Saturday, 21st March 2020


We are living through extraordinary times. Every aspect of our lives will be affected, not least our exercise, our fitness and our health.

Too little testing

This hobby horse of mine has nothing to do with exercise but everything to do with our national recovery from the Corona virus calamity. There is far too little testing. At least it is being acknowledged that widespread testing will separate those with non-Covid virus infections from true sufferers. This will allow the former to carry on working and not to have to self isolate.

Just as important, however, will be the identification of those who have got or have had the virus and should therefore become immune. These are the people who can then repopulate our work-force and consumer-force, thus speeding a return to the normal functioning of society.

The government proudly announces that there will be 25,000 tests daily. At that rate it will take six and a half years to test the whole population.


We are lucky not to have the same restrictions placed on us as the Spanish. There it is forbidden to go out even for a recreational walk on pain of a large fine or incarceration – my friend who lives near Malaga says that they are introducing execution next week! Nonetheless the current restriction on social contacts brings with it a huge loss of exercise opportunities. We can still walk, jog, run or play golf or tennis but any group/team activities are out. Self isolation will greatly increase sedentary time. Many people will lose their jobs or start to work from home and no longer expend energy by “active commuting”.

What will be the ill effects?

Reducing exercise and increasing sedentary time will increase the risk of all those diseases of later life which contribute to ill-health, frailty, dependency and premature death. In the short term the impact will be relatively small, provided that this inactivity does not become a way of life which is hard to shake off after the storm has passed.

Two of the ill effects of reduced physical activity and increased sitting time may become important in the short term.
1. Body weight. I suspect that average body mass index (BMI) will see a sharp upturn over the next few months. This brings an increased risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and a number of types of cancer. Gaining weight is easy but losing it is very hard – many will fail to return to their previous BMI when they can get active again.
2. Mental illness. Regular exercise improves many aspects of mental health. This pandemic is truly depressing – I am feeling quite depressed about it already and I do not live alone and I still take regular exercise. For the isolated and inactive this may became a real problem and many may not wish to carry on.

The Corona pandemic is seen mainly as a threat to lives and livelihood – but it is also a threat to the short-term and long-term health of those who survive.

Bearing in mind what we we are still allowed to do, you might be interested in a recent comparison of the fitness levels of different disciplines of exerciser. A Japanese study of 164 men aged 45 to 80 compared their cardio-respiratory fitness with that expected for their age1. The joggers had an advantage of 13 years , tennis players 10.4 years, gym bunnies 4.6 years, cyclists 3.5 years, bowlers 0.8 years, walkers 0.2 years and non exercisers minus 3.4 years. The numbers were small but the general trend is probably correct – those who take regular exercise have a lower physiological age than their chronological age with the greatest beneficiaries being the joggers.


  1. J Phys Fitness Sports Med, 9 (2): 75-82 (2020) DOI: 10.7600/jpfsm.9.75




  1. Grahame Fearn says:

    Hi Hugh,

    Very interesting article on this awful situation we are in.It was encouraging to read the findings of the Japanese study.
    So carry on playing tennis but Sue my wife who walks with Farnham Ramblers twice a week.10+miles often with some steep hills.
    So the findings in the study about walking was disappointing.

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thanks Grahame – but don’t get too hung up on the figures. This was a small study and there were only 38 in the walking group. Most walked at moderate intensity for between 1 and 2 hours. It sounds as though Sue does a lot more than this. Note also how much fitter were the walkers compared with the non-exercisers. Tell Sue to carry on!

  2. john hopfield says:

    Singing is a good lung/cardio/vascular booster to add while you exercise even if you never break into a trot. And often also good for one’s mental state.

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thanks John. I have recently been involved in creating a directory of exercise and physical activity programmes, clubs and opportunities in and around Alton. You will be glad to hear that we have included singing clubs!

  3. Mary Waltham says:

    Great post Hugh. The topic is utterly on point and a straightforward analysis. All too difficult to get just now.

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thanks Mary. I would love to hear someone in government sounding as though they were making some sort of plan for our recovery from this disaster.

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