Furthermore, he asks whether poor eating is an addiction, and suggests, why not introduce a tax rebate for a demonstrable healthy lifestyle? What evidence-based prescriptions should be considered and implemented by Australian policy-makers and politicians in the light of the arguably inadequate and inappropriate public interventions about the health benefits of physical activity, exercise and fitness?
These and related issues were examined by Professor Robert Robergs, the recently appointed Professor of Exercise Science and acting Head of the School of Human Movement Studies
at CSU in Bathurst in his inaugural professorial lecture on Wednesday 31 August.
He addressed a series of questions to the audience and highlighted the scientific research that answers them, while illustrating with examples of failed Australian and American public health responses.
Professor Robergs says, “We are the ‘no worries mate’ country. We are tough, and acting tough is as much a part of Australiana as beer, beaches, and sun screen. Becoming active is also a major life change that encompasses sociological, psychological, community, economic, family and work-related influences that combined to make a complex mix of constraints.”
The research shows …
“Earlier approaches to fitness and wellbeing led to the notion that people should accumulate X number of hours of exercise per week, or X number of expended kilojoules per week, for optimal health and disease prevention, but this approach fails to recognize the importance of the quality of activity performed,” Professor Robergs said.
“Thus, most public health recommendations pertaining to physical activity were originally (pre-2000) based on accumulated times when active.
“Today, far greater emphasis is placed on the quality (intensity) of the activity, where more intense (vigorous) is better in improving physical fitness and preventing sedentary lifestyle disease processes such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancers, depression.”
Today, he says, the US recommendations are based on performing moderate to vigorous (where you begin to have difficulty talking when exercising) exercise for at least 30 minutes per session, at least 3-5 days per week , but preferably every day. It is also recommended that you perform strength training exercise at least twice a week, and preferably in addition to the prior moderate to vigorous sustained exercise recommendations.
“Australian recommendations are about 15 years out of date, focus on the ability to accumulate activity time during the day, and there is no experimental research evidence that shows such an approach results in meaningful prevention of disease processes,” Professor Robergs said.
“Physical activity is a generic term for all movement, whereas ‘exercise’ is activity performed at a sufficient intensity and frequency (days per week) to stimulate adaptations that improve components of physical fitness – muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardio-respiratory endurance, flexibility, body composition.
A sell-out of empirical evidence
“I argue that even the US recommendations are not aggressive enough, and the error of the Australian recommendations are irresponsible, and reflect a sell-out of empirical evidence to the need to make it appear to Australians that they do not have to do much to gain benefit. This was attempted in the US during the late 1990s, and met overwhelming scientific criticism, and their recommendations quickly reverted back to the current,” he said. “Australians need to adhere more to the US recommendations.
In addition, Professor Robergs argues that Australians need to understand that there is no physiological evidence to accept the extent of physical deterioration we see with ageing. His research of the physiological decline in key markers of exercise performance and capacities with ageing from 30 to 70 years shows the extent of physiological function that is still possible if we sustain quality exercise into elderly life.
“The main reason physicians are reluctant to prescribe such continued exercise is that most ageing Australians are already so de-trained and diseased that such recommendations, on the surface, appear unsafe,” he said. “However, the alternative is to allow Australians to remain sedentary, rely on medications to sustain life, accept ageing and deteriorating quality of life to go hand-in-hand, and allow entire generations to waste away in hospice facilities – out of sight, out of mind!”
Is poor eating and sedentary behaviour an addiction?
Based on the accepted definitions of addiction, Professor Robergs asserts that sedentary living is capable of inclusion as an addictive behaviour.
“Yes, and worse, the food industry, and especially the fast food industry, has engineered food to be more addictive,” he said. “Fat, simple carbohydrate and salt content is developed to stimulate satiety and desire.
“We sued the tobacco industry for this corporate behaviour, and given that fast food and poor food choices combine with sedentary behaviour to fuel disease processes and premature death, why aren’t we suing the fast food industry? If we tax alcohol and tobacco, and reward those who drive safely, should we tax the sedentary?
“So, given all of this, if one chooses to be sedentary despite all that we know about increased risk for disease and the enormous health care costs of such consequences, shouldn’t they pay for this in added taxes just like tobacco and alcohol?
“Is the rationale for not doing this based on corporate influence over politics and the economy? Then why not have a healthy lifestyle health tax rebate?”, he concluded, leaving the audience to chew over much more than they anticipated.
Author: Bruce Andrews
Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Dr Robert Robergs.
Professor Robergs’s public lecture, The exercise and disease prevention dilemma: what we know but choose to ignore, was delivered as part of the annual Forum of the Charles Sturt University Faculty of Education at 4pm on Wednesday 31 August at CSU in Bathurst.
Professor Robergs has studied, taught and researched at universities in the United States for the past 26 years. He has published more than 110 research manuscripts in peer reviewed journals, and has co-edited and co-authored a range of exercise physiology texts. His research interests include altitude physiology, cardiovascular physiology, muscle metabolism, metabolic acidosis, and data acquisition and programming using LabVIEW. He has two patents (glycerol hydration, and improvements to indirect calorimetry). He is currently working on several manuscripts related to exercise physiology performance and fatigue, and is writing grants for research projects to improve understanding of the biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis, and to improve the application of exercise training in the prevention of sedentary lifestyle behaviours and chronic disease.