Do ultra-running CEOs and IronMan MDs represent the ideal for health and performance?
At Hintsa, we have the privilege to work with a wide range of clients, across a spectrum of activity levels, from elite athletes to office workers. We regularly talk about the benefits of physical activity and encourage all our clients to participate in regular exercise.
The Rise Of The ‘Superboss'
We’ve also observed the rise of the ‘Superboss’ with interest. Organisers of many of the world’s toughest sporting endurance events have noted that significant proportions of entrants are senior-figures in banking and legal sectors, CEOs and entrepreneurs. This trend has created admiration and some interesting discussions; combining the long-hours required to succeed in these career paths with demanding training sessions is a challenge. Does it really lead to optimal health and performance?
Physical Activity As Preventive Medicine
The evidence is clear that physical activity is a potent preventive ‘medicine’. Adequate physical activity is associated with many important health outcomes, including reductions in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, falls, fractures, depression, improvements in physical function, weight management, cognitive function and quality of life (1). Prescribing exercise has also been shown to be an effective therapy in at least 26 different chronic diseases (2). Consequently, these ‘corporate athletes’ may be acclaimed as prime examples of how to combine work with fitness and health.
Even if we are not aiming to run the Marathon Des Sable, most of us are aware of the benefits of integrating physical activity into our daily routine. However, there are growing questions about whether even the most demanding daily workouts can protect us against the negative effects of sitting for the rest of the day.
Are You Fit But Unhealthy?
Evidence demonstrates that the negative health outcomes associated with sedentary behaviour occur independently of physical activity (3). In practise, this means that even very active individuals can remain susceptible to the negative health effects of sedentary behaviour: numerous chronic diseases as well as death from any cause (4). Sedentary behaviour is defined as any time we are operating at or below 1.5x our resting metabolic rate (5) - such as when we watch TV, use a computer or drive our cars.
A Sedentary Sandwich
If we’re not careful, our days can become a ‘sedentary sandwich’. We power through a training session before or after work whilst spending long hours in-between, at our desks. We may convince ourselves that we have done what we need to do to ensure our health and wellbeing, but it’s important that we strive to reduce our total sedentary time and also intersperse the inevitable sedentary periods with frequent, short bouts of standing and physical activity, even if we are otherwise very physically active (3).
Weekly Habits For Optimum Health
In practise, whether we’re an ultra-cyclist or coach-potato, we would all benefit from becoming more aware of our daily exercise AND movement habits. In a perfect world, your weekly exercise for optimum health could look something like this:
Move slow: Engage in moderate-intensity exercise (you could speak in full-sentences whilst doing it) for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. For example, a brisk walk in the morning, or walking meetings during the day.
Move fast: Vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise (where you get very out of breath) for at least 20 minutes, 3 times per week, or at least 75 minutes total. For example, you could do a spin-class in the gym and a fast 5km run.
Move heavy: Adults should perform resistance exercises, 2 days per week. For example, using weight-training or resistance bands.
Move more: Perhaps most importantly, reducing sedentary time and becoming more active through the day, not just in the gym or when pounding the pavement, is a powerful means to improve your long-term health and wellbeing. As a starting point, record your daily steps using some kind of self-tracking device and aim to increase your activity towards 10,000 steps a day, if possible. However, don’t get too fixated on that number. Simply aim to increase your activity with more walking and movement - perhaps integrating a short stretching routine in your daily work habits, or using exercise bands at your desk.
No-one Is Perfect
Finally, remember that no-one needs to be perfect. Exercise programs should be modified according to each individual's starting point and goals. And even if you can’t create the ideal week, we would all benefit from engaging in some exercise and activity, regardless of whether it’s less than recommended. Something is better than nothing. Take a progressive approach. Assess where you are now and aim to be a little better tomorrow, than today.
1) CONN, V.S., et al. (2011) Interventions to Increase Physical Activity Among Healthy Adults: Meta-Analysis of Outcomes. Am J Public Health. 101(4) p.751–758.
2) PEDERSEN, B.K., et al. (2015) Exercise as medicine - evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 25 (3) p.1-72.
3) GARBER, C. E., et al. (2011) Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 43 (7) p. 1334-1359.
4) BLAIR, N. & HASKELL W. L. (2006) Objectively measured physical activity and mortality in older adults. Journal of the American Medical Association. 296 (2) p. 216–218.
5) SEDENTARY BEHAVIOUR RESEARCH NETWORK. (2012) Standardized use of the terms “sedentary” and “sedentary behaviours”. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 37 p. 540–542.