Q&A with Nigel Harris
What made you want to be involved with Why Are We Fat?
I thought it sounded like a good opportunity to discuss some of the misunderstandings around the role of exercise and fat loss. The public messages are, I think, a little bit confused between being generally active and doing exercise. They tend to get mixed up and people think that it means you’ve got to exercise for an hour a day. I’m a lecturer in exercise science; I don’t exercise for an hour a day, but I move a lot and I do some structured exercise to boot, and I think that’s one of the key misunderstandings.
In Why Are We Fat, you say how we have ‘engineered a lot of movement out of our lives,’ how can we incorporate more movement into our day?
The classic scenarios would be parking a bit further away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, all of those things go in the movement bank. Those things you can do by simply trying to take away some of these conveniences that we’ve engineered into our lives, taking those back out again in order to just move a little bit more, and considering movement as an opportunity, not a pain.
In Why Are We Fat?, you mention that resistance training is good for targeting visceral fat, the dangerous fat stored around the organs. Is resistance training something we can do without going to the gym?
A gym’s a great setting for it because they have the equipment and there’s variety and you can do group exercise classes, but resistance training is anything where you’re overloading your muscles beyond their usual day-to-day activity. If you’re exerting some sort of force with the muscle then that’s resistance training. You can have a good workout with body weight alone or some very simple equipment. Stick your back leg up on a chair and take a great big, wide front split and try just squatting down with your front leg. Do five or ten of those and it’ll be a pretty decent weight training set. Give it a crack and see what happens.
You were part of Simon’s support team and set up a personalised exercise programme for him, partly based on his genetic profile. How big a role does genetics play in our weight?
That’s a really emerging area, it’s not definitive yet and it’s not easy to access. It’s not like popping down to the chemist and getting a finger prick test and them telling you what exercise you should do. I think the key thing is no matter what genetic set you’ve got, you can change how those genes express themselves through movement and nutrition.
As someone who works in the field of exercise science, do you ever eat junk food yourself?
Yeah, when you have good fitness, irrespective of body size, you generally have better metabolic resilience, so you can handle some of the ‘metabolic insults’, which are inevitable with life. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like eating naughty things sometimes? Life is for living and I think sometimes people look at fitness role models on social media and think that they’re on nothing but kale and that they exercise a million hours a day and that’s what you’re supposed to do in order to achieve a body like that or to be healthy and I really don’t think that’s the best message to be getting out there. You’ve got to enjoy your food, it’s all about a little bit of balance.
What do you hope viewers will take away from following Simon’s health journey?
Inspiration, encouragement, and a little bit of understanding.
What’s your top tip for a healthier lifestyle?
Move, because your body is designed to and it will love you for it.