The only thing that matters

Movement, Exercise, Daily

It does not matter how fast.

Get moving again.

There. End of post. Shortest ever!

What, you don’t quite get it?

OK, I’ll elaborate a little. But just a little. (I still want this to be the shortest post ever from me.)

Take this post, for instance. It has been a while since I’ve written one. I’ve been busy, you know, with stuff: Selling a home, buying a new one, preparing two moves, planning a new life in a new town, doing a bit of money-earning work. Oh, and trying to get pregnant. (Not me: My wife. But apparently I have a contribution to make.)

It adds up. And whether it is the time it takes, or the mental energy it requires, it ends up leaving too little of either for me to muster what it takes to write.

And so you don’t get to read anything from me for a while.

It is just like when “Life gets in the way” and prevents us from exercising like we know we should. (Or must.)

First, you take a short breather, just to get over the urgent things. Then it gets a bit longer, because it always takes longer than expected. Then the habit appears broken, and it gets hard to find the time or muster the energy.

Next thing you know, you’ve not exercised in a while. Just like I’ve not written a post in a while.

So, what are we to do in such situations?

Get moving again.

That is the only thing that matters.

It does not have to be moving a lot. It does not have to be performing at our top level. It does not even have to be a good post.

Just get out there and move. Just find a bit of time.

You know why. You know it is the right thing to do. For yourself. For your Purpose.

So that’s it. Today, I’ve done my part (writing this post); now it’s your turn to do yours.

Get out there and move!

Picture by Sacha Veillette

P.S.: It is still pretty much my shortest post ever.

Use it, or lose it (a.k.a. Why bother exercise?)

Exercise, Aging, Everyday, Weight Control, Muscle Mass, Bone Density

Ready to take the plunge? If you don’t now, you may not be able to later.

Are you trying to exercise more? Or at all?

Has it been on your mind for a while? Perhaps you used to, but as the years passed, you went from “active” to “weekend warrior,” and ultimately to “I just don’t have the time.”

Perhaps you weren’t all that active as a youth, but as you went through your 20s and 30s you’ve noticed the loss of your effortless youthful figure.

No matter your story, you know you should be getting moving more. You feel it in your bones (quite literally, as it turns out).

You are not alone. And you are not alone in the struggle, either.

But have you stopped and really explored why it is so important to exercise, or to exercise more than you currently do? In that deceptively simple questioning might be hiding a profound source of Purpose

That is the question

Why is it important to you to exercise regularly?

Is it because you think it will make you look better (or a certain way)? To control your weight, perhaps?

Maybe it is to lose a few extra pounds accumulated over a few years of too much sitting behind a desk, in a car, and on a couch. Or all three, in turn.

Any of those may be a valid ultimate objective; they are certainly valued to varying degrees by different people. Yet they are not the reason why regular exercise is a good idea.

Leaving aside my own (admittedly strong) opinions on the goals and objectives of folks who exercise regularly, allow me to offer a simple and compelling reason why you must exercise regularly. As background to what you are about to read, you might want to look back at the principles behind training.)

The answer

The answer is simple: If you don’t exercise regularly, you’ll lose important muscle mass and bone density.

Muscles, Athletes, MRI, Ageing, Muscle Mass, Bone Density

Which one do you want to be when you grow old?

You see, if you don’t exercise, your body, being the result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, does the most logical thing and stops investing in expensive to build, and costly to maintain, muscle mass.

In turn, when muscle mass decreases, strain on bones also decreases: Basically, if you don’t move much, your bones don’t need to be strong. So once again your body does the evolutionary logical thing and divests itself of bone density, which is expensive to maintain from a biological standpoint.

That’s how the body works: If you don’t use it, you lose it.

And that’s the real answer. Anything else is confusing the main cause (muscle mass and bone density loss) with its consequences, or symptoms.

The consequences (or symptoms)

Yeah, sure, you may gain weight of the fatty kind if you don’t exercise. Exercise burns calories, so it helps keep the weight off in the long run, or maintain a healthy weight. If you keep eating like you did when you were 20.

But keep in mind that when you start exercising, you will gain some weight of the non-fatty kind, so at first your weight may go up, not down. Or stay the same if you never really let yourself go.

Also, the main reason you gain weight, which is the symptom, is that without enough muscle mass, your base metabolism is greatly reduced. So if you keep eating the same quantity, or, worse, you eat more as you age, you will put on the pounds. However, this is not what happens to everyone.

Another, less talked about consequence of “losing it,” is an increased risk of injury from not having sufficient muscle tone and bone density when attempting certain actions or movements. We are accustomed to think of this as the “natural” frailty that elderly folks have as they age, but it is already showing up at younger ages, especially for those who forget that they are no longer 20…

And there is nothing natural about becoming frail as we age. That frailty is the direct consequence of losing muscle mass and bone density. Of not using our bodies enough.

There is also mounting evidence that our internal organs, and our brains as well, don’t function optimally when our bodies are not moving enough. Though that is a little beyond the scope of this post, the principle of “use it (your body), or lose it (your mind)” also applies.

All good things must come to an end

Our bodies are marvelous biological machines. But they are not magical; they obey very specific rules that make sense from an evolutionary, biological standpoint. And they get older, of course.

Magical thinking about being able to be healthy in the long run without exercising regularly, or just by controlling what we eat, won’t make it so.

It is a fact that we all age and that some day we’ll die. It is a fact that many of us are getting heavier and rounder due to fatty deposits over time. And it is also a fact that many become frail as they age.

But it does not have to be so. Although there is no absolute guarantee of health into old age, because much can happen, the way to improve the odds is well known.

The key is to move more, everyday, so as to maintain the all-important muscle mass and bone density you’ll need to age gracefully into your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and well beyond if you keep at it.

And here’s a further thought in closing: Since you want to have all those years ahead of you, consider picking up a new sport now that you’ll be able to practice when you retire. After all, you’ll have a lot of time on your hand then; might as well fill it with something fun to do.

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Everyday, Exercise, Psychology, Purpose, Motivation, Training

So much to do, so little time. No wonder some things get pushed to the next day.

We’ve all been there…

I get home after a long day at work, not to mention a breakdown-inducing commute, only to face a list of chores which includes making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, paying a bill, assisting with kids’ homework, bath, story time, etc., and, of course, exercising.

After a short internal debate (very short, because there simply is not much time to debate), I come to the obvious conclusion: “I’m too tired, and there’s too much to do, so I’ll exercise tomorrow instead.”

The details vary, but the scenario is similar, whether it’s you, me, or our neighbours living through such a story. More often than not, the decision is to postpone the workout.

It is not a flaw of character: It is simply human nature. It is a form of procrastination, but it is mostly due to our tendency to view the future more optimistically than we have reason to: Although we feel tired now, we still feel we won’t be as tired next time.

Because, of course, what happens the next day, is pretty much the same story… And so days go by that we don’t exercise.

It gets worse: After a couple of days missed, OK maybe three, the brain switches to thinking: “Well, this week is screwed, so I’ll start fresh next week.” It’s the ultimate version of “I’ll do it tomorrow…”

Skipping one workout because something else comes up, or being sick, or really, really needing the time for something else, can happen. It is no big deal. The problem arises when it is not the exception anymore. The real problem is when exercising becomes the exception, not the regular occurrence. When “I’ll do it tomorrow…” is everyday, instead of exercise being everyday.

Let’s face it, very few of us are able to maintain an exercise regimen day in, day out. It is not easy. Heck, I do a few marathons and one iron distance triathlon each year, and I have a hard time keeping a steady exercise regimen.

But some people are capable of doing it.

Those who do are either exercise nuts who don’t really do anything else (you’ve met some, admit it), or have a very clear purpose for training (like elite athletes, which you also think are nuts, but you respect that kind of nuts), or are extremely motivated (for a while, but it does not last), or… are nearly unnoticeable because they operate on auto-pilot.

That’s right: Auto-pilot.

Making decisions is hard

Exercise, Everyday, Training

Just push the button, and let it go.

Why do I say they are on auto-pilot?

Because many who manage to exercise have understood something critical to maintaining a regimen: Mental energy is often in low supply, so if you rely on making the decision to exercise, more often than not you won’t.

So exercise, for those people, is the default behaviour. There is no question, there is no debate. You might be surprised that you don’t see them all that much because they tend to be quieter than the highly motivated or the exercise nuts. They don’t fuss; they just move.

There are two ways this can be achieved, and there is one very important trick you can use to increase the odds of success.

Auto-pilot mode

The first way is to turn your own, internal, auto-pilot mode to ON. It is not easy, and it takes a bit of time to stick (is it 21 days, or more?).

An auto-pilot mode is like a switch that you must program, a mental shortcut that just gets triggered whenever needed.

When you catch yourself asking the question “do I want to exercise” you must immediately answer “yes, of course” and then just do it. (Not trying to infringe on Nike’s trademark, but those are three really good words to tell yourself.)

The sooner you catch yourself and switch to automatically respond in the affirmative, the easier it is. For instance, if you wait until you’ve already told yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow…”, it is much more difficult to tell yourself “No, I’m doing it today.”

But that’s exactly what you must do.

Everyday. Until it becomes automatic.

A trick that helps a great deal is to put exercise on your daily agenda first thing in the morning. Even if it means having to get up earlier. That way, when evening comes, you’ll actually have more energy, and the chores will still be doable.

Let someone else be your pilot

The second way to have an auto-pilot is to actually let someone else be your pilot. Perhaps only for a while, to get over the hump of starting a good habit and jump-starting your own auto-pilot programming.

How does that work?

Get a coach.

And then do what the coach tells you to do.

As you follow the instructions of the coach, notice how things are simpler. Enjoy the free time from having to make decisions. All the decisions are made for you. All you have to do is, well, “do”.

But pick a good coach, one that understands what you are trying to do, and has your interests at heart. That way he or she will have you do things that make sense, in the right intensity, to get you fitter and healthier.

Getting that sort of help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary: It shows resolve for doing the right thing for your body. A commitment to what is important.

After all, top athletes all have coaches. (Many even have more than one, by the way.)

Isn’t it time you consider yourself also an athlete? Albeit, an everyday athlete?

That time is today. No more “I’ll do it tomorrow…”!

Exercise, Everyday, Athlete, Everyday Athlete

You need to make your habit of exercising an automatic behaviour.

Images from Pixabay

Do this to be healthier and save money

Supplements, Diet, Everyday, Health

That’s what Echinacea looks like. Pretty. But you don’t need to eat any.

Have I got a good and easy deal for you today! Guaranteed results! Free of charge, too!

A simple action you can set in motion today, and easily maintain for the rest of your life. One that will pay handsome dividends both in terms of your health, and in your wallet.

What is it? Here it is:

Never buy dietary supplements ever again.

Simple enough, right?

I know, I know, you want to tell me that you already don’t use that stuff, so this advice does not apply to you.

Well, the statistics are pretty clear on the subject: About 20% of us regularly buy some sort of supplement, be it protein or herbal “stuff” with wildly exaggerated properties, none of which have been scientifically demonstrated. The industry of supplements is estimated to be raking in some $5 billions annually. Taken together, those numbers mean that if none of you admit to taking some, some of you are lying.

By the way, I’m not talking about pills of vitamins or minerals. To be fair, unless you have a medically diagnosed condition that requires you to supplement your nutrition with vitamins or minerals, they are also a waste of money. Were I to include them, the proportion of those who take some sort of supplement on a regular basis would go above 50%. And the value of the industry would go to some $30 billions, most of which wasted by consumers because they simply don’t need any supplements.

No, I’m talking about the large number of products, supposedly based on plants, which are touted as cures or insurance for a wide range of diseases or problems. And for which there is no credible scientific support.

Worse than that, however, is the fact, well demonstrated scientifically in this case, that the supplements often don’t even contain what they claim to contain.

So, to put a big nail in the coffin: Even if you insist on believing that Echinacea, for instance, has some near-miraculous effect on your health, taking a pill that does not even contain Echinacea will definitely not do anything for you. But it will still cost you a pretty penny.

How can I make such a bold claim as “it is good for your health” to not take any supplements, you ask? It follows logically:

If makers of those supplements can make outlandish claims about their properties without having to demonstrate them, and they still don’t get sued out of business, then it must be because the supplements don’t really do anything. Therefore, not using them must be as good for you as using them.

Except when the supplements actually do hurt people, because the stuff they contain is sometimes dangerous. In which case, not taking supplements is much more healthy than taking some. (Just have a look at this Consumer Report, or do a search on the Web for “dietary supplements pulled from shelves”…)

At best, supplements don’t do anything; at worst, they might have seriously bad consequences. Ergo, not taking supplements is healthier, on average, than taking some. And it does not cost a thing, so start thinking about what you could do instead with the money you will save. As my wife would put it: QED.

If you ever feel the urge to pop a pill made of lord knows what, do this instead: Have a tall glass of water, but without the pill.

Think of it as the ultimate dosage of homeopathic medicine against dietary supplements. (I hope most of you get that. It is quite funny, if I do say so myself.)

So, maximize your health, and that of your wallet, by not buying supplements. If you really must take minerals or vitamins because of a medical condition, of course, do so; otherwise, don’t bother.

And move, everyday.

You’re welcome.

Picture from Pixabay

By the way, this report from 2013 that started the ball rolling for the New York State Attorney General’s office to ban some supplements is worth watching as well.

Some is good, more is better, too much is still undetermined?

Running, Exercise, Science, Everyday

Running: Some is good, more is better, but too much is… too much?

This post is about the danger, and strong temptation, of drawing conclusions when it comes to fitness.

There is a process by which it can be done: It is called science.

But it is a lengthy process, one that is deeply human (and that can therefore err) but also fundamentally self-correcting (thus its immense success, without which you would not be reading this, among other things you do on a daily basis).

There are shortcuts, sometimes pretending to be science, but in fact nothing more than wishful thinking. Common sense, sometimes based on anecdotes, falls in this category.

Science is fundamentally always questioning itself. Common sense and anecdotes appear much more solid, which explains their success.

The main issue, it seems, is that most of us are more comfortable with solid, unequivocal conclusions than with questions.

Take a recent example, from just two days ago.

A small research team published results from an analysis of data on mortality and jogging habits of people living in Copenhagen. So far, this is science.

The title of the paper indicates what was being analyzed. The results suggest a possible negative effect of “strenuous” jogging.

That’s all most bloggers and some journalists needed to draw firm conclusions. That’s news. But it is no longer science.

Take a moment to read some of these (they basically say the same thing): BBC, Time, and Huffington Post.

Those titles, and some of the statements, are strong conclusions, mostly taken from the title of the research paper and probably from a press release stating a few key aspects of the research (thus the similarities between the three).

Running, Exercise, Everyday, Science

Go ahead and do it?

The problem is that the research is still lacking in statistical significance with respect to the strongly stated conclusions. The paper itself is not strongly concluding, but stating that the results suggest an increased risk. That raises the question; it is not a firm conclusion.

Of course, to those strong conclusions, some folks with a keen interest in promoting running had to take a dissenting position. That’s what is sometimes called “a debate.” (Note: Not a scientific debate, but one in the public sphere.)

Take a moment to read this Runner’s World blogger.

He makes some valid points about statistical significance, but he also acts disingenuously when trying to imply that the methodology is not correct. (That’s what peer reviewers are there for, not some blogger.)

And by pointing out the small numbers, as if they were by themselves cause to not pay attention to the research, he is giving a false impression of what science is all about. By thus strongly concluding against the findings, he is also part of the problem.

Now, pause for a moment, and consider whether you are more comfortable with the strong conclusions, whichever you like better, or with the uncertainty that, perhaps, too much of something might actually be bad.

Because that question is worth asking.

To use an analogy: You need to breathe oxygen to live; air with a slightly increased oxygen percentage promotes recovery; too much oxygen in percentage in the air you breathe and you die.

So it would stand to reason that some exercise is good for you; more exercise is better, but “too much” can be deadly.

It is worth investigating, not denying. What it is not worth doing is becoming sedentary over…

Because even though “is too much bad for you?” is a valid question, the question “is doing some good for you?” has generated a lot of evidence behind a positive answer, even though it is also still a valid scientific question.

That’s what science provides: Degrees of confidence. Never absolute conclusions.

No matter what anyone tells you about it.

Unfortunately, degrees of confidence don’t sell magazines, or gym memberships. Certainty does.

So you should move. A lot. Everyday. And it seems pretty certain that if you keep the intensity moderate, you’ll be safe.

Safer, and healthier, than if you don’t move at all. I’m pretty confident about that.

Running, Exercise, Science

Better move than not. Better more than too little.

Pictures taken by the author at various running events.