Fishing Lines: The way to slim: fish for fitness

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I WAS delighted to discover this week that I am one of Britain's most healthy men. The news came as a bit of a surprise to my wife, who points to my well-padded stomach and a dislike of jogging as clear evidence that I am getting fitness confused with fatness.

The only exercise she sees me taking (apart from a sudden penchant for cycling, but that's another story) is loading my tackle into the car and carrying it along a riverbank. Little did she realise that my incredible vigour is totally attributable to fishing.

This is not just me trying to talk my way out of aerobic classes for the over-40s. Two American books, Exercise Physiology by George A Brooks and Thomas D Fatley, and The Relative Energy Requirements of Physical Activity by E Bannister and S R Brown, make it quite clear that when it comes to burning up the unwanted calories, angling is up there among the best of them.

The details, revealed by Anglers Mail this week, show that a five-hour fishing session uses up the same amount of energy as going on a 10-mile run, playing tennis for almost three hours, doing gymnastics for nearly five hours and climbing with a 44lb backpack for more than two hours.

Not impressed yet? Further figures show that the angler crouched over his rod is actually a powerhouse of cardiovascular activity, using more energy than any volleyball player, ballroom dancer or canoeist.

If you don't have five hours to while away fishing, you can exercise in more traditional ways. But you would have to suffer 90 minutes' judo, swim or play American football for more than two hours, or throw a cricket ball for three and a half hours.

The statistics are fascinating in two ways. First, because they will prove embarrassing to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which rejected an application for aid recently because 'angling is a sport which does not exhibit the characteristics of athleticism required to bring it within the scope of the trust deed'.

Peter Hargreaves, a competition angler who wears a tracksuit on the bank and who weighs in at a svelte 19 stone, says: 'Angling is very athletic. It's excellent upper-body exercise, almost as good as swimming. There's miles of walking with all your gear and then five hours of using a rod.'

The data are also invaluable for every fisherman. Those who mock the seeming lethargy of the sport, who don't appreciate the subtle anaerobic activity taking place beneath the woolly jumpers and battered caps, will now have to swallow their insults.

My wife is suspicious but unable to muster any convincing argument to counter the authority of Brooks and Fatley, Bannister and Brown. And the researchers have given me the perfect rejoinder when she pesters me to take more exercise. I just have to pick up my rods, head for the riverbank and say that I'm off for a tough work-out.