On leading horses to water

Ever try to persuade someone to do something that could significantly improve their quality of life? Like your kid, maybe. Or a close friend or relative.

I'm not talking about trying to impose your finely honed view of the world on someone else. I am talking about trying to motivate them about taking steps towards getting a little more active.

It's not easy. It may even be futile.

A recent study suggests that doctors who talk to obese patients and their families about losing weight feel their words will have no effect.

The study's lead author — Dr. Sarah Barlow, a pediatric obesity specialist in St. Louis — says despite doctors' best efforts, they find families lack motivation or are so overwhelmed by the stresses of day-to-day living that they can't or won't change their eating or exercise habits.

The study found that families who changed what they ate and their level of exercise came to appointments already motivated — they wanted to lose weight and change their behaviour.

On the bright side, if the target of your good advice can come to understand that you don't necessarily need radical change to make a radical difference, anything is possible. The latest edition of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings devotes a lot of space to a study called the "Effects of High-Intensity Interval Walking Training on Physical Fitness and Blood Pressure in Middle-Aged and Older People". Yeah, the study found that the harder you work out, the better the benefits. It also found that the fact you get off the couch and work out at all is going to go a long way toward improving your health.

The journal devotes its lead editorial Exercise: A Walk in the Park? to the topic.

"Emphasis is moving away from intermittent sweat-drenched bouts of arduous exercise to more frequent walking, whether in the park, at work, or at home," Dr. James Levine writes.

"Walking exposes participants to few activity-associated injuries, whereas nearly all high-intensity athletes experience sports-associated injuries. Overall, the critical health benefit may be derived from the displacement of sedentariness by activity."

He notes that as a species, we evolved to walk and we spent much of our day doing that up until the past 150 years when we started to give up using our legs to get around. Walk more, weigh less.