Although you probably won’t lose enough weight just by doing exercise alone, the most successful and healthy answer to overweight and obesity is a combination of regular physical activity and a low-fat, high-fibre diet.
The couch-potato syndrome
You've probably heard of the ‘‘couch-potato syndrome’’, which conjures up images of a totally inactive person glued to the TV, munching fat-rich snacks and sipping energy-laden cold drinks or beer.
The incidence of inactivity is growing at an alarming rate. What's particularly worrying is that modern children and teenagers are just as likely to be couch potatoes as adults.
Gone are the days when children used up masses of energy by playing, walking to school and taking part in sport. Nowadays even very young children spend far too many hours sitting in front of the TV or their computers, using about as much energy per hour as is contained in a peanut!
Surveys show that British and American children watch up to 28 hours of TV weekly, using 2000kJ less energy than kids playing games or taking part in sport.
South African children in urban environments probably don’t lag far behind their overseas counterparts and we may soon be facing the same epidemic of childhood obesity that plagues these western countries.
The recent National Household Food Consumption Survey reported that 17.1% of South African children between the ages of 1 and 9, living in urban areas, are already considered overweight.
Modern life is all about saving time and energy. Those of us who are ‘‘blessed’’ with labour-saving devices and gadgets, use vacuum cleaners instead of carpet beaters, automatic washing machines instead of scrubbing boards and we wouldn’t dream of walking to the shops when we can drive there in cars or buses.
All these devices contribute to ever-increasing inactivity, which in turn leads to overweight and obesity.
If we have so many labour-saving devices in our homes, then we should have more time to exercise – either by participating in an active sport or in planned activities such as regular walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or aerobics.
Many people say they don’t have time to exercise, that they're too busy to take time off to go to a gym or to join a walking or cycling club.
These endless excuses are just that: excuses. If you take a long, hard look at your life and decide that the time has come to do something about your expanding waistline, then you have to make time for exercise, no matter how busy your schedule is.
Get up an hour earlier and go to your local gym before work. Take the dog for a brisk walk after work. Make a point of exercising over weekends, instead of slumping in front of the TV watching the select few play rugby or cricket.
The first step
Every journey starts with a single step. This is also true when you want to lose weight. The very first step you need to take is to decide that you're going to do something positive about your situation. You're going to eat sensibly and you're going to start exercising regularly. And you're going to join a gym or an organisation like Walk/Run for Life if that's what it takes.
Once you've taken that first step, all that's required of you is to stick to your resolve. Be consistent! The secret of using exercise to help you lose weight lies in how regularly you get a workout.
The latest research shows that people who need to lose large amounts of weight (more than 20kg) should exercise for 60 minutes every day. People who only need to lose a few kilos should exercise for 30 minutes a day.
Be consistent and be regular. Do those one-hour exercise sessions every day if you're obese, or three to four times every week of you're overweight (and not just one week a month!), and you'll achieve the results you desire.
- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)