The Fitness Paradox
Despite the recent publication of some worrying statistics concerning the state of Gibraltar’s Health and Wellbeing, there seems to be an underlying paradox, which, at face value, doesn’t fully allow the statistics to match up with what some may observe as the reality.
The results of the Health Survey indicate that nearly two thirds of the local population are either overweight or obese; yet, in a place where practically all sport is free to participate in, there is something that doesn’t quite tally. Naturally, if no one were taking part in regular sport and exercise then this would be an open and shut case. However, the fact remains that a very large proportion of the local population are regularly engaging in exercise, be it team sports, fitness classes, gym sessions, cycling or simply pounding the roads with regular runs. The evidence is there to be seen. As a population, we like our sport and exercise and we take part in it often. This, therefore, begs the question “how can nearly two thirds of Gibraltarians be classified as overweight or obese?”
In order to provide an adequate answer, it is important to consider two key factors: the regularity and intensity of sports participation and diet.
It should come as no great surprise that regular and intense exercise is the only sure fire way to shred the pounds and improve fitness and overall health. Going for a leisurely walk once a week with a friend is good, because you’re moving, but not good enough. In order to truly benefit from exercise you need to raise your heart rate above your rest level for at least 30min a day. This means that if you’re not breathing heavily, if your heart is not pounding and if you’re not sweating, you’re not doing enough.
The same can be said of those who go to the gym. Posing on treadmills and resistance machines is all well and good, but it does not constitute exercise. If you go to a gym, you need to have a reason to use their showers when you’ve finished. If you’re not a sweaty mess then you haven’t had a workout.
By and large, exercise classes are the best for getting in shape if you lack the willpower and motivation to do it yourself. Working out in a group with someone shouting encouragement at you from the front leaves you little room to relax. Even then, with exercise, you will only ever get out what you put in, so maximise your effort and exertions and you will also maximise the benefits.
However, exercise alone is not enough. Although it may sound glaringly obvious to say that you need to supplement your exercise regime with a healthy balanced diet, few people do, or at least few people are aware that their diets are unhealthy. Forget about the new golden rule of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. To begin with it is hard to know what constitutes a portion. It is probably better to summarise a healthy diet as one that includes daily portions of both cooked and raw veg and fresh fruit in order to get a good dose of nutrients. Make sure that your plate is colourful (the contents not the crockery!). The more colours of veg you have on your plate, the greater the range of nutrients you will be ingesting. Cut down on fried foods, red meats and carbohydrates. Try swapping regular potatoes for nutrient rich sweet potatoes, white pasta and rice for brown, and sweets and cakes for fruit and yogurt; and always remember to control your portion sizes – in order to lose weight you need to maintain a calorie deficit!
Following a healthy diet is easy if you know what to avoid and what will benefit you. There is a wealth of information available to help instruct you in adapting your current eating habits to better suit your active lifestyle. We all instinctively know what foods are bad for us, yet our insistence upon eating them “because we exercise regularly” will completely negate the good work done whilst working out. This is one of the fundamental reasons why people who exercise regularly but also “treat” themselves regularly to unhealthy foods fail to notice results, therefore giving some insight as to why 60% of a fairly active population are overweight or obese. We’re just not burning off the calories we are consuming!
So, with the paradox explained, and the possible reasons for the statistics demystified, all that’s left is to reiterate the fact that exercise and diet go hand in hand, if either one is missing then they will just cancel each other out. Oh, and there is also the fact that muscle weighs more than fat. So with that spanner in the works we’ll take a look at BMI next time and how it’s not as accurate a measure of weight as many might have you believe!