Why do we 'sweat' it out?
Should we exercise or should we not?
Courtesy a medical situation in Delhi, I spent a few days with some very patient and dedicated doctors, most of them ex-army but with a great deal of 'bedside manner' (a commodity in short supply) and not dedicated to padding the bill but actually getting the patient well and out. And we are talking in the ICU, which is like a being marooned in the middle of the River Styx and has mix of Lysol and frailty in the hush-hush atmosphere and this specialist says to me as we discuss sport, specifically cricket, if I am open to a crazy suggestion.
As a doctor, he now proceeds to destroy long surviving citadels of conviction. It is done so cheerfully and in such a funny, ha-ha manner that it carries a certain logic with it. Let me share some of the details with you and see how you react.
"You know, when I was a young doctor, I had a commanding officer and he used to say look at the world around us," he says. "Take the tortoise, who trudges along at the slowest speed of all, if he trudges at all. He lives to be a hundred. Take the elephant, who trundles along most of his life and occasionally makes a lazy, leisurely move. He passes the century mark.
Take the parrot, which flies in spurts but never migrates or travels across some tundra. Hits 75. You put an African grey in a cage and she lives to 50 without flapping a wing. The macaw can live to be 80 and the best thing is they reach these lifespans in captivity, not when they are flitting around forests at full pelt."
I nod vaguely because these figures of longevity are on the button.
"Now, take your big cats. The lion and the tiger and the cheetah, what do they get for their speed and their physical stamina? Take your thoroughbreds, who do not cross 15 years and your sleek greyhounds and all your galloping deer, and you get 20 years tops. Mostly less."
Then he tells me about the Greenland Shark, which is the slowest of all sharks and lazy as anything, travels at 1.2 kilometres an hour and hits over 200 years, although there is one on record having survived double that. Think of it. We all have this idea of breakneck speed that typifies sharks and then this longest living one is testament to laziness.
Matching them in age is the Bowheaded whale, which is the fattest of all whales, having the most blubber and the laziest since it stays put in Arctic waters and is the slowest mover of all whales. Go figure!
Take human beings, he continues, elaborating on how people in a coma, who haven't moved a muscle, survive for decades while young athletes collapse on the field of play.
I take exception to that because these are rarities not the rule.
There are more examples he says he can produce to show that exercise has no impact on longevity.
So, should we exercise?
Are there only so many calories allotted per person and if you burn them up, what then?
They are doctors and I want to come up with a glib answer or thwart this story by saying the evidence suggests otherwise.
Then he says, take the crocodile, he does nothing but sun himself, hardly ever moving. Goes well into his eighties and doesn't even chew his food.
So, why are we all rushing about with our regimens when the animal world is telling us otherwise?
He says, people who are extra active in youth are the ones most likely to suffer from arthritis, brittle bones, rheumatism and bad backs.
I don't know if that is true but the storyline is running away with itself. I ask him why then do we not just turn into couch potatoes?
He says, well for one, it is a triple trillion dollar industry and no one is going to believe anyone, even a medical specialist, who debunks exercise as a stay well, long life option. The whole world has been told it is beneficial for you and that rush of endorphins makes you feel good. I am sure a tiger feels super duper when it chases down its prey but even in the animal world, they only run for food, not to be healthy.
He says it's exactly this 'feel great' sensation that has been harnessed to create the myth of a long life through exercise. You exercise because it gives you a boost. Nothing to do with adding years to your life.