Young Mum or Ballerina. Who's Really the Fittest?
Byline: ANNABEL COLE
DO YOU envy people who can run for the bus with no effort while you find yourself panting after climbing a flight of steps?
Well, just because you don't consider yourself fit doesn't mean you're not healthy. Your fittest friends may still be eating the wrong foods and doing unsuitable exercises, while your brisk walk to work and sensible diet could be just as beneficial.
Here five people take a unique fitness examination with a BUPA specialist to find out what they really need to do to stay healthy. Below, we consider whether being fit really is the same as being healthy . . .
ACCORDING to Dr Paula Franklin, medical director of BUPA, the words 'fit' and 'healthy' can be as different as chalk and cheese. 'They're always used together but one certainly does not follow from the other,' she says.
'Most people have a fixed idea about what they consider to be good for them - exercise, low-fat diet and so on - but these aren't always as beneficial as you think.' Consider, for example, the businessman who goes skiing twice a year and plays squash once a week after work. He may think he's in better physical shape than his secretary, who is rushed off her feet all day, can't afford the time to go to a gym and spends her evenings looking after two young children. If so, he's sadly mistaken. His sedentary lifestyle will probably mean she's far more healthy than he is.
Sporadic exercise may be good in the short-term, but if you have a poor diet and fail to stretch your muscles properly it will do you very little good. But if you spend the day walking around, using up a lot of energy, your body will be subject to a rigorous daily workout.
According to health specialists, the problem of an ever-expanding unfit society is not a reluctance to get fit, because more people than ever are avid gym-goers. But the desire to pound the treadmill and sweat it out over the rowing machine has hidden the need to get the whole body into shape.
Dr Franklin explains: 'Fitness is not just about going to the gym.
You can be fit by walking to work, doing the gardening or just playing with your children.
THOSE apparently less strenuous tasks really count. And if sprinting to catch a bus leaves you breathless, then try not to worry. As long as you're doing the rest, you'll be fit.' And according to recent satatis-tics from the Health Education Authority, it really is the little things can count. Half an hour of strenuous DIY, digging the garden or vacuuming and dusting is equivalent to a game of football, a 30-minute cycle ride or an hour's aerobics class. And a Sunday afternoon ramble is far better than an exhausting, short game of tennis.
As a basic rule, you should do an activity three times a week that keeps you breathing harder than normal for 20 minutes. It's up to you whether that's playing sport or doing the housework.
But being obsessed with your stamina and muscles can lead to a neglect of the most crucial factors in living a long and healthy life - a sensible diet and a minimum of stress.
EACH person was put through eight basic tests with one of BUPA's fitness experts. Some of these can be done at home but for others you will need special equipment or advice.
* PULSE. A normal pulse rate before exercise is between 56 and 80 beats a minute, with an average of 72. A high rate, above 80, means the heart is working harder than necessary to pump blood around the body; if low, it's not working hard enough.
* FLEXIBILITY. Measured by a sit-and-reach exercise. Lie on the floor and pull yourself as far forward as possible. The further the better.
* STAMINA. Six minutes cycling on an exercise bike wearing a heart rate monitor. Increase in heart rate and shortness of breath indicate low stamina.
If you're fit you shouldn't have to change your breathing pattern drastically.
* STRENGTH. The strength of a person's grip is used as an indication of their overall bodily strength. The highest reading of three attempts is taken. These coiled grips can be bought in specialist shops.
* CHOLESTEROL. For this you'll need to have a simple blood test.
High cholesterol, which causes heart disease, can be genetic but poor diet, featuring an excess of saturated fats, is a major factor.
* BODY FAT. A small electric current is passed through the body via electrodes attached to the hand and foot. The longer the current takes to pass through the body, the higher the percentage of body fat. This is best done by a fitness expert, although you can buy similar kits. Too much body fat puts dangerous strain on the joints and the heart, while too little can mean that the body is burning too much energy.
* LUNG FUNCTION. A tube known as a peak flow meter is blown into.
The higher the reading, the more efficient the muscles surrounding the lungs are. A low reading can indicate chest problems such as asthma.
* BLOOD PRESSURE. Measured with a blood pressure monitor.
High pressure can be caused by excess stress or poor diet and can increase the risk of a heart attack.
PHIL ADCOCK, 32, is a carpenter and builder. He lives in Bletchingley, Surrey with wife Shirley and their seven-year-old son.
LIFESTYLE: Energetic. Works from 8.30am to 6.30pm doing mainly physical tasks like stretching, lifting and carrying. Time off is spent gardening or playing with his son.
EXERCISE: Nothing formal.
DIET: Toast or cereal in the morning, sandwiches and then often pasta for dinner. Avoids butter and tries to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.
ALCOHOL: Two glasses of wine a day, on average, plus beer and spirits at the weekend.
EXPERT'S VERDICT: Phil is fitter than average for a man in his 30s. His flexibility, stamina and strength were all good. But lung function was poor given the amount of exercise he does. This is probably due to the fact that, although he is active, he is not doing enough aerobic exercise to get his heart pumping. It's often important to vary the type of exercise you take.
Phil also drinks more than is good for him.
MARKS OUT OF 10: 6
AMY BAILEY, 20, has been studying ballet for 15 years and is currently training at the London Studio Centre in central London. She lives in Finchley, North London.
LIFESTYLE: Trains eight-ten hours a day, six days a week and often performs in the evening as well.
EXERCISE: Every day, through training not gym exercises.
DIET: Irregular eating patterns. Has breakfast and then snacks during the day, sometimes just chocolate bars for energy. Evening meal usually chicken, fish or rice.
EXPERT'S VERDICT: Amy's fitness levels are above average although she is not the fittest volunteer.
Flexibilty, stamina and strength were all above average but her cholesterol level was borderline which can be attributed mainly to a poor diet. Ballet dancers are often anaemic because the nutritional content of their diet is not what it should be. It is crucial that Amy concentrates on a balanced diet with more vitamins and essential fats from meat and fish.
MARKS OUT OF 10: 8
ROGER CLARKE, 37, is a financial advisor in the City of London. He lives in Greenwich, South-East London.
LIFESTYLE: Sedentary. Works five days a week in an office and relaxes by going to the cinema and eating out.
EXERCISE: Limited. Goes swimming every other week and plays the occasional game of golf.
DIET: Two regular meals a day. No breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and an evening meal, usually chicken or fish.
ALCOHOL: Two or three pints most weekdays and often 'binges' on wine and beer at weekends.
EXPERT'S VERDICT: Roger is unfit and unhealthy. He may feel fine, and his body fat and blood pressure are within normal limits, but unless he changes his lifestyle now, it will take its toll. He should cut down on fats and cholesterol, and exercise at least three times a week - gently at first and then more strenuously. If his regime continues as it is he runs the risk of heart disease.
MARKS OUT OF 10: 2
JILL DRUMMIE, 48, is a secretary in an accounting firm in London. She is married with two grownup children and lives in Surrey. Jill exercises every day and has run six London marathons in the past seven years.
LIFESTYLE: Very hectic. Sedentary office job combined with daily exercise and busy home life.
EXERCISE: Runs 25 miles a week; one hour circuit training every day; hiking, skipping and running at the weekend.
DIET: Regular meals. Balanced diet but does not worry about what she eats.
ALCOHOL: Average two glasses of wine per day.
EXPERT'S VERDICT: Jill's overall level is way above average but, despite her intensive training programme, both her flexibilty and strength were surprisingly below average, due to a natural decline with age. Her blood pressure was also unusually high, probably due to the stress at work. She ought to take things easier both in the office and in the gym. Stretches and weight-training would be beneficial.
MARKS OUT OF 10: 7…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Young Mum or Ballerina. Who's Really the Fittest?. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: September 16, 1997. Page number: 32. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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