HERE are some of those who very definitely didn’t sponsor The Truth About Exercise: health clubs, manufacturers of trainers, lycra-wear and state-of-the-art erse-padding, army-style physical jerks who organise star-jumps and burpees in public-park dog poo, the Official Charles Atlas Correspondence Course (“You too can have a body like mine!”) and dumbbells for the home guaranteed to break ankles when they’re abandoned under beds after three months and you step on them in the dark.
The Truth About Exercise
BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm
The Joy Of Disco
BBC4, Friday, 9pm
Oscars 2012: The Highlights
Sky Living, Monday, 10pm
All of those people and many more besides – they’ll try to baffle us with science and assume we’ll fall for anything labelled “Xtra-this” or “Hi-that” – are dedicated to making millions out of selling and, very quickly after that, re-selling us the fitness ideal. In short, they have a vested interest in getting us all into vests and shorts. And they must have been spitting when presenter Michael Mosley unveiled his latest exercise regime: just three minutes a week. No need to join a gym or buy any more kit. And because you’re only aboard a static bike for 20 seconds at a time there’s little point re-enforcing that bahookie. Mosley even did it in his suit.
This fascinating programme was both NEAT and a HIT. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is the energy expended by everything we do that isn’t eating or sleeping or indeed sports-like exercise, and even the most trivial of activities increases the metabolic rate. Mosley met a funny little man, an expert in the field, and invited him to sit down. The man declined with a shudder. This was probably because he was wearing “fidget-pants”. The man had a simple but chilling warning: “Your chair is a killer.” So he stays on the move the whole time. He’s probably half-shark.
HIT stands for High-intensity Interval Training and its pioneer is a Scot: Professor Jamie Timmons. Those crucial three minutes, Timmons said, could achieve many of the health benefits that three hours in the gym are supposed to bring. Mosley, who’s had medical training, was sceptical. “This goes against everything I’ve learned,” he said. But he stayed intrigued, as befits a reluctant exerciser with a sedentary lifestyle who recently discovered a history of diabetes in his family.
We saw Mosley train with an Olympic hurdler, pulling a muscle after just three paces. We saw him consume a huge Glasgow fry-up in the name of research, which instantly doubled the amount of fat in his bloodstream. Ultimately, Mosley found himself to be marked by his genes as a “fitness non-responder”. HIT wasn’t going to hit the spot for him. “How funny, how tragic, how incredibly annoying!” he wailed. But the programme certainly made me think and reassess my lifestyle. Thus the rest of this column will be brought to you while standing up, far enough away from killer chairs and murderous sofas.
Disco-dancing in its 70s pomp probably came under the heading of NEAT but those extended 12-inch remixes took it far beyond the scope of HIT. Then there was the spin-off activity for upping the metabolic rate such as all the wild and crazy sex in the loos of New York’s Studio 54. In The Joy of Disco, Nile Rodgers of Chic remembered spending all night there. “Sorry if I sound so nonchalant about it,” he quipped.
This documentary might have surprised any grannies who, by its end, will have been reminded how universal the music became, thanks to footage of lunch-clubs boogie-ing on down and even batty old Ethel Merman going disco. But for the first half-hour it plunged us deep into the black and gay American underground scene from whence disco sprang, a truly revolutionary music created by outsiders, “without hype, major record labels or radio airplay”.
Disco’s practitioners told their stories well. Veteran drummer Earl Young got behind his kit – “Now watch: I’m going to change the groove on the side cymbal” – to demonstrate how he invented the beat. Super-producer Giorgio Moroder, who coaxed 17 minutes of moaning from Donna Summer for the classic I Feel Love, sounding as nonchalant as Nile Rodgers when he said: “I kind of was always interested in sex, like all musicians and the rest of the world.” Indeed, everyone was so nonchalant that disco myths were cheerfully exploded. It simply wasn’t true that the Studio 54 air-conditioning blew cocaine on to the dancefloor.
Do the Academy Awards still go on for seven whole hours? All that sitting down, they should come with a health warning. Oscars 2012: The Highlights was as much as I could take in a non-vintage year for movies. There were only two good jokes: host Billy Crystal introducing Hollywood’s leading super-couple as “Billyjoelina”, then the winning screenplay guys mimicking the stance La Jolie had just contrived for maximum thigh-flash. «