Immanuel Kant – arguably the greatest philosopher since Aristotle – was a diminutive figure, barely five feet in height and with a spinal deformity which troubled him all his life. But quite early on, he decided that a daily walk was what he needed to improve his breathing and circulation. So each day, come rain or shine, at precisely 3.30pm, he would emerge from his lodging, wearing his cocked hat and a long-coat and carrying a rattan cane. He then walked up and down the street exactly 8 times – a distance of around 4-miles. So punctual and reliable was his walking routine, the neighbours used to set their clocks by him. In fact Kant walked that little street every afternoon from around the age of twenty to within a year of his death in 1804, at 80 years of age.
Kant’s daily routine would be highly recommended by most of today’s public health specialists. If everyone in the UK had a brisk 4-mile walk every day, the health of the nation would be transformed. But what is so important about Kant’s example, is his consistency. He walked every day.
After weight-loss surgery, most people focus on nutrition. I even hear people worried about whether they will manage to get enough calories. There is far less attention paid to the other side of the energy equation – calories burned through physical activity. Patients have good intentions, but somehow life always seems to get in the way of the walking programme or gym visits. And yet, if you want long-term success in losing weight, getting enough physical activity is as important as good nutrition. In any endeavour in life, you need commitment and consistency. If you want to be a good pianist, you have to practice for hours on most days of the week. If you want to learn a language you will need to study and practice consistently. So it is with physical activity.
The trick is to set realistic goals and stick to them. If you are walking on 5 days of the week, make sure you do it. Keep a diary and record how far and when (you might also want to make a note of the weather). Like Kant, you need to do it rain or shine – there are NO excuses. Don’t make the mistake of setting ambitious goals and not being able to keep up with them. There is a world of difference between walking one mile every day for a week and walking six miles one day and one mile six-days later. Sporadic exercise just makes your muscles sore, whereas with a consistent pattern of activity your body learns, grows stronger and you find you can push yourself to new levels of health and fitness.
Dr David Ashton MD PhD
26th June 2012