Article by Dr Paul Batman Phd

Times are changing in more ways that we could have ever imagined over the past 12 months. The COVID pandemic and then multiple waves of the virus have changed the way we view movement, physical activity and exercise than ever before.

The fitness industry now has the opportunity to pivot and start thinking about how we can engage a bigger market segment by embracing Public Health issues.

For many years the fitness industry has focused on weight loss, getting fitter and appearance. If we continue in the same vein without expanding new programs to a bigger audience, we are doomed to have learnt nothing from the past 12 months.  As I write this article, I have just been told that over 40,000 people living in the UK have been reported with COVID in a single day, the highest ever!

While we pride ourselves in promoting Exercise is Medicine” we are  duty bound to up hold that mantra by investigating new opportunities to promote physical activity and address public health issues that are inclusive, diverse, accessible and sustainable.  To survive and thrive in the future, “More of the same is  NO longer enough”.

One positive consequence of the COVID pandemic has been the recognition by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the need for people to “move more, sit less and move often”.

In November 2020, the WHO  promoted major changes to their guidelines for Physical Activity and Sedentary behaviour, all of which could be “game changers” for us as fitness professionals, especially as fitness centres and fitness professionals continue to shoulder the brunt of continual lockdowns. In the past we have been constrained by specific recommendations that have made it almost impossible for us to access new markets and offer broader more sustainable  physical activity alternatives.

Some key messages for fitness professionals from the new WHO “Every  Move Counts“ Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour guidelines include:

  • It is better to do some physical activity irrespective of the intensity or mode of exercise. Light intensity activities can also produce appreciable health benefits.
  • All domains of physical activity are regarded as legitimate modes of exercise including active travel, home activities, gardening, leisure sport and activities of daily life.
  • Sedentary behaviour has now been recognised for the first time as an independent risk factor in the presence of moderate to vigorous exercise and should be reduced throughout the day.
  • There is no minimum duration for physical activity participation, as was the10 minutes rule that was previously prescribed.
  • Target times are now between 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity and 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity, which is double the previous recommendations.
  • Time in excess of 300 minutes of moderate physical activity can improve health outcomes. “More is better”.
  • Two sessions per week of strength for all population groups will enhance health outcomes.
  • For the first time the WHOphysical activity guidelines are inclusive of all sub population groups not previously considered, that will benefit from increased participation in all forms of  physical activity.
  • The focus has shifted from exercise to a public health issue that is part of daily living.
  • In general, the new guidelines have shifted from specific exercise training to include more active living opportunities.

During the 1110 days of the Melbourne lockdown (Australia) caused by the second wave of COVID infections, restrictions were amongst the most severe in the world. With gyms closed and the chance to exercise  limited, a small group of friends unknowingly embraced the new WHO guidelines by changing the way they historically viewed physical activity and fitness.

They found it difficult to maintain their virtual morning exercise program and with some assistance were educated to realise that “All Movement Matters” and that they could still increase their energy expenditure by moving in their home and outside as much as they could during their extended isolation.

I taught them that if they measured their intermittent activities during the day, they would expend more Kcals than if they participated in their 30- 60 minutes fitness morning regime and be sedentary for the rest  on the day. For example; we calculated the MET value of their exercise workout and multiplied it by the duration of the activity in minutes, giving us a workload of MET Minutes. For example; if they did a spin class at 8 METs for 45 minutes their new workload was estimated at 8 METs x 45 min = 370 MET minutes. This gym workout or similar was performed three times per week for total of  370 MET Minutes x 3 = 1,110 MET Minutes per week. On average, we calculated that their gym workouts expended approximately 1,000 MET Minutes per week.  

We initially started our “Every Move Counts” program with the “ Top of the Hour” workout. At the top of every hour we would get up from whatever we were doing and walk for 5 minutes (trying to get in 500 steps) either just as walking or while performing some household or outdoor chore. This was estimated at 4 METS (4 times resting energy expenditure). Every hour our workload was 4 METS X 5 Min = 20 MET Minutes. We did it every hour for at least 10 hours of the waking day = 200 MET minutes. We recorded this activity for  5 days, even though most continued it into the weekend = 1,000 MET Minutes per week, the same as their normal weekly gym workouts.

Even though the intensity of the spin class and general gym workouts for this group was generally higher, substituting inactive periods of the day with low intensity alternatives created healthy outcomes, similar in cardiorespiratory effects and more pronounced in metabolic effects, if the workout volume was similar. 

As we progressed through our 110 days with this “Every Move Counts” approach, each week we would identify new  prolonged periods of sedentary time and substitute it with more active alternatives in the home and outside (between 2-6 METs). At the conclusion of the 110 days of lockdown we were reaching workloads in excess of 2,000 MET Minutes per week, far in excess of what could have been achieved by daily isolated workouts. We pivoted by focussing on reducing sedentary times throughout the day with intermittent  activities rather than relying our general fitness programs that were generally unsustainable in our lockdown environment.

This is not to say we should do not continue with our moderate to vigorous intensity gym workouts when we can during the lockdown periods, quite the contrary. When it is not possible in isolation, we should look to less structured workouts at lower intensities performed intermittently in and around the home to boost our immune system, control metabolic syndrome, reduce long term chronic inflammation, reduce cumulative oxidative stress, reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms and improve mitochondrial function in order to increase or maintain good health.

It’s time for change…..     

If you are interested in learning more from Dr Paul on met coaching join the NEAT Fit Coaching Programme and prepare yourself to Pivot into public health.