Yesterday I showed you exercise comparisons of a full-housechore day versus a full-couch potato day. I recorded the information with my BodyMedia Fit device.
For further comparison, here is my activity graph of 30 minutes elliptical cardio in the morning, followed by a mostly sedentary day. I picked up activity again around dinner time. This should be fairly representative of a typical office worker day. 30 minutes is the minimum exercise recommended for good health.
Here's how they match up with total calorie burn per day:
Full Couch Potato: 1500
Full Day Housechores: 1900
30 Min Exercise + Sedentary: 1715
Hah! I burned 185 more calories cleaning house than my normal routine. And my housechores are very light compared to homemakers with a large house and a couple of kids. Homemakers, rejoice! You are very likely more active and fit than many 9-5 office workers and chronic cardio goers at the gym!
We are more sedentary than our grandparents. There's no denying that.
However, as many of us discovered, lack of exercise isn't the whole story on why we are more fat than 60 years ago.
Take for instance this man, Gene Rychlak. He was the first man to bench press 1000lbs.
He has huge muscles...but he also has a huge belly. The man is undoubtedly an athlete...and has rippling muscles under all the bodyfat.
This man is also an athlete. His training schedule includes squats, bench presses, and powerlifting, just like any bodybuilder:
This man was a bodybuilder. At his prime, though, he could "only" bench press half of Gene Rychlak's world record: 500lbs.
All of these men are/were athletes, but with varying levels of bodyfat.
Genetics is part of it, and a big part. Men who don't have the 'bulking' genes won't get the bulging manly-man Arnold muscles.
However, each of these men manipulate their bodyfat with what they eat.
A quick search for "sumo wrestler" diet shows they eat 2 extremely calorie dense meals per day made up of chicken, fish, tofu, vegetables, and high calorie starches. They eat about 10,000 calories per day, skip breakfast to slow their metabolism and increase fat gain, and powerlift with a bodybuilder-like regime 6 days per week. They bench about 400-500lbs on average - it takes a lot of power to grapple other sumo wrestlers! Their life expectancy is shorter than the average Japanese, about 60 years due to complications from diabetes, heart and liver disease, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
A competition bodybuilder diet is ketogenic - high fat, moderate protein, and very, very low carbs. Weight lifting, and moderate cardio. Too much cardio is catabolic - it burns muscle.
Exercise is important for "fitness" and good health. There are thin people who are NOT fit. There are also overweight people who ARE fit.
Nutrition is important for "body shape" and good health. If you want a fit-fat physique, skip breakfast and overeat calories. All the exercise in the gym will just serve to make you more "fit" underneath your fat.
If you want a fit-slim body, eat high quality calories. More protein and vegetables, less grain and starches. Strength train and moderate cardio.
Going back to the question of why people in the 50s were slimmer than today, I think it has more to do with their nutrition than the activities.
Looking at the meal for a 1950's housewife in Britain:
Breakfast: One slice toast and butter and boiled egg 220
Lunch: Corned beef sandwich and butter 430
Snack: Slice Victoria sponge 175
Dinner: Two pork chops, boiled potatoes, swede, cabbage, tinned pears and custard 993
- The toast was either home baked, or bought from a bakery. No HFCS or other additives.
- Real butter. No artery clogging trans-fats from margarine.
- Home baked Victoria sponge (a sponge cake with jam). No HFCS or other additives.
- Dinner: Protein and whole vegetables. No HFCS in the tinned pears, probably cane sugar. Modest sized dessert.
My depression era German-American grandmother's 'diet' for her sons included limiting their bread, pasta and dessert portions if she thought they were putting on too much fat.
My take? We should be enjoying superior health compared to our grandparents, but we are declining. My generation and the ones after are the first to have lowered life expectancy. This cannot be the legacy our grandparents wanted. According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, our cells have the capability of lasting 115-130 years. More centurians should be possible. 60 years is not enough to blame 'genetics' - it has to be environmental.
I believe this comes from changes in our food supply. This is why I changed my nutrition to whole, unprocessed produce and proteins. It takes time, but my bodyfat comes off far better when I focus on nutrition, rather than calorie burn.
There are benefits to our modern world that our grandparents didn't have, if we chose to take advantage of it. Canned vegetables and fruit were common back in the 1950s because these items were seasonal. The modern world opens up our food supply so that avocados, pears, lettuce, carrots, etc, etc are available year round. We should be enjoying superior nutrition because of this.
If you want fitness AND lower body fat, look at what's in your shopping cart. I only shop on the outer edge - produce, meats, and dairy. I skip everything boxed and plastic wrapped in the center.