Speakers: A lawyer’s timely advice on meeting lowered fitness standards

This week, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, the “principal body for physical activity, health and fitness research, and personal training in Canada,” is set to recommend downwardly revising Canada’s physical activity guidelines.

The new guidelines will be the absolute minimum, or entry-level standards, so to speak. Simply meeting them doesn’t guarantee optimal health and fitness, just as the entry-level requirements for bar admission don’t make someone a good lawyer.

If adopted by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the change would slash the current recommended volume of physical activity for adults to an aggregate of 150 minutes per week from 60 minutes per day. Imagine the implications of eating 66-per-cent less food, sleeping that much less or taking a two-thirds cut in billable hours. For kids, the target of 90 minutes per day will decrease to 60 minutes.

The change is an attempt to make the guidelines more attainable given that only a small minority of people meet the current standards. The premise that less is more - in this case that less is more than what we’re doing - is a defeatist resignation to mediocrity analogous to lowering academic standards with the expectation that more students will enrol and do better as a result.

Changing the guidelines because they were wrong in the first place is one thing, but making them easier because most people weren’t meeting them seems to muddle science, social policy, and marketing.

While larger socio-economic issues about the way North American life is structured may be at play along with a seeming sense that we’ve become a blob of overworked, overfed, overstimulated, under-read sloths, what’s clear is that we’re not getting enough of what’s good for us.

Of course, what’s good for us is fundamentally a matter of common sense.
So at a time of the year when many are experiencing the anticipatory or fundamental breach of their new year’s resolutions and understandably focusing on professional matters such as targets for billable hours, it’s worthwhile to consider whether you’re on track to meet the minimum standards, and if not, the reasons why and strategies for change.

In some cases, the culprits may be an admitted lack of interest in physical activity, a wilful blindness to the risks of a sedentary lifestyle or, bluntly, outright laziness, but it doesn’t take an opinion poll to tell us that most Canadians know they need to be doing more.

Having heard almost all of the excuses and having lived a few of them from time to time, the reason most people don’t get enough exercise is, without a doubt, lack of time or lack of control over it.
Time, for many lawyers, of course, is their product and most valuable commodity.

But working hard or burning the candle at both ends to tend to family commitments doesn’t have to be an excuse to neglect exercise. Those are actually the main reasons, aside from the obvious health benefits, in favour of getting more exercise and making more sensible lifestyle choices.

If a lack of time or control over it is the reason you aren’t getting enough exercise, then consider the following simple and effective strategies: first, get up very early as the morning is often the only free time you control; second, plan fitness into your weekly schedule; third, take fitness breaks in the afternoon or evening when facing a late night at the office; and finally, commit to a regularly scheduled team or group activity.

Of course, what you do with your exercise time is a critically important but often overlooked aspect of fitness planning. In this regard, it’s wrong to focus exclusively on quantity when in many cases quality is what matters, especially for time-starved people.

The key to effective exercise under time pressure is to focus on efficiency and functional fitness. Efficiency means engaging in short but intense bouts of cardiovascular exercise, performing resistance training circuits, and eliminating as much dead time during the workout as possible by performing alternative exercises in lieu of rest periods and chit-chat between sets.

Functional fitness means performing multi-joint body-weight exercises that require a full range of motion and mimic real-life activities. You aren’t going to bicep-curl, hip-abduct or ab-blast your way out of any sticky real-life situations that require strength, speed or physical resilience when accidents happen.

You’ll need strong hips (from dead lifts), a strong back (from squats), pushing power (from presses), flexibility (from stretching), and speed (from sprints). For women, emphasis should be on weight-bearing exercises to build bone density.

Of course, exercise is one-third of the puzzle. To get the most out of limited exercise time, you also need sufficient rest periods and a nourishing and varied diet that involves more protein, whole grains, leafy greens, fruits, and nuts and less fat, caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol.

Why would you care? Fitness promotes energy, concentration, better moods, and higher productivity. That’s why your employer is likely to care as well.

Consider, if you don’t already, taking your health and fitness as seriously as you take your practice, something that includes taking the long-term view and many small steps today.

The dividends will begin to pay almost immediately. Of course, whatever steps you take, do so only under advisement of a trained medical or fitness professional.

Geoffrey White is an Ottawa-based lawyer and certified strength and conditioning specialist. His e-mail is [email protected].

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