Take a good look at Future You

Exercise, Future You, Sedentary, Movement, Daily

When something is done well, you might as well use it. But make sure to credit the source.

Why don’t we exercise enough?

Is it because we are too lazy? Not disciplined enough? Unable to stay motivated?

If you’ve read my most recent post, you know those are essentially the questions we were left with at the end. Because we have all the evidence we need about why we should exercise.

If you’ve read anything else on this blog in the past, you know the answer is not in motivation or discipline, two strategies that will fail you eventually, or drive you (and many around you) nuts.

It is pretty clear that only the strongest Purpose can keep us going in the long term. Yet for most this sense of Purpose remains elusive.

So while it seems we have tendency to be lazy, the truth is slightly different. You could say we are “wired” to be lazy, to economize our efforts, and only the strongest of wills can hold firm on their self-commitments.

By the way, this is not a figment of my imagination, or some wild theory I just came up with. It comes from research in behavioural economics, which others could probably explain better than I can.

But I’m going to explain it to you in my own words. With the help of visuals from a really good talk I recently watched on YouTube. (Even if you think you don’t have time, if you are serious about understanding fitness and long-term health, you should be watching that talk. After reading this post.)

The Truth

Most of us have a strong discounting rate when it comes to our “Future Selves”. (That’s a term borrowed from economics, and it is highly accurate in meaning. However, most of us are not bankers and economists, thankfully. So…) To put it more simply, I hope, the problem is as follows: when you think about the way Future You will be, the possibility of a healthy and active Future You is not seen as important enough because it is too far into the future.

Even though you want to be healthy and fit (who doesn’t?), the Future You is too remote, too distant, too hard to see clearly. The present, and very near future, occupy all that your mind can really consider and act upon. No, I’m not saying we live only for the present, but we have a strong bias in favour of the short-term instead of the long-term.

Those of us who have a much stronger Purpose typically enjoy a stronger sense of that Future Self. In essence, to them it is easier to keep their eyes on the prize. (Back to our economics/finance terminology, a stronger sense of the Future You comes from having a much smaller discounting rate). In other words, a strong Purpose can be understood as considering the distant future as equally important, or even more important, than the present or near-future.

Let’s see how this works

Look again at the image at the top of this post.

You have two pictures of Future You: one that is healthy and fit, and one that is frail and, probably, suffering from some illness(es). The road to each Future You is a series of short-term actions, choices that happen everyday, with their specific consequences:

Exercise, Daily, Health, Fitness

Two images of Future You…

Although there is no absolute certainly about the outcome, we know for sure what the odds are:

Exercise, Fitness, Health

Feeling lucky, punk? It is all about playing the odds… I know what my money is on.

Take a good, hard look at those two Future You. Can you see them well? Which do you want to really be Future You? I bet I know.

So what happens? Why is it still not a complete no-brainer to exercise regularly?

Well, each of us considers those futures against the present. It is a decision process in which you pit Present You against Future You. At least in terms of enjoyment:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If the future appears not important enough, you are likely to pick doing nothing.

Conversely, if the Future You is clear enough, and important enough, your choice would be otherwise:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If Future You is “important” enough in your mind, you will act accordingly. Most of the time. Well, often enough.

That’s basically it. How well you can see Future You, and how you manage to keep Future You in mind on a daily basis, influences how you behave. How much you are eager to exercise regularly.

This works whether Future You is simply a healthy and active Old You, or an incredibly fit and muscular Two Years From Now You, or Winning A Race in 6 Months You. Future You is what you envision yourself to be like at some point in the future. Personally, the only Future You I think is truly worth having in mind, having as a Purpose, is Healthy And Active Old You. Which should make You exercise regularly, and in a reasonable way…

Future You, which becomes the source of your Purpose, is not the only contributing factor to exercising regularly, as we’ll see next time. But it is a necessary beginning. Without it, you must fall back on motivation, or worse, on discipline.

The good news is that you can improve how Future You influences Present You. You need to look at Future You regularly.

So keep a picture of Future You where you can take a good look at it everyday, just as you head out to exercise…

_____________

Image credits: All images in this post were shamelessly lifted from an excellent lecture given by Michele Belot, Professor of Economics and Director of the Behavioural Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh (BLUE), as the third lecture in the 2014 Our Changing World series, entitled “Behavioural Economics and Health Behaviours“. It is a really good lecture, about which I will talk again in my next post. And from which I will shamelessly lift more images.

Do we really need more evidence?

Exercise, Daily, Fitness, Health, Diet

You can rejoice in the high level of confidence of at least one thing: Exercise is good for you.

The results keep pouring in.

The titles are often exaggerated, sometimes misleading, occasionally downright wrong. But that’s journalists for you. You gotta read beyond the headlines.

Even without reading beyond the headlines, however, the general trend is very clear: Exercise is good for you. Even in large doses, it is certainly better to be exercising than not exercising at all.

Thus the question I ask in the title: Do we really need more evidence?

As a scientist, I understand that there cannot be absolute certainty. It is a matter of “degree of confidence.” And it is difficult to tease apart the effects of various lifestyle decisions in something as complex as health. So I cannot begrudge researchers wanting to do more research, needing to clarify (or identify) causality among the sea of correlations that past research has brought to our attention.

But no matter how much clarification and specific causality determination still remains, no one is claiming that exercise is NOT a good thing for you. On the contrary. That’s pretty much the best, most agreed-upon, common denominator to all the research out there (on the subject of fitness and health). There is a lot of confidence.

So for you and me, normal folks, it truly is a no-brainer: Exercise. Move. Regularly. Everyday. The more, the better.

But because it is always fun to do (and it provides good fodder for a blog), here are a few recent conclusions from articles published on the subject.

Answers

First of, it really looks like exercising is not only good for increasing the odds of long-term health, but it is also a really good idea if you are sick or have suffered from a serious illness.

Then, if you are getting older (and who isn’t?), exercise can really help keep your head in better shape, not just your body.

Speaking of which, I’d be remiss not to mention this really interesting piece of research about the effect of diet, particularly greens, on cognitive health. I do love my greens, even though I promote exercise first and foremost.

There’s a passage in the summary of that particular article that is worth copying here:

They followed participants for 2 to 10 years, assessing cognition annually with a comprehensive battery of 19 tests and adjusted for age, sex, education, smoking, genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease and participation in physical activities when estimating the effects of diet on cognitive decline.

By the way, when a researcher talks about “adjusted for (…) participation in physical activities” to estimate the effect of diet, it means that exercise was already understood as an important contributor to health (high correlation between exercise and health) and what is being looked for is the remaining contribution of diet. Get it? Exercise comes first, diet comes later. Just sayin’.

In closing, let’s go back to one of the earlier things I hinted at: Even if you do “too much” (and the exact definition of “too much” is unclear), you are still better off than if you are not doing any. So exercise, regularly. Vigorously at times.

That’s a no-brainer for which your body (and your brain) will thank you later.

Questions

You think my section titles are backwards? Answers first, then questions? Nope. Answers always lead to other questions. At least if you are serious about asking questions.

So let’s.

Do we really need more evidence that exercise is good for us? Ok, we know the answer to that. It is a resounding “no!”

Do we really need more evidence in order to get us moving more? That’s a different question. The answer is also, probably, no.

So what do we need, if not evidence, to get us moving more? That’s a far more intriguing question.

Perhaps it has to come from our emotions? Perhaps it is simply a commitment? The big stick of Discipline, or the easy persuasion of our Purpose?

I don’t know for sure, and it probably depends. And it is a good question to finish with.

One thing is certain: It is what I’ll spend my next post talking about…

Picture from Pixabay.

5 Little Ninjas

Movement, Daily, Exercise

Cute… and very good at what they do.

Sometimes, you have to make do with what you have, no matter how “little” that is. It just might turn out it is not that “little” after all, once you get moving.

If you are like most people nowadays, that means you work a mostly desk-bound job, commute for a sizable chunk of your day, don’t get enough sleep, drink too much coffee and in general consume too much NOT FOOD items. Oh, and you have precious little time to exercise the way you know you should.

That’s why when I saw this image of five little ninjas, I was inspired to remind us all about the ways in which we can sneak exercise into our days without requiring big changes to our lifestyles. (As I wrote this post, I was also reminded of some ads for smoking replacement products that featured ninjas, so I can’t claim to be very original. But bear with me. My ninjas are cuter. And more healthy.)

So let’s call this the 5 Little Ninjas of Daily Exercise. (5LNDE for short in the rest of the text.)

Just like real ninjas (supposing such persons really exist), the 5LNDE are sneaky, which means that others might not even notice they are there.

The 5LNDE are also quiet; they don’t require big noisy equipment, or loud grunts on your part.

And because they are little ninjas, they might not appear deadly, but they certainly can make a difference if you do them often enough. Don’t be fooled.

So, without any further ado, here they are:

Walk Ninja – The very essence of stealth and quiet. Simply walking more on a daily basis will make a difference in your muscles and bones, and even though it does not burn many calories, it burns more than sitting and doing nothing in your car or in public transit. Go for a walk at lunch time, have a walking meeting. It does not require any extra time; just make it part of your daily getting from point A to point B. Let this little ninja sneak into your daily habits.

Stairs Ninja – Also very quiet, and can also be done as part of your normal movements during the day (instead of escalators/elevators, for instance). Or use a break or part of lunch time to sneak into the stairwell of your building, and go up and down for a while. 5 minutes. Very good for your muscles and bones, and burns a decent amount of calories, without making you sweat too much. Good ninja to have on your team.

Getting Up Ninja – To go talk to someone, or get water; any pretense is good to get up from your chair. Sitting is really, really bad for us. So the more often you can interrupt a sitting session, the better. Best still if you can work standing, but that is hard to pull off. The most effective, and sneaky, approach to this is simply to stand up once in a while. At least every hour, preferably more. The more active your day becomes, the better off you’ll be.

Squats Ninja – This may seem strange to witnesses, but when you have a moment, perhaps in conjunction with the previous little ninja, go down and then back up again from a standing position. Do 10 at a time at first. Slowly, while breathing. 20 is better. Full amplitude is better than partial; however, just doing the sitting to standing squat, and back down again, without using your arms to help yourself in and out of the chair, does the trick. It only takes a few minutes, so you can do it multiple times during the day. Easier if you have a closed office, but this little ninja can be active anywhere, without being overly conspicuous. And it does wonders for your legs.

Push-ups Ninja – Yes, I know, push-ups are hard. Harder than squats, and stairs. Perhaps even harder than running. But guess what? That’s precisely why they are so good. We systematically under-use our muscles, which means our bones have no reason to remain strong, and our base metabolism slows down because the muscles are smaller. Time to change that. You don’t need to do a whole lot; maybe 5 at a time to start. But do them a few times per day, and you’ll soon see results. Maybe not at the office, though I dare you to start a “lunch push-up club” and recruit a few co-workers to share the pain, er, I mean, fun. Do them first thing in the morning (it is very much like eating a frog), and in the evening. It takes almost no time, so it is the quickest of the ninjas. But just as effective.

That’s it. The 5LNDE.

Make them part of your team in the fight for better fitness and health.

Image from Pixabay

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.

Getting to the gut of the problem

I’m really trying not to talk about food anymore.

Food, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

Bacteria (and archaea) are your friends. Feed them well.

But I keep being drawn back to it, somehow.

Here are the reasons, I suspect:

1) Exercising more is very simple, and you can find all the advice you can possibly need elsewhere on my blog. So without going into highly specialized training regimen, which I don’t advocate anyway, there are only so many things that can be said about moving everyday. It is simple, but it requires effort. Everyday.

2) Food is fascinating, pleasant, and something we do effortlessly multiple times per day. So fixating on it comes easily. Also, the entire process from the food we eat to the energy we have to spend is so complex that, depending on your intentions, you can fool a lot of people some of the time, or try to enlighten one person at a time, with the same amount of energy.

So, because I’d rather enlighten a single person (I’m that kind of person), and I’ve talked about how to move more aplenty, and because more people want to read about food, let’s talk about food.

Actually, let’s talk about food that feeds the many, on top of feeding the one person who eats it. In so doing, we will get to what some have come to consider the “gut of the problem.”

Let’s talk about the food that feeds the bacteria and archaea that live in our guts.

A summary of recent research published in Scientific American spells it out quite nicely. You should really read it.

To save you time, however, here are the main facts, and what they hint at for optimal health:

  • Fact 1: Our digestive system is home to millions of other living beings. It is an ecosystem for them, and there is an interaction between their living, and our absorption of nutrients from food. It is what we refer to as the “gut microbiome” or “gut microbiota.” Or just “microbes” if you prefer.
  • Fact 2: Who says “ecosystem” also says “food chain,” “competition,” “natural selection,” etc. For instance, there’s a constant battle between “good” and “bad” bacteria; between those that help us (by helping our digestion not causing diseases) and those that can hinder us (by causing inflammation, diseases, etc.).
  • Fact 3: The gut microbiome didn’t just appear out of the blue this week; it has evolved along with us (co-evolved is the term). Different species have different gut microbiota. In each case, the gut microbiota has evolved and adapted to thrive off of what the host species typically eat.

Hint 1: Just like our own body should be fed the kind of food it is capable of handling (i.e. food, not too much, mostly plants), so too the bacteria and archaea that live inside us. Basically, the “good” ones strive on a diet that is precisely the kind of diet we should eat. And when the “good” ones don’t strive, then the “bad” ones do, and that can lead to problems for us.

Hint 2: One aspect of the research focused on fiber. We’ve known that fiber is important, and that we don’t have enough in our modern diet, but it seems a big part of the reason is that, without fiber, those “good” bacteria and archaea don’t fare so well.

Hint 3: Moreover, in the absence of enough fiber in our diet, a part of the gut microbes to the next best thing for them: the mucus that lines the walls of our digestive tract, particularly in the large intestine. But we need that mucus for the digestive system to work correctly and for the protection of the rest of our bodies, so when bacteria and archaea eat it, we get ulcers, inflammation, and a slew of other problems.

The article talks about positive results from adding fiber, even just a little, to the diet. It seems to help.

So, go ahead, add fiber to your diet. But not just any fiber.

Real food contains fiber. NOT FOOD that claims to contain fiber often contains the wrong kind of fiber. What I might call NOT FIBER, were it not for the fact that it is, in fact, fiber. Just not the kind that our gut microbiota can be expected to eat.

So we are back to the food we eat. What are we to do?

The same that we’ve known all along: Lots of veggies and fruit. And stay away from NOT FOOD.

No surprise there. Have we learned anything new today?

Yes, I think we have. Or at least this story serves as a reminder.

Nutrition is more complex than “calories in,” and just a count of carbs, proteins, and lipids. What you eat does not end up directly in your blood stream and then inside your cells. It goes through many steps of processing, natural processing, by our guts and the multitude that live in it.

Our own enzymes and guts mechanically and chemically disassemble the food we eat into its basic constituents (glucids, lipids, amino acids, various micro-nutrients) which can then enter the blood stream. What’s left behind is then further processed by gut microbes, and that can sometimes provide more nutrients for us as well.

By further (and co-processing) food, the gut microbiota play an essential role. They help make the whole machinery run smoothly. Provided they get benefits from it as well. Those benefits come from having a relatively safe place to call home and lots of food.

If we create the wrong kind of home for them, or if we provide food that the rowdy relatives prefer, then the “home” becomes less peaceful, and everybody suffers.

Sure, I’m simplifying by using such an analogy, but it is closer to the truth than a lot of the advice out there. (And much better than a car analogy.) Basically, feed your gut bacteria well, by feeding yourself real food (not too much, and mostly from plants), and you’ll improve your digestion.

So next time someone tries to sell you a super food, supplement, or miracle cure for what they claim ails you (but probably doesn’t), simply grab a veggie or a fruit, and chew on that. Everybody involved will feel better…

*****

See the article “Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked to Poor Health” in Scientific American, March 23, 2015, by Katherine Harmon Courage.

Image from Pixabay.

The problem (as I see it) with nutrition advice

Food, Advice, Nutrition, Everyday, Diet

Food, the final frontier? It is all about how you think about it.

This is going to be a short post.

Primarily, because it doesn’t take long to express what, to my mind, is the problem with nutrition advice.

But also because I would like this to be the starting point for a conversation. (I know, I tend to go on and on when I write, and that can give the impression that I don’t listen to what others have to say. But I promise it is not the case. So there.)

Here we go:

The problem with nutrition advice, and it permeates pretty much all advice on nutrition that I’ve come across, is the idea that good nutrition will make you healthy.

How often have you heard or read that a specific diet will make you healthy? That a supplement ensures health? That this food (or that food, the very next week), will prevent disease?

The truth is the reverse: Bad nutrition makes your body more susceptible to diseases.

In part, this is because it does not have what it needs to function optimally. For instance, to fight off infections; but one often reads that better nutrition will enhance your immune system, whereas the problem is that bad nutrition impedes the immune system from functioning optimally.

The other part is because, over time, bad (or simply excessive) nutrition leads to weight gain in the form of fatty deposits, primarily in the abdomen region, which is proven to lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and nasty stuff like cancers (to name only those main life shorteners).

In my estimation, the way nutrition advice is given, implying that eating right will make you healthy, leads perniciously to all sorts of damaging beliefs about nutrition and health. It points towards a constant search for a special diet, super food, secret ingredient, or other magic pill, to keep disease at bay.

But the truth is otherwise: Given what it needs, which is a lot of movement and good nutrition, the body is, naturally, healthy. The body does not become healthy by having plenty of exercise and good food; removing those things from your body, however, can (and often does) lead to chronic disease and problems coming from sub-optimal functioning.

You might be tempted to say that the difference is only semantics. My contention is that the difference has a big influence on how we think about food and nutrition. The way the advice usually goes (eat well to be healthy) leads to thinking some additional, external, and effortless solution can be applied. The advice focusing on the way the body works (eat well to allow your body to be healthy) hints, on the contrary, at changing habits, removing bad nutrition, and letting nature take its course.

Let’s use an example, albeit an extreme one, to illustrate the logic.

Does not smoking make you healthy? Can we say “if you don’t smoke, you will become healthy”? No, of course not. That would seem absurd. Smoking can, and does, cause you to be at risk for a whole lot of nasty things. Absence of smoking is how things should be for optimal health, but not smoking is not the cause of good health.

This is analogous to what I was saying earlier: If you stop eating bad food, you will not become healthy. The absence of bad food, or the presence of good food, is not the cause of health. The presence of bad food on a daily basis is an impediment to your body’s optimal functioning (a.k.a. health).

So eating “right” will help the body restore itself, and will reduce the likelihood of chronic diseases and the incidence of other problems. But it won’t make you healthy. Your body will do that all by itself, given half a chance.

And to give it more than half a chance, to give it a full chance (and a chance-and-a-half), it is not just a matter of eating right. In fact, a larger proportion of the solution resides in moving more.

But that will be a subject to be covered (again) in another post.

Picture from Pixabay.

Do you really want to know what I eat?

No-brainer Fitness is not a blog about food.

This is not a blog that provides recipes.

But…

No-brainer Fitness is about being healthy and fit. And, of course, after having done the correct “first thing first” and exercised regularly, what logically comes next is to eat right.

And it is a blog that is not afraid to go off the beaten path. Once in a while.

So in case you’ve ever wondered, I’m going to share one of the staples of my diet. (That’s diet in the correct, noun sense of the word, not in the verb sense. Just to be perfectly clear.)

My wife and I start all our days pretty much in the exact same manner: By eating a good breakfast. (Yeah, I know, we’re boring people.)

Since we try to put as many veggies and fruit in our diet as we can, essentially eating a largely plant-based diet, breakfast has become a major part of our “greening the plate” effort.

To achieve that, we use a product found at Trader Joe’s called “Cruciferous Crunch Collection.” It consists of a mix of shredded kale, cabbage (both green and red, light on the red), broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Yummy! Especially when you sautee it with some coconut oil…

Here’s the detailed recipe:

Food, Diet, Everyday

The main ingredients. Good fats, proteins, and a mountain of green stuff.

  • 1/4 cup of roasted and unsalted cashew pieces
  • 1 tbs coconut oil
  • 184 g Cruciferous Crunch Collection (1 bag)
  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • 4 large eggs (cage free)
  • Spices to taste (I use a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, turmeric, chili powder, and red pepper flakes)

Simply roast the cashes pieces at high heat a little in coconut oil before adding the green stuff and reducing to medium heat. Stir and mix until the green stuff is pretty much glistening and feeling soft, then start adding in turn the spices, raisins, and finally the eggs. Continue mixing between each ingredient, and finally until the eggs are cooked and completely mixed with the rest.

According to the software I used for the calculations, this recipe provides 64 grams of carbs, 39 grams of protein, and 49 grams of fat. Total calories: 830. If you share equally between two persons, divide those numbers by two. (We share roughly 55-45.)

The fat comes essentially from the cashews and the coconut oil, both recognized as sources of healthy fats. But feel free to substitute. The cashews, by the way, add a nice crunchiness to the mix.

The proteins come from the eggs almost exclusively, and as we all know now, eggs are good eating.

The cruciferous crunch mix provides some of the carbs, and a whole lot of phytonutrients and stomach-filling (and gut-friendly) fiber. So the big contributor to the carbs count is obviously the raisins.

Food, Diet, Everyday

Breakfast! I think of this as yummy. Maybe it takes some getting used to.

That’s breakfast.

It may not look appealing to you, but in fact it is full of textures and shades of colours, admittedly mostly in the green-yellow range. But your digestive system does not care, ultimately, what the food looks like, and your taste buds can be reset to consider this very tasty.

Notice how there is no juice, no milk, no toast (no, not even whole wheat or gluten-free anything) in that breakfast? We drink a bit of coffee (add some 10-20 calories, because it is espresso, black) and some water. That’s all we need.

And we feel full for a good long time.

Were we to add those other things, often referred to as “parts of a balanced breakfast” but really just loads of extra carbs and some fats, our individual calorie counts would likely double. And we’d get very little additional nutritional value for it.

Notice also how none of this is done in order to get some “super foods” onto our plates. This is just our normal breakfast.

And that’s the key: The normal food has to be good food. Everyday.

NOT FOOD, like coffee, and other stuff that might happen during the day, must become a very small part of your diet. Not the main part.

That being said, keep in mind that I’m not here to provide meal plans, or tell you what to eat. You’re grownups, so you should be able to figure it out for yourselves.

I’m here to tell you to move more, to exercise regularly: To become everyday athletes.

But sharing recipes among everyday athletes is fair game. So feel free to try this.

Pictures by Sacha Veillette, yesterday morning, while making the usual breakfast.