A New Health Revolution?

Today I attended the Exercise Medicine conference at the RSM. Attending this conference marks the second SEM meeting I’ve ever attended, aside from the smaller scale events held by my friends at LSEMS. This approach requires a fast learning curve! However, the event was a great chance to network and explore the world of SEM a little further.

Situated in the grandeur of the Royal Society of Medicine, Number 1 Wimpole Street, the conference had a great mix of hard science and the more modern, fashionable application of digital technology in health, sports and exercise.

Dr Mike Loosemore opened the 2 day conference with praise for the event organisers, commending their efforts sourcing such high quality speakers. I have to agree – the content and detail of the speakers really made the day an enjoyable learning experience.

The keynote speaker of the morning session was Dr William Bird from Intelligent Health, with his talk titled ‘Physical Inactivity, a World Wide Problem. Time for Solutions’. I’d like to share with you what I learned from his talk. These are the points I took away, and they may not necessarily be what Dr Bird intended.

Keynote speaker

Dr Bird opened with a stunner of a statistic; within the UK, more than 50% of people over 15 years of age are classed as sedentary and our levels of inactivity exceed the US!  The statistic was hammered home by the relation of inactivity to disease – in the UK inactivity contributes to 18% of breast cancer, 19% of colon cancer and 14-15% of diabetes.

Dr Bird then quoted Prof. Steven Blair, comparing the effect of cardiovascular fitness against other common health measurements such as smoking, obesity and blood profiles – cardiovascular fitness grossly outweighed the effects of these more popularly demonised risk factors. How about that? By increasing your cardiovascular fitness, you could be doing more to reduce mortality risk than cessation! You can check out this out at the source, here.


Exercise is deeply seated in our overall health, and the way our body changes with age. Regarding our development, Professor Tim Noakes suggests that the production of exercise-induced BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) is part of the reason our brains expanded during evolution. We see that children who are less active have reduced hippocampal development, creating ‘backward’ regressive development.   With ageing and disease, Dr Bird illustrated how maintaining the health of our mitochondria has effects on the rest of the body – with mitochondria weighing around 40lbs of a human (a biological battery weighing as much as one you’d find in your car), they are not an insubstantial factor in health! Mitochondria have important roles in reducing the presence of free radicals within cells, which are associated with damage.

Dr Bird quoted Dr Mike Murphy of Cambridge University Mitochondrial biology unit – ’Mitochondria are like a dynamo, they have to keep moving’. This analogy illustrates the importance of physical activity and respiration in maintaining mitochondrial function – when we are inactive our mitochondria fail and we can become sick. When we are active our mitochondria production is increased and we have more ability to reduce free radicals.  Dr Bird’s message was clear – we should try to avoid ‘messing up our mitochondria’ by promoting physical activity.

A Health Revolution

We’ve lost 14 hours of our week. Dr Bird stated young mothers went from 44 to 30 hours of physical activity per week between 1965 and 2010, whilst time spent being sedentary increased by 7 hours. Where has the other 7 hours disappeared to? After reading the study, the authors concluded there was no systemic review for how the time was spent, however Dr Bird suggested this loss of time is partly attributable to the industrial revolution. With revolution came empowerment of people to develop their careers, allowing the subsequent remodelling of the working landscape.

It’s more than just young mothers, and more than just time. Our entire society has taken a shift towards prioritising work, whether it is to strive for better or to make ends meet. After we spend our days in a high stress environment, battling for any improvement in our careers, we return to a  home in which we are forced to battle emotional, social and financial problems. Who can blame a person for not wanting to stress their system further by going to the gym, rather preferring to relax by watching television. The man of our times is illustrated by Dr Bird’s character, Bob – a diabetic, overweight, unemployed and depressed figure on 50 tablets a day. How can Bob fight his situation without empowerment? How can we regain these 14 hours? Modern life has adjusted to exclude these hours.

Perhaps the only way to recover them is to have a revolution of reversal. A revolution to change the way we go about our day to day activities, to empower people, to reform ‘leisure’ time and enjoy exercise.

A Societal Change

Advocating revolution is easy, but implementing it is anything but. It involves hard work, changing societies attitudes and behaviours bit by bit. What can we do to change?

‘Dr Bird’s 7 Best Buys in Physical Activity’ 

  • School programmes to promote and educate the next generation of Britons.
  • Change transport and urban design – promote aerobic exercise like walking as travel.
  • Give physical activity a larger role in healthcare.
  • Educate the public about the benefits of physical activity.
  • Focus on the media to promote activity.
  • Access the power of community by creating community-wide activity programmes.
  • Most importantly, at the top of the list of Dr Bird’s recommendations: Sport for All.

Even without drowning in hard exercise science and epigenetics, we all know that exercise is good for us. It makes us feel good, it helps us develop our brains and bodies and it can reduce our risks of chronic diseases. Despite the knowledge of these benefits we still struggle in our day to day lives to get the quota of recommended exercise and activity.

Great effects can be made on an individual, small scale, whether by spending more time outside, moving more or simply taking your children to the park. We must make change in bite-sized steps. However individual effort is not enough, we need great public initiatives to engage everybody. We need to engage a community spirit to promote exercise and so become healthier together.

I’d like to leave you with these two links:



I really enjoyed this talk and I gained much food for thought. You can find Dr William Bird on Twitter using his handle @drwilliambird, or via his company website.


What are your views on public health initiatives? Have you got any novel ideas? Leave them in the comments, or send me a message.




Thanks to Kicki Holmén for the image

Talking about Mitochondria, I thought this was cool

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s