Opinion: Exercise for Dummies

POSTED: 09/19/11 1:34 PM

Dutch psychiatrist Bram Bakker wrote a book entitled Bewegen voor Beginners (literally translated: Exercise for Dummies) that ought to be mandatory reading in St. Maarten for everyone who is suffering from overweight, depression or high cholesterol and who is as a result absent from work way too much.

Bakker is an opinionated guy – a major reason why we like him. He notes that every year doctors prescribe antidepressants to one million clients in the Netherlands. That’s good news for the pharmaceutical industry, but Bakker presents the rather astonishing conclusion that exercising three times a week would achieve the same effect as these pills do.

In the world of depressed people, Bakker makes a distinction between people with a psychiatric disorder and fat people. The psycho’s cannot help it that they have a disorder, he claims. We beg to differ, but we’ll leave that topic for another occasion. The fat people however, are usually fat as a result of individual behavior.

They stuff themselves all day long with sugary soft drinks, they eat fast food as their main meal and the experience sports exclusively from the couch in front of a TV. Therefore, it is their own fault that they are fat, Bakker reasons.

He points out psychiatric patients in the Netherlands have to pay a part of the cost of their treatment, while fat people enjoy all kinds of free medical care. Bakker says, and we agree, that people have to be called on their personal responsibility. So if willful individual behavior results in overweight and all of its related  ailments, the fat guy ought to pay for the consequences, like – as Bakker would love to see – smokers ought to pony up for their medical costs the moment they get lung cancer.

It all boils down to accepting personal responsibility – something a lot of people are not good at. The it’s-not-my-fault-syndrome is widespread and even widely accepted. The idea that everything that happens to us is the result of choices we make does not sell very well politically. Therefore, the preferred attitude is something like, you scratch my back and I‘ll scratch yours. Or, put more bluntly, you’ll buy my bullshit and I’ll buy yours.

But we digress. Bakker’s point is that a little exercise will do small miracles for the health of a population. Commercial diet programs promise fat people all kinds of things, but they usually fail to point out the basic truth about losing weight and that is that it is a very simple matter of counting calories. Any dummy who has had enough of his or her blubbering physique is able to do the math.

We used two internet tools to help our local heavyweights in the right direction. The first one is the Calorie Needs Calculator which can be found on the aptly named website calorieneedscalculator.com. The second one is the Calorie Counter which is parked under the creative website name thecaloriecounter.com.

This is the basic principle. Based on age, height and weight, every individual burns a certain amount of calories every day. Eat food and drink beverages that equal this number, and bodyweight will remain steady. Eating more will result in gaining weight, eating less will result in weight loss.

The Calorie Needs Calculator gives the following numbers for a guy who is 61, weighs 78 kilos and is 1.93 tall. With little exercise he burns 2,022 calories each day. If he does light exercise 1 to 3 times a week) he’ll burn 2, 317 calories and when he starts moderate exercise (3 to 5 times a week) he’ll burn 2,611 calories.

If the same guy weighed 120 kilos he’d burn 2,712 calories if he does little exercise, 3,108 calories under a light exercise regime and 3,503 calories with a moderate exercise program.

What do these numbers mean? Basically taking in food and drink for the total amount of calories one burns every day will result in maintaining the status quo. Taking in more calories result in weight gain, taking fewer calories leads to weight loss.

The calorie counter is a useful tool to help define how many calories a diet contains. The site gives the calories for an extensive number of food and drink groups.

Make an honest list of your daily eating habits and figure out with the calorie counter how much calories they represent. Compare this with the number from the Calorie Needs Calculator and you get a fair idea of what you have to do to maintain, lose or gain weight.

To lose weight in a reasonable fast and responsible way, throwing in an exercise program helps. Jogging three times a week for 30 minutes will burn three times 286 calories for a total of 858.

To lose half a kilo of body weight, an individual must burn roughly 3,850 calories more than he or she takes in as food and drink.

So if our 120 kilo guy took a moderate exercise program that burns 3, 503 calories per day and limits his food and drink intake to 2, 000 calories, he will lose half a kilo in two-and-a-half days. This sounds easier than it really is because in general people who exercise develop an appetite, so they will eat more. But the better they control their calorie-intake, the faster they will get back into shape.

Bram Bakker knows the theory and the reality. People who don’t feel like losing weight won’t ever get into fitness programs, unless the government decides to present them the bill for their inactivity. Investing in programs designed to get more people to exercise are much too relaxed. It works much better, Bakker reasons, if unfit people are obliged to pay for the treatment that results from their behavior.

Sounds like a nice task for our Minister of Sport Rhoda Arrindell and Minister of Public Health Cornelius de Weever.

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