It’s not the doctor's fault you aren't getting enough exercise

You surely don’t have to be one of those smug types like me who runs 5km before breakfast to know that exercise is good for you

Share

Exercise is good for you. In other breaking news, water is wet, fire is hot and Brad Pitt is a handsome man. In fairness, it’s not actually the health benefits of physical activity which has made the news this time (though variations on this story often do), it’s what some see as the stubborn refusal of GPs to acknowledge and adequately trumpet these benefits.

The doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA), has boasted of its success in renegotiating a contract clause which formerly required doctors to ask after patients’ exercise habits. “No more General Practice Physical Activity Questionnaire asking ill patients how many hours they cook or garden,” it wrote in an email to members. “GPs can be clinicians diagnosing depression rather than ticking the box for a bio-social assessment.”

That’s a good thing, right? Not according to a spokesman for Macmillian Cancer Support who expressed concern that abolishing the GPPAQ “could send the message that encouraging physical activity is not important when it is”. Sports and exercise specialist Dr Richard Weiler blamed the move on “fuddy-duddy doctors” over-reliant on prescribing drugs, and Dr William Bird, the founder of Natural England’s “Walking your Way to Health” scheme, saw it as more evidence that the BMA “haven’t grasped the one thing that could have a huge impact on outcomes”.

This attitude of bafflement is typical of the exercise evangelist. I know because I am one – I ran 5km before breakfast this morning and I feel compelled to tell you how wonderful I feel. Exercise can prevent cancer, cure depression and treat dozens of other conditions, but the greatest benefit of all, the one your GP won’t tell you about, is the licence it gives you to feel morally superior to people who don’t exercise and then rub this in their faces, under the guise of genuine concern.

Is the fact that an estimated 80 per cent of people still fail to take the recommended 150 minutes a week exercise evidence that my fellow evangelists and I haven’t been quite smug enough? Or could it be that hectoring grown adults about bad lifestyle choices isn’t in fact the best approach to this problem?

If reforming a bad habit was as simple as discovering the error, cigarette smoking would have ceased completely back in 1929 when it was first linked to cancer; pork pies would be a relic of a less civilised time only found in The Museum of Food History; and the medical profession would not be the notorious haven for souses that it is. According to one recent survey, one in six doctors will become addicts at some point in their career. Surely they, of all people should know better.

In fact, the human brain is wired to save energy by forming habits. It is far easier to do again what we have done before, than it is to do something better. That’s one reason why survey after survey shows that people lie to doctors when asked about their drinking and exercise habits. It’s just easier than admitting that despite all the advice to the contrary, you still haven’t changed your ways. Any public health initiative which doesn’t recognise these basic truths of human behaviour is doomed to fail – and waste a lot of people’s time in the interim.

Like individuals, large organisations also form bad habits, and one of the most common of these is the tendency to prioritise the appearance of getting work done over actual getting any work done. The management culture of self-assessment forms, “key performance indicators”, and box-ticking, of which GPPAQ was a part (the inscrutable acronym is always a dead giveaway), is intended to ensure that workers do what they’re supposed to.

Instead, the time taken up satisfying this extra bureaucratic requirement is time taken away from the core business of treating patients. Set in this context, ditching the GPPAQ  is a rare and laudable example of a bad habit successfully broken. Now doctors can get back to doctoring and the rest of us can take on an appropriate share of responsibility for coach potato culture.

If you don’t get enough exercise it might be because you’re in one of the sedentary jobs which employ a greater proportion of the workforce than ever, or because PE created a permanent association in your mind between exercise and misery. Perhaps you carry the recently discovered gene for inactivity. Or perhaps you’re just a lazy slob. It might be for almost any reason, in fact, except one; It definitely won’t be because you’ve never heard the news that exercise is good for your health.

React Now

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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower