’t too bad provided they didn’t come with fat too e.g. cakes and biscuits. I’ve always thought that for older people (say over 40 or 50) fats and sugars in the diet are the real enemies.

    I can understand what you say about hunger. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like food is my enemy. It’s a constant battle but I am shopper and cook for my family which includes two hungry teenagers who demand lots of all the food groups and still remain skinny. It’s hard to diet (which means being constantly hungry) when one is always around food, buying and cooking it. As I say, food feels like the enemy. Especially modern food which is mostly ruined by the industrialisation of food.

  12. One of my decisions a long time ago was that I would try very hard to live at least 20 minutes bike ride away from work. That way I get 40 minutes a day on the bike. I’m still the same size as I was when I bought my first suit (it wore out after 20 years, but the waist, gut and chest sizes were still right). But I’ll be working from home for a month or so soon… that will be hard. Getting up, going for a ride, then working will challenge my self discipline. I may have to start taking lunch in to my partner at work every day.

    Also, I ride fairly hard. So I sweat, even in cold weather. And for safety’s sake I ride a comfortable, upright bike. That way riding hard doesn’t mean doing 50-60km/hr, because the faster you go, the bigger the mess. And the more likely you are to be going faster than the motorist who hits you expects.

    With that, I eat pretty much whatever I want. But in a circular fashion, I try to prefer healthier foods. This is where the global food miles thing works for me, because I can get the fruit and veges that I like almost year round. So when I feel like a snack, it’s leave the house to buy junk food or eat F&V from the fridge… guess what lazy me does?

  13. I visit the gym three times a week for 45 minutes a session. I don’t do much aerobic exercise but mostly lift stuff. This means an average of 19 minutes a day. It seems to be enough. Having done this for a bit over a year I now weigh a lot less and have a lot more muscle. And I love it which I never really expected.

  14. @Ikonoclast
    Rice, like other grains, is a very calorie-dense food. It puzzles me that nutritionists usually condemn sugar, but not starch, yet they are both carbohydrates and equally problematic when concentrated.
    Let’s not be too fanatical – a bit of grain-derived food each day won’t hurt – say, a bowl of porridge, or 2 slices of wholemeal bread, or a serving of rice or pasta – but if you’re having cereal and toast at breakfast, a sandwich or roll at lunch, then rice, pasta or spuds at dinner, that’s seriously overdoing it.
    As for fat, if you live the hunter/gatherer diet which includes no compound/manufactured foods, the natural fat in meat can only do you good.

  15. Getting back to JQ’s original post – staying/getting fit when one’s work doesn’t involve much physical activity is always going to mean devoting some time each day to exercise, and time is the rarest commodity. When I lived in a town (and worked in schools) I made time by going to bed earlier, and sober, and getting up at dawn to walk/run down to the river.
    Exercise first thing sets you up for a productive day.

  16. As for exercise, I am not a morning exerciser. It has never worked for me. I prefer exercise anywhere in the time window of midday to 6:00 pm. I can do this as I am the retired house spouse. Once I get into exercise mode I will exercise in any weather, hot, cold, wet, dry. My problem is that I can get into exercise mode and walk every day for 6 months then get out of exercise mode and not walk a day for 6 months. I wish I knew why that was and is so.

  17. @Ikonoclast Also, in regards to morning and afternoon exercise – I totally understand your point. I used to absolutely HATE exercising in the morning, feel lethargic and lacking energy whenever I tried to do something early. I solved this by waking up a tiny bit earlier, eating a banada about 1/2 hour before exercising and this restored my energy issues and lack of motivation to exercise early.

    I personally recommend early morning exercise over afternoon nowadays – when I only exercised in afternoons I found it much too easy to avoid, using excuses like I was too tired and so forth.Morning regimes make it slightly harder to do that., in my opinion.

  18. @Darragh Murray

    Yep, I think I ought to look into “Paleo” diets. I actually think any diet with balanced nutrients and calories eaten equal to calories burned (or marginally less if slow steady weight loss is required) is the way to go. Any number of healthy diets will work if adhered to properly. I am starting to think the diet for each person is the one that is (a) healthy (b) not excess in calories and (c) suited to satisfying that individual long term. It is point (c) that is hard to meet.

    I tried a form of Paleo diet called the one meal a day diet. It certainly worked mid term as I lost 8kgs in 8 months while walking 45 mins a day. However, in attempting to transition to a maintenance diet and rest up an ankle injury at the same time I fell off the good diet, good exercise wagon altogether. But a 3 meals low carb, low fat might work for me with lots and fruit and veg. I’m a good veggie eater but I do need to bump up my fruit. My meat intake is moderate. I certainly need to lose the white bread, cakes and biscuits, that’s where my main problem lies… oh and salty snack foods.

  19. Hi John, I use runkeeper too and find it an excellent tool. I also saw you on TV the other day and couldn’t help notice how slim and healthy you looked.

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