Tuesday, 23 June 2015 06:17

Challenging Our Thinking About Exercise


Last night I watched with interest as Dr Michael Moseley presented a TV show named “The Truth About Exercise” on SBS. It was a repeat documentary that originally aired a year or two ago. At the time I had numerous clients who referred to the show so I was keen to see what all the hype was about.

Michael Moseley decided to partake in an experiment to improve his:

  • Insulin response
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Aerobic fitness (VO2Max)

The catch with his experiment was that the structured exercise was only 3x20sec bursts, 3 times per week, with the catch being that he needed to do this at a maximal intensity. For anyone who works in the Exercise Science and Physiology area, knows the exercise recommendations to improve these health and fitness markers are 30min, 5-7 times per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity.

Michael’s health results did improve dramatically after just 4 weeks with approximately 10-15% improvement in blood glucose levels and insulin response. His aerobic fitness did not improve at all – the scientists predicted him to be a “non-responder” for fitness improvement with their new gene test. Nonetheless, Michael’s health improvements were surprising.

So are we wasting our time doing more exercise then 60sec, 3 times per week?

In short, no. One other large change they made to Michael Moseley’s activity levels was his incidental activity. He was asked to minimise sedentary activities such as sitting, lying down and standing for long periods of time. The importance of this should not go unrecognised. The more our bodies move, even at a low intensity, the more energy we expend and influence it has on our metabolic processes.

A classic example is taking 2 people of a similar age, the first a labourer, the second a receptionist to analyse their incidental activity levels. The labourer, would likely perform well in excess of 10000 steps per day at work, the receptionist may reach half that if they are lucky. The labourer would need to perform much less structured exercise compared to the receptionist to maintain optimal weight and metabolic processes. This is the reason why our current exercise recommendations are in place. So much of our life is spent partaking in sedentary activities so therefore we need to ensure we are completing enough structured exercise to “offset” our inactivity.

The other issue with prescribing maximal intensity exercise is risk. Maximal intensity exercise is contraindicated (not safe) for many people with health conditions. Their only other option is to perform exercise at a moderate intensity and therefore for a longer period of time to offset the reduction in intensity.

Final Thoughts

I felt this documentary conveyed many interesting points that challenged traditional exercise prescription, which could easily be applied to healthy and “apparently healthy” individuals. However, things do become more complicated for those with a medical condition. The AIHW National Health Survey 2004-5 outlined 7 million Australians have at least one chronic medical condition. A figure which has likely risen over the past 10 years. The best way to get the most from your structured exercise is to ensure what you are doing is personalised for your capabilities and situation. And, of course, try to minimise your sedentary activity time and perform as much incidental activity throughout the day as possible.


If you would like to view the documentary “The Truth About Exercise”, here is a link to it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/51836895.

If you are unsure about the correct structured exercise plan for you, contact AEP Health Group for an appointment with one of our Exercise Physiologists.


Happy exercising – Caelum.