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Was Sir Winston Churchill Right About Exercise?

"Never sit down when you can lie down."

by
Theodore Dalrymple

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October 15, 2013 - 4:30 pm
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Sir Winston Churchill was an inveterate enemy to all physical exertion that went by the name of exercise. He attributed his productivity in life to his physical indolence and once gave the advice that you should never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie. He did much of his work in bed.

Modern medicine is decisively against him in his opposition to exercise. Reading the introduction to a paper in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal, you might be forgiven for concluding that the panacea has at long last been found, and that it is exercise. People who are physically active live longer and suffer less from heart disease, strokes, cancer, and diabetes than do the sedentary.  They do better in the hospital; and physical inactivity has been estimated to be the fifth most serious contributor to the disease burden of Europe.

The authors of this paper attempted to find out whether exercise is as effective as drugs in reducing mortality in a variety of conditions such as diabetes, stroke, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. They did no actual trial themselves, but rather performed a meta-analysis of the meta-analyses of all the trials that have been published and are relevant to this question: in other words their paper is what might be called a meta-meta-analysis.

Exercise has rarely been compared directly with drug treatments; the authors had therefore mainly to compare the published statistical effect of exercise (compared with no exercise) with that of medication of various sorts (compared with placebo or other medicines). They analyzed the results of 16 meta-analyses which were based upon a total of 254 trials, 54 of them on the effects of exercise and 248 of them on the effects of drugs, involving 339,274 patients in all.

In short they found that the only statistically significant differences in mortality were in stroke and in heart failure.  Drugs (diuretics) were superior to exercise in the latter, and exercise to drug treatment in the former.  Otherwise there was no difference between drug treatment and exercise.

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Top Rated Comments   
We should also remember that Churchill was quite active as a young man and well into his forties. He was a graduate of hte Sandhurst Military Academy and either soldiered or was an active war correspondent on India's Northwest Frontier, Egypt, South America and South Africa. He played polo into his forties and learned to fly an airplane when nearly fifty. I think it's fair to say that he rarely engaged in exercise for it's own sake but was filled with such natural vitality and energy and led such an active lifestyle that he was, in effect, "always exercising." Being able to relax when he needed to at Blenheim, the Carlton Club and the French Riviera didn't hurt either.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Poor soul, he died at age 90.
If he had stood some, eaten less, quit smoking, quit drinking, he might live to a hundred, or die of boredom in his 60s.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
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"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many long months of toil and struggle.

"You ask what is our policy. I will say, it is to wage war with all our might, with all the strength that God can give us, to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime.

"You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival."

NO TELEPROMPTER CAN REPLACE BALLS
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Leaving nothing to mere chance, I Intend to test Churchill's method.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Aside from longevity, there are quality of life arguments for exercise -- being able to pick up grandkids, having your bowels work etc.

Of course, there are the arguments that too much exercise is bad i.e. that running marathons shorten your life expectancy.

25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
What about having a sense of humour?
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's an excellent observation. I have no proof but I am willing to bet that a healthy sense of humor (which includes being able to laugh at yourself) adds years to a persons life.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
You really can't expect scientist to be a judge of humor. They expect us to take their research samples of 21 bored college students as representative.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
We should also remember that Churchill was quite active as a young man and well into his forties. He was a graduate of hte Sandhurst Military Academy and either soldiered or was an active war correspondent on India's Northwest Frontier, Egypt, South America and South Africa. He played polo into his forties and learned to fly an airplane when nearly fifty. I think it's fair to say that he rarely engaged in exercise for it's own sake but was filled with such natural vitality and energy and led such an active lifestyle that he was, in effect, "always exercising." Being able to relax when he needed to at Blenheim, the Carlton Club and the French Riviera didn't hurt either.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually the quote, "Never etc,,,," is the first commandment to any and everyone who has EVER served in combat. ALL soldiers recognize it on sight as the ultimate truism and one that would be instantly recognized by Gaius Longinius in 242 BC if translated into Latin.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you ask me, exercise is about quality of life.
You might not live any longer, but you will enjoy it more (except, of course, for the exercising part...).
You can wheeze going up steps or walking up hills, and spend your time sitting in place, or you exercise just a bit and be able to go places and enjoy them.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well Churchill lived to be almost 91. HIs life was filled with stress, long hours and a heavy indulgence in fine food, liquor and tobacco. At the age of 66 he embarked on five years of the most crushing responsibility ever taken on by a statesman and came through in generally good shape except for a mild heart-attack. Montgomery once told him that "I neither drink nor smoke and am 100% fit." Churchill riposted, "I both smoke and drink and am 200% fit." Churchill had a lot of help from servants and staff over his life but he fit more living into those 90 years without exercise than any ten uber-fit people that I can think of. Let's have an other brandy and an H. Uppman cigar.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
The full quote is: ''Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down, never stay awake when you can sleep.''
Can't find the citation, but believe that was Compton McKenzie, though Churchill wouldn't have disagreed (except he had insomnia, so drank instead). Both made it to ninety-odd.
Then there's Jim Fixx...
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rescue and dog and walk it daily. You'll both be happier.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
We seem to be learning that preventive care rarely does and that most of the health-nanny-bully advice about lifestyle makes very little difference in how long people live.
Certainly basic safety matters. People who walk out into streets on faith wind up as road kill. But screening doesn't prevent cancer or heart disease and early intervention may be far less valuable than advocacy groups suggest. It's possible that some of our five-year survivals have as much to do with finding a disease process early as with actually living longer than would have been the case.
At any event, exercise that one enjoys has benefits. Exercise you dislike may well have more costs than benefits. Even exercise you like -- I used to run four times a week, often 10k and a few times marathon distance -- may have costs. I used to have a heart rate of 46 -- and a raging case of chondromlacia. Now I have a resting rate of around 64 but I still have knees.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
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