Exercise advice

Motion Is Life

Motion is Life

The aim of WholeLife Clinics is to treat the underlying causes of the conditions patients present to us. This could be Erectile Dysfunction (ED), high blood-pressure, diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, or a host of other ‘modern illnesses’.  In this context we define of illness as an absence of positive health.  To combat this, we advocate following WholeLife Clinic’s motto – motion is life.

The usual suspects are picked out of the line-up time after time – poor diet and lack of exercise step forward please. Today, we address exercise in its most basic form.  It’s no good suggesting that from scratch we start to run at 6-minute mile pace or pump iron like Arnie. This approach doesn’t work. Instead, one of the most beneficial exercises that almost every able-bodied person can do is highlighted.  Walking!  Put plainly and simply – motion is life.

A Magic Bullet

A Magic Bullet, The Magic Pill, the Fountain of Youth – everything has to have a label these days. It didn’t even used to be called exercise. For the 200,000-odd years of the existence of modern humans, plus the millions of years of evolutionary behavioural patterns inherited from our forebears, we moved.

We chased Mammoths, Sabre-Toothed Tigers chased us, we hunted, fought, climbed, lifted, ran…. and walked to survive. Then we stopped much of that, in evolutionary terms quite abruptly. Now the nearest we get to woolly beasts on the frozen tundra is when we shop at Iceland.  

Technically of course, Sabre-Toothed Tigers were already long in the tooth by the time modern humans evolved. The message, though, remains the same – motion is life. Our forebears didn’t have gym memberships or usually do anything resembling modern concepts of exercise.

Certainly, they succumbed to high infant mortality rates, and in a pre-antibiotic era were often struck down early by bacterial infections, but generally, they enjoyed a closer natural relationship with their bodies. They often maintained functional strength to a then advanced age. Life itself was exercise. That was for 200,000 years, then, 200 years ago, along came the Industrial Revolution.

Certainly, it is good to be able to run, if you can and your joints permit. Equally, it’s good to lift weights. Indeed, some form of the latter is essential to ward off the age-related muscle wastage known as sarcopenia, but, as the old adage goes – ‘don’t run before you can walk’.


Allowing for other factors, such as smoking, excess alcohol and poor diet, even a modicum of exercise has been shown to extend the healthy years of those for whom physical activity is part of their daily routine.  The variables are quite extraordinary, with up to 20 years of added ‘healthspan’ (as opposed to lifespan) being cited in many studies:


The usual markers of ageing, such as joint stiffness, low energy levels, muscle wastage, (hairy nostrils) and ….well, we know the signs, can often be all but eliminated until an advanced age.

There have been mixed messages in the media concerning how much we need to walk to maintain functional health. It has been shown that the suggested 10,000 steps a day figure that gets trotted out was based upon a random Japanese test carried out in the 1960s.

In fact, most such test results are based on random surveys, yet many enter public consciousness: ‘eat your 5-a-day’ (better than none, but in Canada it’s 9); ‘drink X number of units of alcohol’ (the current ever-falling guidelines were plucked out of the air, as was admitted by the plucker who did the plucking); eggs are bad for you  (now, at last, they’re good again!) – here add your mantra of choice.

10,000 Steps a Day

One thing that is certain, though, is that 10,000 steps a day is as good a guideline as any for a starting point in terms of healthy and arguably essential exercise to add more life to our years. Roughly, this equates to walking about 4-5 miles daily, depending on stride length, or roughly one hour to 90 minutes in total at a reasonable pace. This is all walking, so getting off the train a stop early, walking to and from the shops, taking the stairs, and the general pottering about that we all do, counts towards the total.

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There are many devices to measure steps, but rather than buy one at a high cost, there are some excellent free apps for smartphones. They work offline and are surprisingly accurate (some not quite so!).  It’s easy to reassure yourself of their accuracy by running a couple simultaneously to see how closely readings correlate between them. 

The Benefits

The great thing about regular walking is that the more you do it, the more you find yourself wanting to. The benefits include: maintenance of a healthy weight; prevention or management of various chronic conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes; the strengthening of bones and muscles; improvement in mood; and improvement of balance &  co-ordination. But that’s not all. Take a look at this article from The Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/health-benefits-walking/

This suggests 20-minutes a day is all it takes to achieve the cited benefits, but aim higher; the longer and brisker the walk the better, but if you are busy – and who isn’t? – 20 minutes of your time daily still leaves you with another 1,420 until you have to start all over again. It’s a start, and a low price to pay for a ‘magic bullet’.

If you stick to a regular schedule, the benefits will be felt in a surprisingly short time, and many chronic conditions will be alleviated without recourse to medication.

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Is there a downside? Yes, of course; life is never perfect. Walking is of no use at all if you find yourself being chased by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Then you’ve no chance.  But hey, what are the chances of that?



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