Category Archives: Exercise

Rude Treadmills


Dr Lahiri of The Mindy Project is offended when the treadmill asks her how much she weighs, but it thinks it has a good reason. It’s planning to use that information to estimate calories burned during the session. Unfortunately, calorie burn varies so much from person to person that the simple physics-based calculations gym machines do are not that accurate — and that’s just if the machine is well maintained.

One of the problems with gym-machine calorie estimates is that specific numbers like “287” or “719” look so real — it’s an example of something appealing to us because it is precise (a distinct number, particularly when it’s a small unit like calories) even when it is not accurate (actually giving you useful information). So feel free to reject the machine’s question about your weight.

Then What Should I Keep Track of?

You should definitely keep some kind of record of your exercise — even a simple record can help keep you in the habit, like a check mark on the calendar for each day you reach a minimum level of exercise.

When tracking exercise itself, try to stick with information you can truly measure:
— Time spent
— Distance covered
— Heart rate (if you want to wear a chest strap; other methods are not quite reliable enough yet, except for spot checks, usually without moving)

US guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, plus two strength sessions. CDC offers information about how to tell what’s moderate, too.

How Do I Get My Partner to Exercise?


Johns Hopkins has presented data for a large group of middle-aged couples, who were asked about exercise habits at two medical visits conducted roughly six years apart. If one was getting at least the recommended amount of exercise each week at the first of those two visits, it was quite likely the other would be, as well, by the time the second visit rolled around.

If you want your partner to exercise more, just keep exercising. Social effects like this have been demonstrated in groups, acting on obesity and smoking (or quitting), too, so it’s not an enormous surprise. There are also some ways in which this population is special: in older adults, some of these changes could have been prompted by a move to a different climate more (or less) to a partner’s liking, or retirement.

And childcare was probably not a common hindrance to getting exercise time in this age group. Childcare should not interfere with exercise — on the contrary, you can pass a gift of healthy habits on to the next generation by involving your kids in regular activity. For less kid-friendly exercise sessions, of course, partners should cover each other.

We can borrow from medical experience, too — this is road well traveled for families where one member has a chronic condition. Here are some modifications of suggestions from WebMD’s recommendations for the partner of someone with diabetes:

Offer help, but don’t “police” your partner. Your partner may have very different ideas about what kind of exercise is right for them — let them decide.

Make your home a place that supports good health goals. If you know your partner tends to raid the snack cabinet, help keep healthier options easier to reach. And if you use an exercise bike as a clothes rack, just stop — make sure any equipment you have is accessible and usable.

Help your partner carve out time for exercise. Many couples are comfortable with a division of labor in which one has more responsibility for home and children, but this can make it tough for the home-centered parent to assert “me time.” Don’t wait for your partner to ask. Pitch in.

Be prepared for frustrations. Establishing an exercise habit can involve setbacks, like injuries, difficulties in sticking to a schedule, or just not liking something as much as you hoped you would. Ask your partner how they want you to support them.

No matter how good our intentions, sometimes our attempts to help can feel intrusive to our loved ones. This crocheted Clippy was made by Lillian Minneman, of Just Stitched.

Fast Food Versus Commercial Sports Foods


Lou Schuler walks us through a sexy new study in “Why You Shouldn’t Eat a Big Mac After Today’s Workout.” The study compared commercial recovery foods, like Gatorade and PowerBars, to a rather paltry-sounding spread from McDonald’s (including small fries, and not claiming any syrup for the hotcakes). They structured the combinations of foods to offer roughly the same overall calories and proportions of major nutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein). And they worked their study participants pretty hard on some bike rides.

Remember the summer Olympics when everyone was flipping out about how Michael Phelps ate 12,000 calories a day? First, it was probably more like 8,000, but that’s still an immense amount of food, and that’s pretty much the story for people who do hard exercise, and hour after hour of it. You can eat a very virtuous and nourishing basic thousand calories or two, and after that, you just need plenty of protein and calories to keep you going. So at the end of a 50-mile bike ride, sure, feel free to stop at McDonald’s — just don’t scrimp on fiber- and vitamin-rich foods the rest of the day. Schuler’s advice is directed mainly at people who are not exercising the way these subjects were — that is, almost all of us!

But another part of this story is that sports-formulated foods are not magical, and, as Schuler points out, they are usually less convenient.

“The same results would be likely if you provided food items from Whole Foods or any farmer’s market. What we hope to get across is that recovery nutrition need not be overly complicated, and can include many diverse and unexpected macronutrient choices.” —study author Brent Ruby, PhD

The take-away from all this is the same as the take-away for products like Gatorade in the first place: you can certainly use these products in a heavy workout schedule, but in general these options are no better than food you (thoughtfully) prepare for yourself, and commercial options generally make it a lot easier to take in far more calories than you need.

Losing Weight Is Not Enough


In “Weight Loss Doesn’t Always Lead to Happiness,” Ed Cara gives a nice overview of some of the challenges around the weight-loss experience and the efforts of healthcare providers and others to persuade people to exercise more and eat better. Weight loss isn’t magic, but if you keep getting bombarded with messages that it is, and manage to lose a bunch of weight, reality can make it pretty tough to care about keeping it off. In the process, we lose sight of ways people can address quality of life more meaningfully.

How Can I Beat the Odds?

The best way to get around the happiness problem is not to expect losing some weight to make you happy all by itself. Fortunately, the well-being benefit that we claim for having healthy eating and exercise habits comes not from meeting a specific weight-loss goal but simply from eating better and being more active, which boost energy, improve sleep, and get the body working more smoothly. Making it easier to stick with those habits is likely to help you more than a particular number on the bathroom scale.

— Make daily activity a priority, even if some days it’s just a couple of short walks.
Get started with something that sounds easy (like 1 less sugar packet in your coffee) — you have plenty of time to refine your plan.
Make checklists, and check items off. A calendar where you make a tick mark on each day you exercise is also a simple — and effective — help.
— Build some activity into socializing with friends to make it fun rather than “just exercise.”
— Just go outside.

Whatever you want to do, take a step toward it.

Image: A fitness trainer’s business card.

Is It Possible to Build Muscle Doing Cardio?


Yes, of course. People who row, swim, run, and bike routinely build and maintain muscle as they practice. Competitors may also do heavy strength training with barbells and other equipment, but as long you’re eating nutritiously, a wide range of physical activities will contribute to the muscle mass needed for health, for balance and coordination, and to chase away flabbiness.

The gym-dominated fitness community often paints cardio as the dull, time-intensive stuff that only marathoners can love, and resistance training as nothing but maximal strength training — training up to lift as much as possible. But cardio contains a wide range of power-oriented activities, like sprinting and rowing. And resistance training includes a wide range of “intensities”, from “muscular endurance” workouts with lower weights and very high reps (niche training important for efficiency in endurance sports) to simple, basic strength training (important for health, coordination, and bone density).

Just as the range from walking to running has many levels — different speeds (intensities, “light” to “heavy”) and different distances (“reps”) — so too does resistance training. A sprint is a brief, hard effort, and a walk may be an extended, light effort. Maximal strength training works up to a few reps at a time at heavy weights, while other aspects of training use lighter weights for more reps. The exercise benefits overlap, too — people who mostly lift get some cardio benefit from their workouts; people who focus on cardio get some strength benefits.

Does That Mean Cardio Can Make People Huge?

Even focusing on maximal strength training won’t necessarily make someone huge, and cardio sports are even less likely to. The heavy lifting that bodybuilders and competitive lifters do involves a lot of hard work, careful programming, and special eating plans to gain size, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

I Just Want to Be in Better Shape and Look Nicer

You’re in luck — moderate cardio with some pace changes (a mix of faster and slower) combined with moderate strength training (no need to max out, just be sure to keep challenging yourself gradually) will help you do exactly that. If you don’t have to worry about competing, you can focus on the basics and find forms you enjoy. Make exercise a regular habit, and you’ll be healthier, at lower risk of injuries, sleeping better, and looking (and feeling!) better.

Image: Maori Rower, by Quinn Dombrowski

What Makes the Perfect Bicycle?


Meet Denny. Designed in Seattle (where Denny is a name with lots of history), this bike was selected from 5 proposed designs and will be produced in a partnership with Fuji Bikes. The goal was to design the perfect bike for convenient use in cities. Bike innovation has been fairly quiet for a while — arguably, the bicycle was more or less perfected early on — but dense urban living presents new challenges, like ease of carry on transit and the need for theft protection. Denny may not be collapsible, but its rectangular handlebar can be opened and removed to form what is surely the most convenient bike lock ever.

If you already do a lot of biking in a city, bikes like Denny look wonderfully convenient, with innovative fender systems, built-in lights, all the cables hidden, and automatic features — Denny even has an electrical assist for hills. But if you live in a city and have been hesitant to ride a bike for transportation, you probably realize that, even more than elegant new features, we need safe bikeways.

Efforts like the Bike Design Project always yield at least a few stunning concepts like The Solid, which solves an essential transportation issue in a way even the most experienced cyclist can appreciate: it can give you directions by buzzing the right or left handlebar when you need to turn — faster and much safer than looking at your phone, even if it’s mounted on the handlebars.

Denny will be produced in a very small batch — only 100 bikes to start. The concepts for the project were developed in cities that already have thriving bike communities, but even well organized efforts have yielded highly mixed results in creating enough safe routes to broaden the bike’s appeal as daily transportation. I hope the features emerging in these concept events, and the availability even of limited runs, will help attract more people to the dull, slow-moving, but important work of making cities more friendly to bikes.

Yard Workout

Yard Workout

It’s spring in the Northern hemisphere, and that means getting back out in the yard to clear, trim, plant, and weed. Do you have raised beds for vegetables? It’s a great plan if you have the space.

Gardening and yard work can be demanding, with lots of position changes and plenty of muscle groups involved with different tasks. That first session back out there could be a doozy, so plan to take a walk or do some gentle stretching afterward and the next day.

Do you know the source of this image? I have seen it widely shared and never attributed, and I’d like to point to whoever made it!