James Leavey's Corner
Exercise And Be Damned

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by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

Reproduced with permission.

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James Leavey
We live in the Age of the Fitness Generation, and there's no sign of the growing global mountain of exercise machines, books, magazines,audio cassettes, TV programmes and videos slimming down.

A study in the journal of the American Medical Association in 1996 which checked the fitness of 32,421 people (25,341 men and 7,080 women) over eight years found moderately fit men and women even if they smoked were less likely to die than unfit non-smoking couch potatoes.

The Dallas researchers said people could get moderately fit by briskly walking for 30 minutes every day, and even fitter by also swimming two or three times a week.

After years of irregular workouts in gyms, dance and aerobic classes, I have developed a sneaking sympathy with Henry Ford's views on the subject of keeping fit."Exercise is bunk," said the great man."If you are healthy, you don't need it; if you are ill, you shouldn't take it."

Up to the age of 30, I was a lean, mean, active machine, capable of eating several portions of anything without adding an ounce of ugly fat.Then the ageing process set in, I grew lazy and the weight slowly piled on.

It didn't really hit me until I was 41, and being measured for a wardrobe of lightweight summer clothing in the City of London. "Is Sir likely to lose a few pounds in the near future,"sniffed Tony the tailor, taking note of my 38 inch waist. I felt like tightening the tape measure around his 18 inch bull neck.

"Actually, Sir plans to shed at least a stone, shortly,"I answered, responding to the challenge, "so you can hold back the final fittings for a while."Three months later, after a marathon of strict dieting and aerobic workouts,I strode in flaunting a 34 inch waist, and Tony respectfully asked my advice on how to lose his pot belly. It was one of life's magic moments.

So here I am again, edging towards my first half century.A couple of years of overindulging in the good things of life (food, wine and cigars) and underinvesting in body maintenance has again stretched the waist band to an uncomfortable high.

I don't really want to spend precious hours away from my family at the health club or gym, unless there's one at the hotel I'm staying at.So what's currently on offer for me, or anybody else, to do at home"

Well, whatever your current state of fitness, the first question you must ask is what you're trying to achieve.Are you overweight, undertoned, planning to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger or an Amazon called Wonder Woman"

Male or female, if you're over 35 and have done very little exercise for a few years it's wise to get the all-clear from your doctor before starting any strenuous physical activity.You then need to devise a mixture of exercisestoimprove the three main components of your fitness:endurance, strength and flexibility.

An easy way is to buy a copy of the 5BX Plan for Physical Fitness for Men (there'sanother one for women, both published by Penguin), devised by the Royal Canadian Air Force, and get started on its 11-minutes a day exercise plan.It's cheap and its works.You can also do it anywhere, at any time that suits you.

The trouble is, like most exercise, it's deadly boring.

If you're looking for motivation, you could psyche yourself up with one of the latest fitness videos from Cindy Crawford (The Next Challenge Workout, Goodtimes Home Video) and Elle MacPherson (The Body Workout, Pickwick).So why, I hear you ask, am I extolling the virtues of fitness videos featuring beautiful women instead of sweaty men" The short answer is that I've always been motivated by the former, not the latter.I may not follow their exercises, but they're fun to watch.

A few years ago, the BBC launched its Fitness Wins video for men, a programme developed by the British Army's physical training corps.It bombed. Unlike their highly successful Rosemary Conley's Whole Body Programme, which is still selling well after five years."Women prefer a role model that is attainable," explained BBC Video's press officer, Deborah Carey,"and Rosemary comes across as the woman next door rather than as a supermodel, who are mostly born that way."

Speaking of which, earlier this year Claudia Schiffer launched a double pack ofPerfectly Fit Upper-Lower Body Workout videos(CBS Fox Video), which also feature her expert fitness trainer, Kathy Kaehler.They were filmed, for the first time,in Prague and the Caribbean and have got a good funky soundtrack you could dance to.

"We need to get away from being 'perfect body' conscious," saidthe elegantly beautiful Schiffer."Each of us is unique and what we should strive for is not 'I wish I could look like her' but to be the best each of us can be."

So what sets her exercise videos apart from the competition""Exercising safely and effectively have been the main goal of my workout tapes," said Schiffer."The key thing to remember is that any body type can benefit from toning.

"One of the main reasons I developed this routine was due to the fact that I don't have time to go to the gym.I travel with weights, and find now I can do all my workout routines wherever I happen to be - at home or in a hotel.I don't work out every day."

The latest fitness crazes for those who do are Pump and Spinning.According toUltrafit magazine, over recent years many health clubs have seen a decline in the number of aerobics participants.The Les Mills Aerobics corporation is determined to reverse this trend through its new 'exercise to music' programme, simply known as Pump.

Some of us have been doing this for years.I usually exercise to Kool and the Gang's Get Down On It or Van Morrison's Real Real Gone blasting out in the background.

Spinning is a low impact, cardiovascular workout designed around riding stationery bikes while you form a mental picture of cycling through open countryside with the aid of an audio narrative.The concept was invented by the Los Angles personal trainer, Johnny Goldberg, and is guaranteed to raise your heart beat, firm your bottom (as if I needed this), tone your thighs and relax your mind.Far out!

If you want to add to the collection of exercise machinery currently cluttering up your attic or garage, the latest gadgetry is the Facial Flex. First developed for stroke rehabilitation, its manufacturers claim it tones up saggy muscles and skin around the eyes, mouth, jaw line and neck.It made me smile, anyway, andis small enough to fit into a drawer.

Then there's the latest weight-stack machines from Vectra's APEC series, StairMaster's Crossrobics, the HomeRider Recumbent - all of which are not cheap but come with guarantees and are best checked out personally, before purchasing.The next time you visit a gym, in your hotel or elsewhere, pick the brains of the instructor on what kind of equipmentyou need to maintain your own personal fitness.

If you're fond of sliding down mountains, NordicTrack claims its stationery skiing machines are 24 per cent more effective than an exercise bike, 35 per cent more effective than a stepper, and burn up to 890 calories per hour.

Weight is a factor in determining fitness, but, some experts believe it is more important to know how much of it is body fat.Obesity is a serious health risk linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer.

Provided you can stand the expense, Tanita's TBF-511 Body Fat Analyzer/Scale will give you all the data you or your family will ever need.The rest of us can simply try to pinch an inch at our waistlines.

For those of us who prefer to enjoy our exercise, there are a couple of good products currently on offer via satellite tv teleshopping programmes.Pump 'n' Jump combines a mini-trampoline with handles, and tones the lower body area. It's good fun too and takes the work out of the workout.

If, like me,you want to flatten your stomach, Abflex, an ingenious bit of triangular plastic, will help reduce the strain of sit-ups.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to my body which is telling me to beware of any movements towards the refrigerator or the nearest bar.I suppose I could dust off the rowing machine...

Copyright James Leavey, 1997.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Author.


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