Sunday, November 01, 2009

More Jerry Morris

I have been thinking more about the article about Jerry Morris I linked-to recently and realise that I need to explain why I found it both interesting and uplifting.

The main reason is a straightforward admiration for anybody who has spent his life trying to make things better for others. Such people, who try to solve problems practically, based on knowledge and understanding, are the backbone of the country (compared to most of the people in the media who seem to float on clouds of opinion). Jerry Morris was a high level example and, from the evidence of the article, it looks as if he led a virtuous life.

Times Past

Another reason is probably nostalgia. When I read it I could almost imagine a black and white film of the forties with the central character calmly displaying determination in the face of adversity, moral strength, and practical intelligence (he would probably have to be played by John Laurie because I think it was the law at the time that all Scotsmen had to be played by John Laurie). But deeper than an internal cinema is the attraction of looking back at what has changed and what is still the same.

He worked when we were changing from a physically demanding life to the more domesticated, sedentary world we now inhabit. To be able to compare bus drivers to bus conductors was a wonderful opportunity because class, background, lifestyle, diet of both was very similar and it was possible to isolate the differences caused by exercise. This is no longer the case: there are very few conductors; there are far more differences between those who take exercise and those who don't and there are far more confounding factors.

I also found his regret at the passing of the can-do attitude of the 40s to be poignant. i am sure that it is not that we are any less practical or enterprising now but rather we have lost faith in the idea that national plans and initiatives can make things better. Our default position is cynicism and it is a shame that it is so. The post war period, up until the mid 70s, was probably the high point of optimistic thinking, ie a belief that life could be made better, planning could improve the lot of everybody and the application of science would be beneficial. It is not easy to recapture that mood but I still think there is a lot to recommend in the idea of rounding-up all the experts on a subject, sending them away to the Hebrides and not letting them back until they come up with a workable plan.

Applying the Lessons

Although he made is discovery a lifetime ago, there is now a general understanding of the importance of exercise, I am not sure the full message has been accepted. He is very clear that there needs to be vigorous exercise (gardening by itself is not enough) but a lot of the health advice offered today tones that down. We pussyfoot.

I looked at the exercise recommendations on the NHS Choices. Although it contains some sensible advice, nowhere does it mention the need to raise the pulse rate. Vigorous? The word is shunned as we cannot make even the tiniest suggestion of effort in case we scare people off. I understand the motive, and we certainly don’t want to make things seem overly forbidding, but our bodies were evolved for exercise; there is pleasure in breathing heavily. More to the point vigorous exercise is necessary and we are diluting what we know to be true in an effort to make it more palatable. That does nobody any good.

“Exercise normalises the working of the body”. I like that quote. I think it should be at the head of all the health advice.

The Necessity of Exercise

This quote says it all:
“For the first time in history,” says Morris, “the mass of the population has deliberately got to take exercise. It’s a new phenomenon, which is not appreciated.” For decades he has tried to persuade governments to make exercise easier. He was involved in the pioneering English National Fitness Survey of 1990, which found that half of women aged 55 to 64 could not comfortably walk a mile. These people were in effect disabled. The government ignored the report. Since then, British exercise levels haven’t changed much. His voice becomes high-pitched with outrage: “Just imagine, what historians in the future are going to say about the way we’ve allowed this epidemic of childhood obesity. ‘Disgrace’ is a sort of mild word.”

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