Saturday 18 November 2017

The Cheat's Guide to slimming down and sexing up from Michael Mosley

Hold off on signing up for a pricey gym membership this January - instead try diet and fitness guru Michael Mosley's Cheat's Guide to exercising, using everyday household objects

Model Sarah Morrissey puts Michael Mosley's exercise 'cheats' to the test. Photo: David Conachy.
Model Sarah Morrissey puts Michael Mosley's exercise 'cheats' to the test. Photo: David Conachy.
Sarah Morrissey tries out the broom deadlift. Photo: David Conachy.

Exercise. You know you should but if you are anything like me then you find it hard to make the time, particularly when it is as cold and wet as a dog's nose outside.

We are told we should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week and, surprisingly enough, most people claim to hit that target. Unsurprisingly, many who make these claims are lying, or at least "misremembering".

We know this because of studies where a random section of the population are fitted with accelerometers, devices that measure the amount of activity you actually do as opposed to what you claim you do. What these studies have consistently shown is that less than 20pc of the population get close to the recommended guidelines.

I like to think I am not one of the self-deluding majority, though I fear I may be. I'm not a slob. I go for daily walks, cycle to the station, always take the stairs and try to be generally active. What I don't do are long runs, or trudging away at the gym on the treadmill, watching other middle-aged men and women pounding their lungs out.

Instead, I keep my eyes open for "cheats", either ways of getting the biggest benefit for the least effort, or building exercise into my daily life in such a way that I am barely aware that I am doing it.

Whether you "cheat" or not, there are two different types of exercise you should be doing on a regular basis.

The first is aerobic exercise, working your heart and lungs. I'll come to that in a moment.

The other form of exercise, which is just as important but more rarely talked about, is resistance training. Resistance training helps to build, or at least preserve, the muscles you currently have.

One of the tragedies of getting older is that, like an ageing sofa, we sag. A major reason for loss of tone is loss of muscle. From the age of 40 we typically lose up to 1pc of muscle mass every year.

Shrinking muscle not only reduces your sex appeal but also your metabolic rate, and that contributes to weight gain.

Unlike fat, muscle is metabolically active, burning calories even when you are sleeping.

So how can you keep your muscles in good shape without taking out an expensive gym membership?

While making a new series of Trust Me, I'm a Doctor for the BBC, I got together with Dr Phil Atherton, an exercise expert at the Royal Derby Hospital, to find out.

Dr Phil had devised a set of exercises using everyday objects that he felt the average person could easily do and which would make a genuine difference in a relatively short time (see the exercises below).

So we recruited a group of volunteers, all of them well over 40, and asked them to try out Dr Phil's muscle-building regime for four weeks.

Before our volunteers started, they went through a battery of tests, with our experts measuring things like power, strength and muscle size.Then they went away for a month to get stuck in.

Well, the results of our DIY approach to resistance training were, I have to say, pretty impressive. When our volunteers returned to the lab four weeks later, they looked fitter and we found that they had, on average, increased both power and strength by more than 12pc. Their muscles, measured by an ultrasound machine, had also got significantly bigger.

What was particularly encouraging was that the volunteers said they had found it easy to incorporate these exercises into their everyday lives and most intended to keep going. They had even begun to recruit their spouses. I was proud of them.

Heart and Lungs Preserving muscle mass is vital, but it is equally important to regularly work your heart and lungs. This means doing aerobic exercises, like running, walking, swimming or cycling.

When it comes to an aerobic workout I am a huge fan of HIT, high intensity training. The reason I like it so much is that you get the major health benefits of aerobic training in a fraction of the time of standard regimes.

There are lots of different ways of doing HIT, details of which you can find in my book, Fast Exercise, but my preferred version is what I call The Bare Minimum. My regime consists of three bursts of 20 seconds, done three times a week. Unless you are already quite fit, you should start by doing just one burst, and gradually increase.

The Bare Minimum on an exercise bike

1. Put the kettle on.

2. Get on the bike and do a short warm-up of gentle cycling, against limited resistance. You should just about notice the effort in your thighs.

3. After about two minutes, begin pedalling fast, then swiftly crank up the resistance.

4. The amount of resistance you select will depend on your current strength and fitness. It should be high enough that after 15 seconds of sprinting your thighs begin to burn and the speed at which you are pedalling slows, simply because your muscles are fatigued and just can't keep going at that pace.

5. If, after 15 seconds, you can still keep going at the same pace then the resistance you've chosen isn't high enough. It mustn't, however, be so high that you grind to a complete halt. It's a matter of experimenting. What you'll find is that as you get fitter the amount of resistance you can cope with increases. It is important that you keep increasing the resistance to ensure each 20-second work out involves maximum effort.

6. After your first burst of fast sprinting, drop the resistance and do two minutes of gentle pedalling

7. Then do it twice more.

8.Relax! It's over! You should finish with a couple of minutes of gentle cycling to allow your heart rate and blood pressure to return to normal before stepping off the bike and having a cup of tea. In total, The Bare Minimum takes me less than 10 minutes.

Thirty seconds going flat out doesn't sound hard, but some people find it a real struggle, so scientists are constantly looking for easier regimes that are still effective.

One regime I recently came across involves doing six-second sprints and adds up to just two minutes of high-intensity training (HIT) a week. In a study, published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, scientists from Abertay University in Scotland randomly allocated a group of unfit elderly volunteers, ranging in age from 61 to 74, to either a HIT group or a control group.

Those doing HIT were asked to do 10 lots of six seconds of all-out sprints against resistance on an exercise bike, with at least one minute to recover between each sprint. They also wore a heart monitor and were asked not to do another sprint until their heart rate had dropped below 120 beats per second.

They did this twice a week for six weeks.

By the end of the six-week trial, the volunteers doing their two minutes of HIT a week had lost an average of 1kg more than the control group, most of it fat. Dr John Babraj, the lead scientist, thinks this is probably due to an afterburn effect you get from doing high-intensity training, an increase in metabolic rate that persists for many hours. It is not much, around 300 kilojoules or 71 calories a day, but over six weeks that would add up around 2,000 calories, the energy equivalent of over 0.5lb of fat. Unlike conventional exercise, which tends to lead to compensatory overeating, HIT also seems to suppress appetite.

I think that is a lot of benefit for a relatively small investment, which is why it makes it into my "Cheat's Guide".

Home Workouts

Our volunteers were asked to do three sets of 12 repetitions every day for four weeks. The exercises were:

EXERCISE 1 - Toothbrush Squats

• Stand with feet a shoulder width apart

• Make sure that ankles, knees and hips are in alignment

• Sit back and down like you're sitting in an imaginary chair

• Keep your head facing forward

• Lower until your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible

• Press your weight into your heels

• Do not let your knees go over the front of your toes

• Hold at the bottom and then return to starting position.

• A convenient time to do this is while brushing your teeth

• To progress this exercise, make the squats slower and the hold at the bottom longer

• Alternatively, replace the toothbrush with a heavier object, e.g. a bag of porridge or pet food.

EXERCISE 2 - Hoover or Shopping Bag Walking Lunges

• Step forward with first leg

• Land on heel and then forefoot

• Lower body by flexing knee and hip of front leg until knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor

• Do not let your front knee go over the front of your toes

• Keep knees and feet pointing forward

• Keep torso upright during lunge

• Repeat by alternating lunge with opposite legs.

• A convenient time to do this is while hoovering or brushing the floor

• To progress this exercise, make the lunges slower and the hold at the bottom longer

• Alternatively, do this exercise whilst carrying a shopping bag in each hand.

EXERCISE 3 - Cleaning Calf Raises

• Stand tall with your abdominal (stomach) muscles pulled in and your feet hip width apart (or slightly narrower)

• Raise your heels so that you're on your tiptoes

• Hold the position and then lower your heels to the floor

• Ensure that the lift comes from the whole width of your foot and not the little toe or inside of the foot.

• A convenient time to do this exercise is while dusting, cleaning windows or reaching for high objects during cooking

• To progress this exercise, make the rises slower and the hold at the top longer

• Alternatively, do this from the bottom stair, starting and finishing with your heel lower than your toes

•Finally, add a weight in your hands to increase the difficulty of this exercise.

EXERCISE 4 - Cooking Bicep Curls

• Stand up straight with a weight in each hand at arms length

• Keep your elbows close to your torso and rotate the palms of your hands until they are facing forward - this is your starting position

• Keep the position of your elbows stationary and curl your arms until the weights you're holding are close to shoulder level

• Hold in this position and then lower slowly back down.

• This can be done at any time using various household objects such as cans and bottles of water

• This exercise can be done standing or sitting

• To progress this exercise, make the curls slower and the hold at the top longer

• Alternatively, increase the weight in your hands to increase the difficulty of this exercise.

EXERCISE 5 - Towel Tricep Extensions

• Pick up a towel with one hand at the end of the towel and position the arm so the towel hangs down your back and the arm is bent

• Your forearm should be behind your head with the elbow pointing upwards

• Grasp the other end of the towel behind your lower back with your free hand

• Make sure your feet are hip width apart and your posture upright

• Stretch out the top arm fully, the other arm offers the resistance and the upper part of the top arm should remain stationary

•Hold at the top against resistance and then relax the arm back down

• Switch arms after each set of 12.

• This exercise can be done using a bath or tea/hand towel.

• To progress this exercise, make the extensions slower and the hold at the top longer

•Alternatively, increase the resistance from the bottom hand

•This exercise can also be done with a weight in the top hand instead of a towel to offer resistance.

EXERCISE 6 - Wall or Door Frame Press-ups

• Stand facing a wall or door frame with your feet hip width apart about two feet away from the wall

• Place your palms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the wall

• You should be able to keep your arms straight with your palms flat against the wall

•Keep your body straight and slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest to the wall, until your upper arms are close to parallel with the wall

• Hold in this position and then press up until your arms are straight again.

• To progress this exercise, make the presses slower and the hold at the wall longer

•Alternatively, move your feet further away from the wall to increase the difficulty of this exercise

•Finally, this exercise can be done one hand at a time as an advanced progression, but only if you are confident doing this.

EXERCISE 7 - Washing Basket Oblique Twists

• Stand up straight with feet roughly hip distance apart and soft knees

• Hold your washing basket, or other similar weighted object, in both hands with your arms at your sides and hands positioned just above your waist

• Twist the basket around your body to one side while keeping your lower body fixed and your hips facing forward

• Repeat by twisting to the other side.

• To progress this exercise, make the twists slower and the hold at the end longer

• Alternatively, increase the weight of the object to increase the difficulty of this exercise

•Finally, if you take the object further away from your body, this will progress the exercise.

EXERCISE 8 - Broom Deadlift

SN DC SARAH 006.jpg
Sarah Morrissey tries out the broom deadlift. Photo: David Conachy.


• Stand just behind the broom/mop handle with feet shoulder width apart

•Squat down (see exercise 1) and grasp the handle with hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart

•Keep your back straight and eyes looking forward

• Keep the back rigid and arms straight

• Lift the bar using the legs, keeping the bar as close to the body as possible

• Once you are upright, complete the exercise by raising the shoulders slightly

• Return the objects to the ground using controlled technique.

• To progress this exercise, make the lift slower and the hold at the top longer

• Alternatively, use a heavier object to perform the exercise - two objects can be used (one in each hand), but these will need to be evenly weighted.

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