Doing the Hokey Cokey - a load of hocus pocus or a recipe for good health?

It may have started off as an April Fools' Day gag, but the more I think about it, the more the idea of a nationwide drive to hokey cokey your way back to health appeals...

It may have started off as an April Fools' Day gag, but the more I think about it, the more the idea of a nationwide drive to hokey cokey your way back to health appeals.

A major report by the British Heart Foundation, published last year, suggested that under half of Scottish men, compared to fewer than two in five Englishmen and only a third of Welshmen) were meeting the recommended targets for physical activity. What's more, fewer than one in 10 of us even know what those guidelines are.

Does it really matter? Only if you think that cutting heart disease by up to 35% would be a good thing - that's how much difference the experts think it would make if all of us exercised regularly throughout our lives (ref 1).

Things are getting better - according to the British Heart Foundation, in the last decade the proportion of adults in the UK doing the recommended amount of exercise increased from 32 to 39% for men and 21 to 29% for women. But there's still a long way to go.

So what puts us off doing more exercise? That old chestnut 'I'm too busy' comes top, with over a quarter of adults blaming lack of time. Among younger people that figure is even higher, with 44% of those aged 25-45 blaming their hectic schedules. But it's ironic that another of the top barriers, especially in this age group, is family commitments. The hokey cokey has to be the ultimate family activity, even if we can't start a hokey cokey flashmob in the local park!

In these days of health and safety paranoia, even we at patient.info stopped short of an April Fool suggesting British Bulldog should be on the family curriculum. Most people of my age played it, and remember it as a great incentive to run for your life - when I first went to a new school at the age of eight, the new kids were lined up against the older ones for British Bulldog in a scene that resembled the film Gladiator. I remember being bitten on the ear by an older boy determined to stop me at all costs (you know who you are!). While I certainly wasn't scarred for life, there are definitely safer ways to get fit.

I've been recommending exercise for decades to my patients, and in my experience the keys to success are fun and having an exercise buddy or two. We need to turn round the nationwide pattern of sinking into couch-potato-dom as we get older. In England, only 32% of boys and 24% of girls get as much exercise as they should, and both England and Scotland levels of activity start to tail off after the age of 10.

So whether it's the hokey cokey, a game of Frisbee or football in the park, maybe family exercise isn't such a mad idea after all. If we can get our kids involved, so much the better - if you don't have any yourself, borrow someone else's and give their mum a break!

Reference:

Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection (2011). Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries. Chief Medical Officers: London

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