I’ve just got back from a week’s skiing in Italy, so here’s a blog on my experience of doing more activity than normal.
Andy and I normally share 3 dog walks a day. We always do the morning half hour together and Andy generally does the night walk and then whoever is able to do a lunchtime half hour does so. Andy, therefore, usually walks 60-90 minutes a day and I walk 30-60 mins a day. The walks are up and down gradients, as we live in the countryside, but nothing that steep. I go swimming about 3-4 times a month for 20 mins each time (and am always hungry afterwards!) We are both generally active, as we have loads of energy from eating well. We do our own cleaning (and notice your arms aching if you clean the windows and your stomach muscles working if you mop the floor etc) and we garden every now and again (it’s quite low maintenance).
The first observation is that you don’t need to go to the gym to get skiing fit. We were in pretty good shape just from our general active lifestyle and regular walking. Plus there are some muscles that only seem to get used skiing, no matter what, so you’re always going to be a bit stuffed!
The second observation is that you don’t use up as much energy as you might think! I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me earlier, but I was skiing one morning and suddenly thought that the exercise calculators take into account BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Hence, if watching TV requires 68 cals an hour (this is the calculation for a 140lb/10 stone person) and moderate walking burns 200 calories an hour (for the same person), then going for a walk should really be viewed as the additional energy needed beyond doing nothing (i.e. 130 calories in this case). I understand that Weight Watchers lets people have an additional 4 points if they jog for 20 mins. This is approximately 200 calories and it is quite UNlikely that someone would use 200 calories in 20 mins jogging ABOVE what they would need anyway pottering around the house or being at work.
The calorie calculator says that I (at 110lbs) would need 299 calories (bit precise!) for 1 hour of moderate skiing (in between light and intense). Remember that it takes about 2-3 hrs to do 1 hrs skiing as you spend 5 mins going down a run and then 10 mins sitting on the lift going back up. AND we need to think about what we would have been doing otherwise. I would be using about half this number of calories in an hour of thinking/researching/calculating etc, so I was only adding about 150-200 calories every 3 hours to my fuel need. Then you see people tucking in to a huge pizza or huge bowl of white pasta for lunch and you know they are likely to go home heavier than they arrived.
The third interesting observation was that you get really hungry on a ski holiday! People often say the fresh (mountain) air makes you hungry – I can’t think why this would be – but skiing for a morning does make you hungry. For a carb addict, it would be very easy to consume significantly more energy at meal times than had been used up. For people who stick to real food, it is far more difficult to overeat. Andy and I had porridge and whole milk for breakfast; wholegrain bread, cheese and salad for lunch (mixing good foods) and a huge fat meal in the evening – (meat for Andy), fish, seafood, loads of salads and veg, loads of cheese, berries & cream etc. We snacked on dark chocolate continuously, which leads to….
The fourth interesting observation – as I’ve often said – eating for weight loss and eating for exercise/fitness are really not compatible. Because there were so few good carbs available (no couscous, brown rice, whole meal pasta etc), we probably didn’t get enough carbohydrate loaded into our glycogen store room. The porridge and bread helped (and we had a few croissants), but it wasn’t always enough. Even at this moderate level of exercise, we hit a burn a couple of times and we were eating dark chocolate regularly throughout the day and also getting lots of milk in (decaf) cappuccinos throughout the day. Had we been doing some of the exercise that some of my clients try to do (training for marathons, 3-5 hour mountain cycle rides etc), I hate to think what kind of state we would have been in! If you are very active, the body wants lots of regular carbs several times a day. If you are trying to lose weight the body should have carbs as INfrequently as possible. The two could not be more different!
For interest, we were the same weight when we got home and slightly lower in body fat content, so we would have swapped a bit of fat for muscle (there had to be some impact on leg muscles from all that pain!)
– obesity in Italy is a fraction of what it is in the UK. Even in the towns and airport on the way it was rare to see an obese person. We travelled from Geneva through France and into Italy and all three countries were similarly slim.
– the (lack of) snack food is the single biggest difference in Europe. The shops just do not have aisles of crisps, biscuits, cakes, sweets etc. There are a few ‘junk’ options scattered around the shop, but the supermarkets are full of fruit, veg, meat, risotto rice, grains, cheese etc. The newsagent type shops sometimes have no confectionery on sale whatsoever. You can buy your paper or magazine, but there are no confectionery bars to tempt you. People eat three big, healthy meals a day and they just don’t snack.