Is exercise a waste of time? Don't let the headlines run away with you

Teenagers, essentially, need to move around a lot

Related Topics

Couch potatoes, relax. Kick off those trainers. Don’t worry about that gym membership. Because the hot news is that exercise is bad for you. According to researchers from Lausanne in Switzerland, gym fanatics are no more healthier than lazy slobs. People who exercise more than 17 hours a week, it was found, scored the same in health and well-being tests than those who did less than 3.5 hours a week, including some who take zero exercise. 1,200 teenagers were questioned about their sporting habits, and tested under a scoring system developed by the World Health Organisation, with the results published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

While I can see this report -  which after all is published in a responsible journal, and comes from a thoughtful place such as Switzerland -   might provide the ideal riposte to people who have always hated exercise, I think a bit of picking apart might be in order.

First, let us ponder the 17 hours thing. Do you know anyone who exercises for 17 hours a week? I am considered a bit of a fanatic by some, since I am a serial marathon runner. But even when I am gearing up for a race, and clocking up my training miles with obsessive zeal, I don’t think I ever run for more than six hours a week, maybe with an hour or two doing something nice like swimming. So eight hours, tops. The notion of doing more than double that is horrendous, and unless your name is Mo Farah,  would be utterly counter productive, since you would run the risk of injury pretty fast. The same goes for gym attendance. 17 hours in a week would require over two hours attendance every day. Quite difficult to fit in for someone who is not a sporting professional.

Yet read past the sensational headlines and you arrive at the meat of the report. Exercise for teenagers is important. Quite a lot of it, too. Too much is bad, but so is too little. Regular, extensive sporting activity, the report found, meant lower levels of stress and anxiety, and gave teenagers a greater sense of self-esteem. It even boosted brainpower. This is not to mention the other, more obvious physical benefits. This is important; teenage mental health and anxiety is not getting better, it is getting worse. Teenagers are not getting fitter, they are getting fatter. No matter how you look at it, the findings of this report seem pretty vital to me. 

It suggests the optimum amount of sporting activity and exercise young people should be taking is 14 hours a week, which is still an awful lot for most people to envisage, even marathon anoraks such as myself. Teenagers, essentially, need to move around a lot, and regularly. The medical profession should pay attention. How much are teenagers currently advised to exercise a day? One hour. So,  seven hours a week.

Perhaps the news headline needs not to be ‘lots of exercise is bad for you’, but ‘teenagers should double their exercise levels’. How can young people be encouraged to pick up the habit of exercise? Cheaper teenage membership of gyms might be one idea. Equipment should be a lot cheaper. Nike and its cohorts should be ashamed of themselves for their habit of putting a customary £90 price tag on running shoes aimed at teens. Teams should be more easy to join. The Join In push for volunteers to run sporting events this summer was a start, but there needs to be a year round emphasis on getting young people into teams and playing sport. Not for 17 hours a week. But maybe for 10. It would be a start. The mental and physical health of young people is too important to ignore. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot