“Too much love will kill you,” sang Freddie Mercury once.
He forgot to add cake.
A global comparison of physical activity across countries has just appeared in medical journal The Lancet, and has set the world’s newspapers alight with accusations of fatal laziness.
“Half of NZ population sloth-like” said the NZ Herald in one of their least catchy headlines ever. “Aussies the champions at being lazy” said Australia’s Daily Telegraph, although technically that claim does belong to Malta.
The Americans were pleased not to be number 1 in a negative demographic for once, according to The Atlantic, who gleefully reproduced “a map of the world’s sloth”.
The Lancet article defines this as failing to meet the 30-minute threshold for moderate daily activity. The aforementioned map colour-codes the world in ever-darkening shades as the percentage of slothfulness in the population approaches greater than fifty percent.
The world’s laziest countries are a sickly shade of brown, just like renal failure.
Australia, the United States and Canada are an awkward salmon tone, while New Zealand and the United Kingdom are inching toward red, a bit like an embarrassed sausage.
Inactivity is being blamed for a laundry list of medical conditions including coronary heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and even premature death – five million annually.
There has been little mention of mental health in all this.
Why are increasing numbers of us eating more and not moving enough? Could it be because we’ve become fatalist about the idea of exercising, believing that we’re never going to have the perfect bodies that we see in magazines, so we might as well keep eating the chips?
Exercising makes you feel good, we’re constantly told by its proponents. Unfortunately, so does chocolate, and reaching for a Mars bar is much easier.
It doesn’t help that we’re presented with so few options for keeping fit. Most gyms want to marry you before you get in the door, and then leave you to fend for yourself among the simian grunters in the weight room and the leotard brigade in aerobics classes throwing their limbs about to the sound of a bad David Bowie remix.
We all get pictures in our head when hearing the word “exercise”.
If anything is going to put us off, it’s usually the thought of not measuring up to the standards set by others. Externalising your fitness goals to the amount of attention you’re going to get when you achieve your dream body (a bit like chasing a rainbow) is a surefire way to be eternally dissatisfied, throwing yourself into a new routine in January to escape turkey guilt only to be exhausted and back on the couch licking the inside of a Picnic wrapper by March.
Once we’ve fulfilled dietary requirements, food can be a form of self-medication. Just as we sometimes drink to take the edge off, certain foods will fire up the production of chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.
And unlike exercise, we are constantly bombarded with options when it comes to eating. Entire TV channels are now devoted to food, with shows like Masterchef elevating the preparation of meals to a level of drama once only seen in political espionage thrillers.
To consistently achieve your 30 minutes a day, you have to want to do it. And most of the time, we simply just don’t.