November 2016.

Are there any substitutes for exercise?

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There are very few substitutes for exercise. We know from almost a century of scientific research that increasing your physical activity is overwhelmingly beneficial. Obviously what’s becoming more and more apparent is that certain people whom you try to encourage to exercise will either not do so at all, or will not do so to the required intensity or frequency. This is particularly true if exercise involves going somewhere like a gym.

There are a whole host of reasons, sociological and psychological, why gyms make certain people feel uncomfortable. So how we might be able to augment the effects of exercise is becoming more popular as a subject for research. I and others are presently looking at things like passive heating and how that might influence cardio-vascular function.

Passive heating is essentially making people hot, which means they have to move more blood around in order to keep the body cool. Evidence suggests that this has a beneficial effect on their cardiovascular function and helps their blood vessels to do what they should be doing, which can result in lower blood pressure over time.

At Loughborough I’m leading research into how hot baths may be able to increase our metabolic rate. We have just submitted a study – hopefully soon to be published – which shows that a warm bath lasting between 45 minutes to an hour can increase both your metabolic activity and your metabolic rate in a way that’s comparable to the effects of a thirty minute walk.

The thirty minute walk is still better for you if you have someone who either can’t exercise or won’t exercise. But if we can use some similar intervention that can augment the effects of exercise, then in the long term that is likely to have a beneficial effect upon their quality of life. It could be that the bath leads to additional weight loss, it might improve their vascular function, and if they have high blood pressure it might reduce it. If you put type 2 diabetics through sauna treatment, research has shown that you will reduce their dependence on insulin – and they may actually start to lose a little bit of weight too. 

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