New fitness propaganda is bullocks

The latest campaign to improve our fitness is the usual waste of money, and it’s time we were allowed to be peacefully unfit

The Government’s new fitness campaign should interest the marketing industry, since it will be the sole beneficiary.

Some of the rest of us not engaged in spreading the message that 30 minutes’ moderate exercise five times a week is all the human frame requires, will gnash our teeth in fury as 9m of our money is vaporised by the Health Education Authority.

Others, either through lack of gnashable teeth or simple lassitude, will ignore the campaign, as they have all its predecessors.

If only 9m, or even 90m, could be used to persuade this and every other Government in perpetuity that it is none of their business how moderately a free-born Englishman chooses to exercise, it would be money well spent.

Unfortunately, given that the propaganda gale blows in only one direction, we must continue to ignore as best we can such absurd figures as the junior health minister Baroness Cumberlege who declares that she keeps fit by chasing escaping bullocks on her husband’s farm.

This is not of course a regime open to many of us, since comparatively few have spouses with farms and still fewer would recognise a fleeing bullock, even from the rear. If I were the baroness’s husband I would be worried on one of two possible counts – since she finds chasing bullocks moderate exercise, either she is preternaturally strong or there is something wrong with the bullocks.

Moreover, as a junior health minister with much nannying to do, how does she find the time to go a-bullock chasing? Are the horny-handed labourers on her husband’s estate instructed to make haste to the big house whenever an exercising opportunity arises? Does a breathless rustic appear at the door cap in hand to announce: “If it pleases your ladyship, there’s a bullock scruddling free down at Penny Half-acre, nostrils steaming fair to bust, and withers shivering. Looks ripe for the chasing, m’lady.”

What is it about Governments and their expert advisers that blinds them to the fact that their health warnings fall on deaf ears? A few days ago, it was revealed that all alcohol, not just red wine as previously thought, is good for the heart.

The news was announced not with rejoicing but with the predictably wowserish rider that the findings of course applied only to moderate consumption – three units a day. Anything more than that, and the heart, far from benefiting, would cease to function, sooner rather than later.

A moment’s reflection shows that to be nonsense. The now discredited red wine theory arose from the so-called French paradox, which sought to explain how the citizens of that country managed simultaneously to eat the fattiest food in Europe and yet enjoy the most robust of cardiac good health. Far from taking exercise, the French were observed to sit around for hours on end talking about sex and politics and drinking red wine. Ergo, the wine helped their hearts. Now it is said it was not the wine after all, but the alcohol in the wine that did the good.

The correct conclusion to be drawn from this latest discovery is not that the French are a nation of wine drinkers, rather that they are a nation of drunks. This deduction is empirically sound. Show me a Frenchman who restricts his intake to three units a day, and I will show you a pink elephant.

But the news that immoderate behaviour is good for you was too encouraging to be entrusted to the British. Lest we disappear down the plughole in an orgy of licentious excess, we are adjured to sip a unit or two through pursed lips and work off the effects with 30 minutes of moderate exercise.

To this the nation replies with a single word closely related phonetically to Baroness Cum-berlege’s quarry.

The British people’s admirable disinclination to heed the utterances of their legislators, is further evinced by the great beef scare.

True, public reaction in this case tends to accord with the expert view that to eat a hamburger is to invite the onset of insanity, but the Government’s message was that there is no such danger.

For the popular scepticism with which this reassurance was greeted we have the televising of Parliament to thank. The moment that agriculture minister Douglas Hogg appeared on the nation’s screens to announce that he would continue to eat beef as part of a balanced diet, the Government’s case was lost. For you need be neither mad nor a cow to reason that if Mr Hogg is the result of a beef diet, it is best avoided.

The real health message of the week was that, as the Reader’s Digest has maintained all along, laughter is the best medicine. Stress consultant Robert Holden runs the country’s first Laughter Clinic and believes that 100 laughs is equivalent to ten minutes spent rowing or jogging. I don’t know what occurs at these clinics – perhaps he tells them the one about the three stockbrokers and the lady snake charmer. But here’s a tip – if he could lay his hands on a video of what happens when one of the baroness’s bullocks turns the tables and does the chasing, we would be the fittest nation on earth.

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