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Garth Rattray | The essentiality of exercise

Published:Monday | August 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM

I'm certainly no physical specimen, I used to be very big into the gym thing but, for a multiplicity of reasons, I fell off the metaphorical fitness wagon so hard that I broke something. My will to get back on the wagon was broken so badly that the very thought of exercising was accompanied by a whiff of profanity.

I absolutely loathe the word 'obese' because it carries with it the impression of someone who looks like a beast, one who is slothful, one who constantly gorges on all kinds of bad things and one who is totally incapable of even the tiniest modicum of self-control. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I prefer the word 'endomorphic' - the propensity for easily gaining the wrong kind of weight. I'm endomorphic because of my family genes, my job and the stressors that life bring.

I'm not alone in my constant struggle to approximate normality. The older I become, the more I'm aware of it, especially now that there is a worldwide effort to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Getting close to your ideal weight, healthy eating, regular moderate exercises and rest are the best ways to reduce your risk of NCDs.

In light of the upcoming Olympic Games, several health organisations have been pushing for significantly reducing sedentary lifestyle. We are now being told that 60 minutes each day is best for staving off NCDs; the barest minimum is 15 minutes each day. It is suggested that the exercise should be moderate to high intensity and sustainable. And the activities should include a combination of aerobic and resistance training.




Researchers have deduced that inactivity (the lack of adequate exercise) causes the same number of deaths as smoking - about 5.3 million annually. The deaths were from coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and bowel cancers.

Additionally, inactivity has been found to impact significantly on mental health. Unfortunately, many people sit for hours at their jobs. It's said that even if those people go to the gym, that alone cannot fully undo (compensate for) the long hours spent sitting at work. It is, therefore, suggested that people get out of their seats, stand and/or walk around as often and for as long as possible.

Even a little exercise can be life-changing. Estimates are that activity can reduce their risk of heart disease by 40 per cent, of hypertension by almost 50 per cent, the risk of recurrent breast cancer by almost 50 per cent, and of colon cancer by more than 60 per cent. Exercise reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, it also reduces the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease by 30 per cent and it is very effective in treating depression.

Sadly, our society and economy forces many to sit at work. Manual labour is shrinking with the use of machines and automation. Even people who sell in our markets and on the various roadsides sit for hours. It's estimated that about 45 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men spend less than half an hour each day on their feet.




As far as I'm aware, the 2011 WHO NCD Country Profile for Jamaica shows that physical inactivity was 43.6 per cent for males and 51.5 per cent for females. As far as physical activity is concerned, Jamaica had a national campaign to promote exercise under the Healthy Lifestyle Project (2004-2008). We also have health camps, competitions, a few healthy zones, and planned islandwide health initiatives.

Some other countries have been far more aggressive with trying to reduce inactivity. Although 80 per cent of countries stated that they have policies, plans or strategies for managing NCDs, only 56 per cent reported that they were operational. My wife recently visited Samoa and found a working government policy that dictates one hour off from work time dedicated to some form of physical activity. Other countries shut down city streets to encourage exercise at least once per week.

Jamaica has many people glued to stools, chairs, workstations and chained to desks. We, therefore, need working policies and national workplace protocols for exercise breaks to reduce our NCDs.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and