Don't be alarmed; exercise is good for you.

In the course of my work I get to read a lot of fitness and health related content, and occasionally articles appear that really grab my interest. Two such articles have appeared in a couple of the broadsheets recently, and it was their powerful headlines that caught my attention.

Now I know headlines are designed to attract readers, but there is a fine line between grabbing attention and being alarmist; and speaking as someone who spends a lot of time trying to convince others to become more active, anything in bold type that suggests otherwise warrants closer inspection.

Alarming headlines in fitness articles may just fuel more of this. Be sure to read the whole story behind the title.

Alarming headlines in fitness articles may just fuel more of this. Be sure to read the whole story behind the title.

The first headline relates to the 10,000 steps a day goal that many of you may be aspiring to at present via various apps and wearable technology. A brief article in The Telegraph on 21st February opened with the headline: "The 10,000 steps a day myth: how fitness apps can do more harm than good"  suggesting that trying to do 10,000 steps a day may not be all it's cracked up to be. This write-up mentions a talk given by a professor of computer science, Dr Greg Hager, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, where he claimed that many of the related apps and technology had no evidence to support their claims, and that the goal itself may be doing some people more harm than good.

Now this is all well and good, and evidence is important in evaluating the real effectiveness of such tools, but nowhere in the article did it suggest how this goal may be harming us; only a mention that it may not be good for the elderly or infirm - which might well be true - but this demographic is not really the target market for most wearable fitness products, judging by some of their marketing videos.

So why the alarming headline? Given that many may only read this far, a headline suggesting that the 10,000 steps a day goal is a myth, or worse, it may be harming us, gives yet another reason for those that struggle with motivation to remain firmly on the sofa. Is this the fitness related reporting we need in the middle of an obesity crisis? Surely any technology that will encourage someone to move more is a good thing, even if it's not a precise science of numbers, and even if some may not reach the goal of 10,000 steps a day which, incidentally, is customisable on these devices.

The other article in question was published in The Times on March 1st, and opens with the headline: "The men that are too fit to have sex" , which is accompanied by an image of an apparently healthy and athletic male figure. Now for many men, a boosted libido will be a very welcome and attractive side effect of exercise; one that might convince even the most stubborn couch potatoes to get up and hit the gym. But the slightest suggestion that the opposite may be true could provide the same motivation to remain slumped in the lounger. So again, given how so much of what we absorb today is in the form of one liners and sound-bites, was this the best choice of wording? The article itself was actually very interesting, and discusses the U shaped relationship between exercise and libido: i.e. too little or too much (extreme endurance athletes were the subject of the piece) could negatively effect a man's desire in the bedroom, and that there's probably a sensible level of exercise in between that provides optimum protection against decreasing sexual interest.

So the next time you see a headline that might put you off becoming more active, be sure to read the whole story behind it. Exercise offers proven health benefits, and doing something is probably better than doing nothing. Have a chat with your doctor before staring a programme of physical activity, and follow any recommendations they give you.


Dylan Worthington