Sunday, July 28, 2013

Are the exercise recommendations insane?

I try to stay fit. I lift weights. I do crossfit. I do judo, and I still practice at a fairly respectable level. Since I found the training diary Funbeat about two years ago I have been keeping a detailed training diary. Recently I went through my training statistics and came up with some interesting numbers. In the last two years I have trained 262 times for a total of 285h 29min. That comes out to about 23 minutes per day or 164min per week on average.

Now, let us have a look at the exercise recommendations from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, or the Swedish equivalent Folkhälsoinstitutet. Here follows the text from the WHO, the others are exactly the same.

Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration. 
For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. 
Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
We immediately notice that I follow the minimum guidelines of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, and two days with muscle-strengthening activities. But we cannot say that I fulfil the guidelines for additional health benefits. On average I do 164 minutes of exercise including strengthening activities. Of course, we might argue that I ride my bike to work, walk the dog, and go shopping so that I easily fulfil the quota. However, the guidelines specify at least ten minutes duration, and in the complete text specify that you should raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Even going as far as specifying that just shopping or walking the dog does not count for most people because the intensity is too low, so that argument does not work.

In the end we must find that I have a hard time keeping up with the guidelines. At the same time, with that activity level I am able to practice judo with our ten to twenty year younger elite and junior players. I am stronger than I ever was, and have as high endurance as I have had since I stopped swimming. For those (like me) who like numbers that means a 170kg dead-lift, a 90kg bench-press and a 124kg back-squat, and endurance-wise a VO2max of around 60ml/(min*kg). Nothing spectacular, but clearly very fit for a 35-year-old nephrophysiologist.

How can we possibly expect our patients, and the public in general to be able to train that much? And, would I actually increase my expected life-span and number of healthy days by more than doubling my training? For breast and colon cancer the guidelines say:

Data indicate that moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity performed at least 30–60 minutes per day is needed to see significantly lower risks of these cancers.
60 minutes per day? On average? For enough time to affect cancer mortality? Who the fuck even completed these studies?

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