Book Review: The First 20 Minutes

I’ve been following Gretchen Reynolds’ Phys. Ed. Column in the New York Times for years now. And I’ve just finished her book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I will be talking about this book for months. A lot of the content of the book comes from studies she been writing about in her column over the past couple years, but seeing it all together really shines light on how much startling information has come to the surface. And the bottom line is this- Stand up and start moving, it will save your life, literally.

In one study by the National Cancer Institute, 250,000 americans, ages 50-71, were followed for eight years. They found, unsurprisingly that the most sedentary adults had the highest risk of cardiovascular and cancer mortality. But more surprising was the fact that the group of adults that averaged 7 hours of exercise per week, but also spent at least 5 hours per day watching TV or otherwise being inactive, were also more likely to die prematurely compared to those who exercised but watched less than an hour of TV daily. Unfortunately, it looks as if isolated bouts of exercise aren’t enough. What they’ve found is that long periods of sitting still changes the cell’s physiology. Overtime, inactivity decreases levels of Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that that is known to aid in the breakdown of fat in the bloodstream, blood sugar levels spike after meals, and early symptoms of insulin problems and eventual diabetes could become apparent. It’s down right scary. Of course that was from a study that had adult male volunteer to be completely immobile for a day, not putting any weight onto their legs whatsoever. Extreme, yes, but those results were just after twenty four hours!

The book is chock full of great fitness advice, but if there is just one thing that I will take away from the book is that sitting for eight hours during my work day is not OK. I get up more often, if just to fill my water bottle and say hello to my co-workers. I stand at my desk. I take frequent breaks to briefly walk around. If nothing else, it has helped with my energy levels, it has done away with the 3pm slump, and helps assauge my fears of becoming the ever average couch-potato like American.

If you are having trouble motivating yourself to change your lifestyle, or just curious about exercise physiology and the recent research that people all over the world have been working on to prove that exercise is anti-aging and life extending, this is a must read. And I know that sounds cheesy, but seriously the results of these studies are staggering. Gretchen has a strong entertaining voice that isn’t judgmental but instead invested and very encouraging. Although the book is based entirely around different studies, the information and the implications of their results keep you wanting to turn the pages. I highly recommend the read!

 

 

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Food and Fitness

Like two peas in a pod, right? People’s motivations for exercise are different. Some want to lose weight, some want to maintain weight, some want to be able to eat whatever they want, some exercise to help with health issues, others are obsessed with being “fit” and some have always been active and it just comes naturally. But no matter the reason or goal for physical activity, what you consume plays a definite role in seeing results.

There was an article in the New York Times about the effects exercise has on appetite and the results were slightly inconclusive. Basically, depending on how active you already are, your appetite may or may not change after a work-out. If someone’s goal is weight loss, exercise alone will never be enough. Diet habits have to changed in order to make a difference.

The average person in America does not fully understand the quantity of food/nutrients they need each day. The fact that it is so much less than would be expected is part of the reason we have an obesity epidemic in our country. People can exercise regularly but not see any difference in their weight because the believe their workout gave them the leniency to spurge on that [insert dessert/fried food/favorite indulgence] they’ve been drooling over all week. The fact remains that an average work out may only burn 400-600 calories, and that cheesecake has just as many. Even the idea hydrating with a flavored sports drink takes away half the output of a decent exercise.

The problem we are seeing is that most people are not interested in basic nutrition or eating balanced meals. It’s a downward spiral that starts when we are young. From school cafeterias to the media, to the myriad options of pre-packaged processed goods that are cheap and easy. Eating is more about convenience to many of us than it is about getting the nutrients our bodies need. There are so many diets out there, I’m not going to go into any specific one. I don’t think any of them are completely right, and I think that every one is going to have a different idea of what is right for them. And that is perfectly OK.

We are not striving to be perfect, because that is impossible and if that is your goal you are probably driving yourself crazy. Instead, strive to be healthy when you can. Little changes such as incorporating less processed foods and more whole foods makes a giant difference. Once you switch over you will start to crave those packaged foods less as your body begins to recognize them as less satisfying.

Anyway, I diverged from my beginning statement. Exercise can affect one’s desire for food and as Americans, who culturally have a strange relationship with food to begin with, it might be hard to keep a regular diet because our brain might be telling us we need more. The simple fact is that if you are wanting to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. For many of us that can be exceedingly difficult when the more we exercise the more we feel like we should be eating.

In my experience, depending on what time of day I exercise, my appetite might increase or decrease after a workout. Immediately afterward, I never feel like eating, but if I don’t eat a snack sometimes later on I’ll get ravenous and end up eating a huge meal. My biggest problem is craving sugar. I’ll start to feel like I have to eat something sweet and won’t be able to think of anything else until I’ve satisfied my sweet tooth. In many of the books and blogs I’ve been reading, the 80-20 rule has been quoted: be good 80% of the time and allow yourself to give in to your cravings for the other 20. This is the healthiest way to think about your diet. You don’t want to be so restrictive that you can’t even go to a party and enjoy a few hors d’ oeuvres!

The bottom line is that there are lot of aspects of nutrition that we still don’t understand. The reason eggs were good and then bad and then good again, is that new information is always coming in that changes our perspective. Exercise too, has been a little bit like that. There is no clear-cut plan: do this and you will be healthy. Part of the struggle is finding out how to listen to your body. I think it knows, it just doesn’t always know how to fill us in.

Getting Started: The Scoop on Pilates

At this time of year my mind and spirit shout Spring, but my body still reflects those extra layers of winter “insulation.”  What a great time to re-energize and reboot my workout!  I find Pilates is just the thing for me.  I love sharing what Pilates has done for me which is why I began to study to be a certified instructor.

Like many mind-body techniques, Pilates offers a wide range of benefits.  Do you have lower back pain?  By strengthening your abdominal muscles you can better support your low back, and by increasing your range of motion, you can release any tension pulling you out of alignment.

As a low impact workout, Pilates is a great form of exercise regardless of skill level as a good teacher can always modify the movements based on your needs.  We can make adjustments to go easier on joints and ligaments, or more for the more advanced we can really challenge the muscles.

I was first introduced to Pilates in grade school while training with a pre-professional dance company.  The Artistic director surprised the class one morning by asking the entire company to lie down on mats instead of starting at the ballet barre.  The Director’s objective for inviting a Pilates instructor was to teach us how to better control our movements, but I think she also thought we were getting too soft!

The mat exercises focus on the “powerhouse” which is a term Joseph Pilates used to describe the core abdominal muscles.  Historically, Mr. Pilates called his technique Contrology.  The controlled, coordinated movements focus on the deep postural muscles at the core of establishing strength and balance.

Pilates teaches efficiency of movement by bringing awareness inward.  In discovering muscle imbalances, you will begin to understand and learn to correct your posture and gait.  It will even change the way you think about doing mundane activities like washing the dishes or sitting at a computer.

Hooked from the start, I found the exercises highlighted my body’s strengths and weaknesses and I quickly saw results, even in my dancing.  But you don’t have to be a dancer to reap the rewards.  Pilates aims at increasing flexibility while building long lean muscles.  So whether you suffer from aching joints, want to get back into your skinny jeans or if you’re just looking for a new routine, Pilates is a great place to start!

 

*first published on http://www.yinovacenter.com/blog/