Remember when there was no nutritional information on food packaging? If you do you’re probably middle-aged or more – ‘when your age starts to show around your middle’, as Woody Allen put it.
Government regulation has gradually ensured that packaging carries such information, with everything from calcium to calories eventually appearing. Now calorie counts are beginning to appear on menus too, along with an ‘exercise equivalent’ – effectively, how long it will take you to work off what you’re eating.
But is it helpful to know how much you need to skip to work off chips or the number of burpees to counteract a burger?
Exercise does burn up calories of course but there are several problems with viewing it exclusively like that:
you need to do a lot of exercise to use up the specified number of calories, which can be demotivating
it translates calorie use into formalised ‘exercise’ that a lot of us aren’t inclined to do
it keeps the focus on food, which is a vicious circle if you’re wanting to free your mind from eating
it reduces exercise to a mere calorie-burning function when it is so much more
A Scottish study has just been launched to monitor the effect of exercise on women over 50 who are at risk of breast cancer. Based on evidence that more than a third of cases in the over-50s are linked to inactivity and overweight, it aims to identify those at risk then introduce them to an active lifestyle to reduce that.
The benefits of physical activity aren’t just for breast cancer or just for women though.
Cut risk and boost mood
As well as reducing the risk of other cancers, activity also cuts the chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and hypertension to name but a few increasingly common serious conditions. And it’s not just the big conditions that activity affects: it also boosts mood, improves sleep, regulates appetite and enhances mental processing.
Cue the gym?
Not at all: exercise that benefits health doesn’t necessarily (you might be glad to hear!) require gym visits or even trainers. Most activity (though you can call it exercise if it makes you feel more virtuous...) can be done as part of your daily life – and is not just free of cost but constructive.
When health promotion experts at Oxford University compared the amount of energy used – so calories burned – over an inactive day ending in a gym session with a day taking small active options throughout, they found that the ‘active day’ used up 600 more calories than the passive-plus-gym one.
So go and talk to your colleague across the office rather than sit and email them; walk to the local shop rather than drive; stand rather than sit when preparing meals; take the stairs not the lift in the train station or department store; dust off the tools and do the DIY rather than booking a handyman.
You won’t just reduce your risk of disease, you’ll gain energy and that has a knock-on effect on everything, mentally and physically. So study the calorie counts on packets and exercise equivalents on menus if you want, but remember moving is more than using up food energy: by protecting you from disease while enhancing your well-being it will improve your quality of life however many calories it burns. And that helps put you more in control of your food.
Whether or not you do competitive sport (and most of us don’t), it’s a win-win situation.