We live in a time where articles, blogs, tips and advice on topics relating to health, well-being and exercise could not be more accessible, yet we are more sedentary than ever before. Here in the UK, we have the third highest obesity rate in the world; 67% of men and 57% of women are overweight.
To put that into perspective, 7 out of 10 men and 6 out of 10 women are obese!
Why is that the case when there are more gyms than ever before? They're open 24 hours and some memberships are a 1/4 of the price they used to be. There are more running events popping up. It is popular to run park runs, 10km events, marathons etc. Almost everyone has heard of Crossfit. There are now more faddy diets than you count on your fingers and toes. You can even guarantee that there'll be a 'meal prep' cafe in every large town in this country!
So why, as a nation, are we so overweight?!
My partner and I took a road trip through Europe last summer. Our main destinations where the Swiss, Italian and French Alps. Once we'd passed Luxembourg and reached what we classed as the start of the Alps, Lake Annecy, it became very clear that obesity didn't exist. We were not intentionally trying to figure out the body composition profile of every individual in every town we passed, of course, but it was really clear to spot the difference between people back home and those that lived and worked in the Alpine regions.
We slept in the back of the car every night, using local swimming pools each morning to shower before moving on to our next location. It was surprising how many pools were available. What impressed us more, were the queues to get into the leisure centres first thing in the morning! Adults, teenagers and children with their parents all queuing to access sports facilities before 0830. It was impressive!
I'll never forget reaching Chamonix for the first time. A public 300m running track was accessible to all. No fence. No payment required. Groups of teenagers played football happily in the centre of the track without the supervision of their parents. An elderly gentleman, perhaps in his 80s was doing laps of the track with walking poles. A child that barely looked old enough to walk was running whilst holding onto his father's hand, being cheered from the sidelines by his mother.
Everybody looked healthy. Everybody looked happy.
In the town itself there were no health-food stores. No supplementation shops or cafes you could collect your meal-prep from. You had very little option for food other than pastries and pizza, yet everyone dining still looked healthy.
Why are we so different?
It's got to be a lifestyle problem. An issue relating to physical activity and the lack of time we spend on our feet.
I work with a lot of people here at Cheshire Barbell. Most attend the club 3-4 times per week for somewhere around 90 minutes at a time. Those that come in less frequently still attend their local gyms to allow them to complete their programmes we prescribe. They train very hard, move well and continue to get stronger by the week. Some are prescribed additional cardio to help with their body composition goals, but all in all they tend to train 6-8 hours per week on average (excluding my marathon runners and triathletes).
There are 168 hours in the week.
That means even those who work their arses of in the gym are only doing so for 4-5% of their week! That's it!
Yes it's incredible what some of the people I have worked with have achieved, I will always be proud of them. Always. But that's still a pretty poor statistic isn't it...
... those who are seen to be doing abnormal things by training hard in the gym 4 times per week are still only active 4-5% of their week.
Some of these people are even trying to factor in 'rest days' to help recover from it all, bearing in mind that 95% of the time they're performing non-physical tasks; work, sleep, cooking, caring for others, watching tv and scrolling through social media (probably googling faddy diets to help them lose weight).
When I worked in Professional Rugby we prescribed rest days. We specifically told our players to spend as much time sat down as possible. We even advised them against walking round the shops with their partner and instead they were to put their feet up, have a hot bath, get a massage and eat their food. The difference is, however, they would train near 3 times per day, at least 4 days per week, each session lasting up to 2 hours. In addition they would have a game toward the end of the week, of which no session could match the intensity. In the off-season, they would train even more frequently! These guys deserved their rest. They needed it in order to perform.
Just because you go to the gym 3-5 times per week does not mean you deserve a rest day, or worst, a cheat meal. What the F***?!
You need to get out more. You need to find something outside of work that makes you happy. Something fun.
You might enjoy watching your favourite series on Netflix before bed and of a weekend. That's cool, but using it as an excuse rest up because your quads are sore from 1 of your 3 gym sessions is crazy!
Funnily enough, the same people who think they've earned their rest after training in the gym are the same guys who complain about their diets not working.
I am not suggesting you need to run marathons, join your local athletics club or even find new fitness related activities for that matter!
I am simply suggesting that you need to get off your sofa and spend time with family, friends and colleagues doing things that make you laugh, make you smile, and just so happen to require you to be on your feet for a little longer than usual.
Whilst we try to specialise in Olympic Weightlifting and help train those who take part in various sports, I also schedule a number of family's days throughout the year where I take the team for a couple of walks across the weekend. Give people the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a completely different way.
We have also scheduled bike rides, running events, camping trips and even BBQs with a little lifting thrown in.
The point here is that there is a lot more to fitness than just lifting weights.
Make physical activity your sanctuary, your escape from every day stress. Your getaway from work.
If you enjoy they gym, go more often. Just because your current programme involves you training 3 times per week doesn't mean you can't go more frequently. Just because you feel a little under-the-weather or have a cold doesn't mean you can't go and just stretch and move.
Go out for a walk. Try one of the new trampoline parks. Get the kids involved! Give indoor climbing a go. Try something new. Have fun!
Make physical activity a habit rather than a chore.
Be more like those who live in the Alps.
Stop searching for the best diet to help you lose weight. There is no 'best diet'. There is no such thing as the 'best exercise for fat loss'. There is no secret.
You just need to move more, and have fun in the process.