Business Farming

Thursday 29 September 2016

'A lightbulb moment' - being fit more important than thin

Published 19/08/2015 | 02:30

Professor Donal O’Shea: You can eat what you like if you are fit
Professor Donal O’Shea: You can eat what you like if you are fit

'Look how big you've gotten!" A generation ago, an adult might often say this to a child as a compliment. Fast forward to today: a photographer pal told me when he said this to a girl he hadn't seen for a decade at a recent debs, she clocked him.

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He was referring to how much she had grown up. But she had also become big in the literal sense and it was his apparent reference to this which sparked her reaction.

Despite the endless and worsening warnings about the dangers of obesity, the people of the developed world are getting fatter, unfitter and sicker. The message does not seem to be getting through.

It could be that we don't want to hear the truth; that we don't really want to change. Or it could be that we do want to but don't really understand what needs to be done. We are pretty good at handling short-term issues, not so good on long-term ones.

For the most part, young people get away with poor diets and lack of exercise because their metabolism is fast. But there may be trouble brewing down the road, as their metabolism slows and eating habits become harder to change.

We all know that when input exceeds output, we will put on weight.

But driving along in the car a while back, I nearly went in over the ditch when I heard Ireland's foremost obesity expert Professor Donal O'Shea say, almost casually, something which I didn't know or had at least forgotten: "You can eat what you like if you are fit."

To me, it was a lightbulb moment.

Being fit is more important for our health and wellbeing than being thin.

It is a fact that people who are fit have far lower levels of blood sugar regardless of whether they are slim or not. Broadly speaking, fat people who are fit are healthier than thin people who are not.

By the way, when I said "people" above, I include myself in this. While my Body Mass Index (BMI) is under 25, which means I am not technically overweight, this crude measurement is becoming less popular as a basic assessment of physical wellbeing.

In the last few years, I have put a few pounds on my midriff which I would love to get rid of. The notion of dieting does not appeal while the prospect of being fitter definitely does.

When we start to exercise, our bodies release feel-good chemicals or endorphins. This makes us want to exercise more; we get fitter and also feel better about ourselves.

The fight against obesity will go on but maybe the message needs to be changed and there should be less talk about the negative aspects of being fat and more about the positive ones of being fit. They are the two pieces of the one jigsaw.

It's about teaching children good eating and exercise habits, in the home, from the earliest age.

It's too late to start getting involved when they are teenagers.

I know schools already do a lot for children far beyond the realms of book learning, but I do believe their involvement is also critical, in terms of teaching cooking and building more exercise into the school day.

Another thing I would personally like to see is kids not having to lug their schoolbooks in and out of school every day. This might make cycling or walking at least part of the way more realistic.

It transported me on a nostalgic journey

At the cattle fair in Puck last week, I fell into conversation with a local farmer who said there was "decent enough 'aul' trade for continental stores.

Now, he was specific, he felt there was not much action for cows with young calves at foot or steers from the dairy herd.

One pen of stores he was familiar with made €1,250/head.

"What age would they be, 16, maybe 18 months?" I inquired. "Yeah, and maybe a bit along with it," he replied.

"And what age would they be finished?"

He explained how the buyer would mix them through other stock and "get them away at 36 months or maybe 40."

The move to younger lighter carcasses is obviously still a work in progress.

Killorglin proved a great place to stop and watch the world go by.

The Puck Fair attracts all sorts, including plenty of tourists who looked a bit bemused at the activities that they'd wandered into the midst of, and spent a while staring up at the cage where the wild goat had been hoisted 40ft into the air.

The warm weather boosted the numbers travelling to the Co Kerry town, where some were stopping to have their fortunes told and others were just out for a browse.

At one end of Killorglin town, there was a craft fair, where I spent quite a while browsing through the stalls.

There were plenty of goodies on offer including Full Circle cordials, handmade locally and seasonally by Jane Brennan.

The range includes rhubarb, raspberry, lemon, blackcurrant and elderflower.

They are made from all natural ingredients - grown by Jane herself where possible - and they tasted every bit of it.

Bursting with flavour, freshness and authenticity, one sip instantly transported me on a nostalgic journey to the romanticised days of my youth.

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