By Kristian Gray
It’s been a strange couple of months for everyone, around the world and here in Cyprus. We have all been instructed to stay home, stay healthy and stay safe, and we are now slowly starting to see the results of that sacrifice with the easing of restrictive measures.
But it’s not over yet and it is safe to say that we will all be spending a lot more time at home than we have done in previous years. This then raises another issue for everyone, and that is the lack of exercise that we are potentially faced with. Even if you are not a gym-goer on a day-to-day basis, you still get up, get dressed for work, and leave the house. Maybe you take a walk in your lunch break, or you head to the shops, either way, you are up, out and exercising – without even realising it.
With that in mind, governments all over the world have been actively encouraging us to use our permitted time out of the house to go for walks, runs or ride a bike. Alternatively, you might be like millions of others tuning in to YouTube to undertake the thousands of ‘at home workouts’ on offer, which is great.
I am the biggest advocate of exercise and I would encourage everyone to try and get their body moving every day, however, the main problem I see in situations like these is that of caloric balance.
For those who haven’t heard this expression before, it simply means burning off as many calories as you consume daily, thus achieving a caloric balance and maintaining your weight. This is a problem for people because the vast majority of us overestimate how many calories we burn during exercise. I often hear expressions like, ‘I went for a walk this morning so I must have burnt off at least 400 calories’.
Now, that could be true, providing that a person walked for about three hours, because in reality, a half an hour walk around the block in your village can burn as little as 80 calories – depending on the speed you are going. And, if you consider that during that time your body would have burnt approximately 50-60 calories simply by being alive, you have really only expended an extra 20-30 calories in total.
I bring this up because another common expression I hear is, ‘I have done my exercise for the day now, so I am going to balance it out and treat myself to a chocolate bar’ (insert any other ‘treat’ here). The problem is that a chocolate bar can contain upwards of 400 calories, the majority of which will come from sugar, and your walk around the block could nowhere near cover the damage you are about to do by eating this sugary snack. There is no caloric balance here, not by a long way.
To make it even worse, the extra calories you have just consumed come in the form of sugar and will offer your body absolutely no nutritional value. It will simply be stored as fat and could see you slowly putting on extra weight throughout the duration of this lockdown period.
But fear not, there is a solution that is really quite simple: eat when you are hungry. There is no need to reward yourself with food for exercising. Your reward should be good health, physical fitness and a long life. In times like these, surely you couldn’t ask for more? Secondly, your body doesn’t need to refuel after exercise; listen to it, it will tell you when it needs to be fed – it’s pretty clever like that!
The greatest irony in this situation is that we have been asked to stay home to protect our health, but if we are not sensible, we could emerge from the other side of this with an even bigger obesity epidemic than we entered it. Don’t forget, before the Covid-19 outbreak started, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population was either overweight or obese, and that number is certainly not going to decrease over the coming months.
The only way we will see that number decline is through a change in our dietary habits. Exercise should play a part as it can change the mindset and lead us to make healthier choices, but we must always bear in mind that although exercise is great for so many reasons, when it comes to losing weight and achieving overall better health, it all starts with what’s on your plate.