The Human Condition: Firmer, slimmer, stronger - faster

With spare time increasingly precious to Britain's Stressed Erics and Ericas, the days of the two-hour gym workout, three square meals a day and regular eight hours sleep seem long gone. Still, who needs them, asks Eleanor Bailey, when you've got the high-speed fitness video, the on-the-go breakfast bar and the power nap?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
OK, LET'S GET to the point. What is the biggest block to a fitter lifestyle? Lack of time. We have the longest working week in Europe (average 43.8 hours) and a recent study revealed that 25 per cent of us would take a pay cut to have more free time on our hands. The problem is that, despite fewer leisure hours, our fitness and heath ambitions are greater and more time-consuming. We demand firmer buttocks, a flatter stomach, more vegetables (with no preparation or buying time), a bigger, better, more frequent sex life, more laughs and greater relaxation. But we want it quickly because it will soon be time to go to work again.

Fortunately, the health and fitness world is catching up. Fitness guru Karen Voight has created a video called Streamline Fitness which contains two workouts in less than an hour. Voight - who makes Peter Andre look flabby - promises me that all she does in busy periods is this video three times a week and a bit of power walking. Out! Goes the American chit chat and the plaintive requests to keep smiling. Out! Go the lengthy explanations and the warbly relaxation music. In! comes speed, efficiency and an all- over body experience that leaves you feeling like everything's been worked on. Ms Voight seems in a frightful rush herself. She barely allows herself time to adjust her knickers. She even talks quickly. No sooner have you started something than it's over again and you're leaping around all over the place, picking up weights and moving mats. At the end of speed workout one (energising) she says, "Well-that's-the-end-of-the-workout. If you've- got-time- to- do-the-next-one-great, if-not-see-you-next-time." Whoosh!

Voight explains to me very quickly why she did it. "There is so much information nowadays about how to minimise and speed up all aspects of life but this seemed to be missing in fitness. Most people making videos make it with a big shidoo." (You know what she means) "Streamlined fitness was something I needed, and so I figured other people would too. I cut out time by first paring down to the basics. One exercise leads immediately to another. There's not a lot of moving around and readjusting. When you're doing one exercise you're also stretching to have the muscles prepared for the next exercise."

Speed has infiltrated other areas of health and fitness already. Nutri- Grain, Kellogg's health breakfast cereal bar on-the-go, has sold 150 million bars in the first year and overtaken staples like Wispa and Toffee Crisp. Eighty per cent of people think that breakfast is important for health, yet over half adults were skipping breakfast at least once a week in 1996, the most common reason being lack of time.

Since Kellogg's had no figures, we tested the Nutri-Grain versus a traditional cereal. Busy TV researcher Nicky, 25, our volunteer, admitted that breakfast was normally an unhealthy white bread bacon sandwich or croissant because she "just didn't have time in the mornings". With the traditional cereal, it was one minute and eighteen seconds before she had even got to the chewing. "The milk top was fiddly, the cereal didn't flow freely and I had problems getting the bowl out of the pile." Extra time was spent masticating, bringing the total time spent consuming the traditional cereal up to five minutes and five seconds. The Nutri-Grain, however, clocked in at an impressive one minute 34 seconds from purchase to stomach. Nicky saved a massive 3 minutes and 31seconds - equivalent of 21 hours a year.

The speedy health and fitness trend comes in two basic options - go faster or multi-task. Multi-tasking is very fashionable. Virgin's in-flight beauty therapist, who offers massage and treatments, is a popular option on flights. Somehow this feels ecological; looking to make good existing brown field sites in your weekly schedule. Multi-tasking works best if you combine tasks that complement one another. Walking or swimming enhances problem solving and lifts depression. No wonder Aristotle conducted classes on the move. The dynamic yoga craze is perfect multi-tasking fitness. Yoga was always wonderful, of course, but who had time to relax and stretch as well as tone up butt-cheeks in a 24-hour day? Now there is a yoga that leaves you sweaty as well as chilled. "It's a complete exercise as long as you do it at least three times a week," says Helen, 30, who goes to "dynamic yoga" at the Notting Hill Life Centre. "Because it's fast moving I don't get bored, which is what used to happen."

The exponential growth in sales of fruit smoothies and raw vegetable juice - despite their invariably extortionate prices and often distinctly dodgy flavours - is evidence of our determination to consume vitamins in ever quicker fixes.

An obvious area in which to make up for lost time is sleep. Eight hours seems an awfully long time. Surely it could be done quicker but better? Professor Jim Horne, Director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University, admitted that cutting down on sleep was possible. "People who sleep for six hours a night tend to sleep more efficiently, with fewer interruptions, but this does not lead to greater achievement. People have been trying to cut down on sleep for a long time. However our research has shown that when people have a longer day, they don't necessarily achieve more; rather they achieve the same amount, over a greater period of time."

Nor has intellectual health been forgotten in this up-tempo era. The success of Cover magazine and The Week, which scan, edit and serve in bite-sized chunks the entire Western world's weekly and monthly media, testifies to our desire to gather information ever more quickly. Cover editor Danny Danziger explains, "If you merely wanted to save time, you wouldn't read anything at all. That subscriptions are double what we promised our backers shows that people are incredibly keen to keep up. But there is less time and more to read, so they need someone to scan the best for them."

My healthy new speed life starts now. No more time -wasting. And that includes one of the most time-consuming elements of the feature writer's life - the witty, life-affirming, concluding paragraph. Takes ages to think of and how many people get that far anyway? So why do I bother when I could be juicing carrots? No more cute endings - from now on I'm just going to stop.

Streamline Fitness is available by mail order from Fitness Products, 0171 704 2389, pounds 15.99 plus pounds 1.50 p&p

The need for speed: tips for a healthier, mind, body and soul - in record time

1. You spend three years of your life on the lavatory. Do a degree. Some years ago I started reading Bertrand Russell's Problems with Philosophy. However I recommend a subject with shorter sentences - all my time was spend trying to recall the concept I'd left off on.

2. Social exercise. In summer, instead of meeting friends down the pub, meet them for a power walk. You should walk up to ten miles in two hours. At that rate it's good exercise but you can still talk.

3. Language and science tapes for journeys into work.

4. Do your meditation in the bath.

5. TV should never be a single activity - have a foot massage, do a facepack, lift weights, file your nails.

6. Practice relaxing quicker. Screw your eyes tighter, breathe more deeply and try harder.

7. Walk more quickly. You'll get where you're going faster and it'll make you fitter. Walk up escalators.

8. Speed up sex. The average woman takes 20 minutes to orgasm, ten minutes longer than the average man. Come on girls, you can do better than that! Think arousing thoughts for an hour before hand. Find your quickest route to orgasm through self-exploration and inform your partner; it's time well spent.

9. It can seem a real effort to get through your five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. Why not try a juice combo?

10. It's easy to spend a good half an hour in the changing room. Challenge yourself to speed up, or go with a friend and race. If you still have goggle marks round your eyes in the street, you're doing well.

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