A Tale of Two London City Workers….

My recently published book, The Internal Flame, devotes a chapter to the importance of working exercise into our daily lives, and stresses the value of ALL movement – not just the sort which features an expanse of lycra and an eye-wateringly expensive gym membership.

In it I mention a fascinating study published by the Lancet in the 1950’s which compared the rates of heart disease amongst London bus employees – both the drivers and the ticket-checking conductors on-board. The Lancet reported that the bus conductors had less heart disease than the drivers. Why? Likely because the conductors – on their feet all shift up and down the length of buses, as well as transferring between different locations to link up with their ‘next bus’ – had significant work-related exercise built into their daily lives. Without even darkening the doorstep of a local gym (did they even exist in the 50’s?!), they were doing lots of what our bodies are designed to do – move – and their heart health was significantly better than the sedentary bus-drivers they worked with because of it.The study was a clever one, as – apart from the differing activity levels – the working environment was identical for both groups.

Similar studies, for instance comparing the rates of heart disease between groups of postmen (active workers) compared to telephone operators (for the most part stationary), have produced the same interesting results.

The message we should all take from these studies?You don’t have to be an athlete or a gym goer - you can exert a POWERFUL degree of influence over your health by working simple incidental exercise into your life. Get out into the garden and bend and squat for an hour. Commit to 30 minutes round the block each morning and evening while listening to a podcast perhaps? This will do you infinitely more good than a new year’s resolution gym membership card that you use a half dozen times and then quietly and conveniently misplace…

Dr Roderick Mulgan