Let’s get physical… let me hear your body talk

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“If you aspire to have a long and healthy life, you need to know your own risk factors. Much of the Australian population is now overweight and overweight kids usually have overweight parents,” writes columnist CLIVE WILLIAMS

AS time marches on, we become more concerned about prolonging our lives – or at least I have. 

Author Clive Williams.

When I was younger, I didn’t bother much with exercise, considering that partying energetically would suffice. I took up jogging in the late ’70s because my girlfriend at that time jogged around the “Tan” (Melbourne Botanical Gardens) every day, but I can’t say I enjoyed jogging much and never passed through the pain barrier to achieve Nirvana (after we married, she gave up jogging). 

A runner I decidedly am not. In the army one had to maintain a reasonable level of fitness, but the partying and work kept me fit enough to pass the army’s annual PT tests. 

When I was in an infantry unit, every workday started with an eight-kilometre run in boots, and every Friday ended with a timed 14-kilometre run with equipment, so we were kept reasonably fit. 

I have been fortunate never to have had a serious health scare and perhaps have mixed prospects genetically as my mum died at 68 and dad at 94. I’ve nearly been killed many times, but largely through my own foolishness. Fortuitously, I have never been seriously injured, either. 

About 10 years ago, I started using an indoor treadmill for 30 minutes a day and kept that up for a few years. I eventually decided I’d rather be in the open air, so walking alfresco became the preferred choice. 

In Canberra, a daily brisk walk for five kilometres around Lake Burley Griffin is a good option. My wife and I have also done a few long walks in other parts of the world, such as Southwark to Canterbury Cathedral (the Pilgrims’ Way), coast-to-coast along Hadrian’s Wall and in other parts of the world. 

Putting on weight is a common problem as we get older, presumably because we eat as much as we did when younger, but our bodies don’t need as many calories to operate effectively. 

On the fitness front, I swim every day as my preferred option, but no amount of exercise will compensate for a poor diet. For example, a hard swim over one kilometre will only burn 275 calories – a bit less than one McDonald’s cheeseburger. 

Exercise is good for you, of course, even if you’re overweight, but if you’re overweight and fit you’re probably stressing your body. Ideally, the circumference of your waist should not exceed half your height. 

Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia (about one in every four deaths). An adult’s pulse rate should be 60-100, and ideally at the lower end of the spectrum. When you exercise you should not push your pulse rate higher than 220 less your age – so for a 70-year-old, not more than 150. 

Blood pressure is also important; high blood pressure is a major risk factor for ill health. The top number in a blood-pressure reading is systolic (the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating) and the bottom number is diastolic (the pressure in your arteries between beats). The normal range is systolic 91-119 and diastolic 61-79. 

You can buy a blood-pressure measuring machine online for under $50 – possibly a good Christmas present for someone you care about? 

If you aspire to have a long and healthy life, you need to know your own risk factors. Much of the Australian population is now overweight and overweight kids usually have overweight parents. It’s up to parents – not teachers – to encourage good eating habits for their children’s future health and wellbeing. Being on a low income is not a valid excuse for having a poor diet. 

In summary, a good diet and regular exercise will help reduce the risk factors for an early demise at any age – unless of course you’re like me and into extreme tourism and other foolhardy pursuits! 

Clive Williams is a Canberra commentator and part-time fitness fanatic. 

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