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

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.

The message is simple (but it is worth repeating)

Movement, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

A new beginning, of sort, so time to get moving again.

To get the ball rolling, not because of the new year but because of the launch of the No-brainer Fitness Facebook page (yes, I finally did that; one thing off my list, hooray!), I thought I’d re-visit the message of No-brainer Fitness.

Although it is the time of year for lists of resolutions and things to do, don’t be mistaken: This is NOT a list of resolutions.

It is much simpler than that. It is what should always be on your mind, every year, every day, every moment. To the point that it becomes automatic or, as I put it, a “no-brainer.”

About that name

By the way, for those of you curious about it, that is the point of the name “No-brainer Fitness.”

It is what Zen is all about. Far from being a mystical philosophy or esoteric design principle, Zen is about practicing something consciously so much and so systematically that thereafter you simply do whatever it is you have practiced without having to think about it anymore.

Anything you put your mind to long enough, practice hard enough, becomes second nature. Something in which your brain no longer needs to take an active part. Thus, a “no-brainer”.

The other meaning, that of something which makes perfect sense, and does not need to be thought through much, or at all, is also valid. Moving more is such a thing.

So let’s get back to it

One thing you need to know about No-brainer Fitness is that, although I get side-tracked at times, and try to infuse the posts with my own type of humour, I always get back on track.

Therefore, what you need to know about No-brainer Fitness, is that it stands for one single, very simple prescription, and two secondary recommendations:

1) Move more

Movement is the key to fitness and health. It has been shown time and time again, be it in terms of the effect of exercise on body functions, brain activity, and as was recently reported, our ability to age well and remain healthy and active for a long time.

Some the prescription is to move more, move all the time, move everyday. Not necessarily training for a specific sport, which is great and I encourage, but at least get into the habit of NOT being sedentary and using energy-saving devices like cars and elevators all the time.

2) Don’t diet

So you’ve gained some weight over the years (who hasn’t?). Your sedentary lifestyle and sitting job are causing your mid section to expand faster than the rest of the universe? What’s the solution?

Go on a diet, of course!

WRONG!!!

The problem is, in a large proportion (pun intended), that you do not move enough. So the solution cannot be to change what you eat. At least, that is true in the same proportion as the cause of the problem.

So the first recommendation is to NOT go on a special diet, NOT focus on what you eat, and NOT obsess over your weight. And I’m not alone in saying it. (That, by the way, is a link to an excellent and very refreshing blog post by a dietician.)

Rather, get moving more, and slowly learn to listen to your body. Because, guess what, if you listen, it will tell you what it needs, and over time you’ll get to eat better, without counting calories or obsessing about food. (Obsession of any kind, even obsession about training and exercise, it NOT healthy.)

For more specific food advice, I defer to those who know more than I do on the subject. I prefer to stick to a simple (no-brainer) approach: Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.

3) Cut back on NOT FOOD

Which of course does not preclude me from making further suggestions about what NOT to eat.

You see, the “Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” statement above is not originally from me. It seems simplistic, but for full effect you have to consider what “food” actually is. And for that, you need to remember that we are, fundamentally, animals.

Animals eat plants and other animals. At least, that’s what omnivores like us do. They don’t eat inorganic matter, stuff that does not grow on plants or that don’t move of their own volition.

The way I like to put it, “food” is anything that comes directly from plants, or that has been transformed mechanically and/or chemically from plants by other living creatures. Another way of putting it: food is biological matter that has been minimally transformed by means other than other animals’ biological processes.

Yes, I know, it can get messy and scientific-y. So often I use a shorter definition: If you can’t find it in nature in the form you eat it, then it’s probably overly processed, and you should pass.

For instance, things like coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks, and booze, are what I consider NOT FOOD. (For more on that, feel free to read a couple of my past posts.) When’s the last time you came across a free-flowing river of coffee? Or a tree in which Coca-Cola bottles grow? Or dug up a plant and found perfectly shaped and wrapped Hershey Kisses in its roots?

You get the point.

Cut back on those NOT FOOD items is my second recommendation; you’ll not only remove unnecessary calories (and in some cases drugs) from your body, but you’ll make room for the real taste of food, and the refreshing feeling of water going down. And that’s why you should do it.

That’s it

The rest, as they say, is details. (That’s also, as they also say, where the Devil lives, but that’s another story.)

If you insist on seeing this as a list of resolutions for the new year, then consider that you don’t need a list. You need only one item:

Get moving more!

You body will do the rest; just pay attention to what it tells you in the process.

I’ve now taught you everything you need to know. But feel free to keep an eye on this blog, and like the brand spanking new Facebook page… (Please?)

Picture from Pixabay.

Sometimes, you just gotta take some time off

Rest, Sickness, Exercise

Sometimes you just gotta rest…

I have a confession to make:

Although I’ve completed an iron-distance triathlon, a couple of half iron distance races, and 3 or 4 marathons (beyond the one of the annual Ironman(TM) race I participate in) every year for the last 7 years, and you could say I’m in pretty good shape (for my age), sometimes I take time off.

In fact this year I’ve taken quite a bit of time off for various good reasons. There was minor (but cumbersomely placed) surgery in the spring and a lot of traveling throughout the year (not to mention a stress fracture in my left foot during a marathon). But one of those reasons is why I’m taking some time off right now: I’m sick.

Exercising regularly and being careful what I eat, my health has never been better. This I know objectively, as well as through the way I’m feeling. But I’m still exposed to a lot of bacteria and viruses just by remaining minimally social, using a lot of public transit, and living with a healthcare professional (who happens to be exposed to a lot of stuff at the hospital).

So once in a while I get sick.

Not often, mind you, and, because my immune system is in great shape, it never lasts very long. I take a couple of days of complete rest from training, even going as far as spending most of that time in bed, and in no time I’m up and about doing my regular activities again.

Some folks might try to convince you that by training hard, or eating particular foods, or consuming a specific supplement, you will never get sick. That’s utter nonsense! Such people are trying to sell you something. They are also either lying through their (cavity-free, no doubt) teeth, or at least suffer from some sort of selective memory syndrome.

The simple truth is that, unless you live completely isolated from all other human beings, everyone gets sick once in a while.

However, what is well demonstrated in the medical literature and backed by a lot of athletes at all levels is that exercising regularly, even training hard (but without over-training), strengthens your immune system. Combined with taking good rest when you are sick, and continuing to eat well, you will heal faster and recover from the little bout of whatever ails you if you exercise regularly.

The key is to move a lot, on a daily basis, and rest well when you get sick. No great secret, no magic bullet. Just working with your body.

This being said, I’m going back to bed. If my cats will give me a bit of space on it…

Picture from Pixabay, and not of one of my cats (but of the same species)

What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.

 

Revisiting the “The Paleo Thing”

Paleo, Diet, Movement, Daily

Hunting appears to have defined us, but it is only part of the (pre)history.

Since writing the “Let’s do the Paleo Thing (yeah!)” post a couple of weeks ago, I came across a highly relevant article from National Geographic.

So I thought I would share the link, and cherry-pick some of the key passages to save you time. It is well worth the read, so I urge you to not just read this post.

Now, although the article was actually published before I wrote my blog post, I must insist that I had not read it.

It just so happens that the article makes pretty much the same arguments I did, only with more smart people being quoted in the process:

1) The Paleolithic is defined by more than what humans ate, and the main problem is the change in lifestyle, not what we eat:

“Studies suggest that indigenous groups get into trouble when they abandon their traditional diets and active lifestyles for Western living. Diabetes was virtually unknown, for instance, among the Maya of Central America until the 1950s. As they’ve switched to a Western diet high in sugars, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Siberian nomads such as the Evenk reindeer herders and the Yakut ate diets heavy in meat, yet they had almost no heart disease until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many settled in towns and began eating market foods. Today about half the Yakut living in villages are overweight, and almost a third have hypertension, says [biological anthropologist William Leonard of Northwestern University]. And Tsimane people who eat market foods are more prone to diabetes than those who still rely on hunting and gathering.”

“Many paleoanthropologists say that although advocates of the modern Paleolithic diet urge us to stay away from unhealthy processed foods, the diet’s heavy focus on meat doesn’t replicate the diversity of foods that our ancestors ate—or take into account the active lifestyles that protected them from heart disease and diabetes.”

2) Knowing exactly what our ancestors ate is nigh-impossible:

“But is it true that we all evolved to eat a meat-centric diet? Both paleontologists studying the fossils of our ancestors and anthropologists documenting the diets of indigenous people today say the picture is a bit more complicated. The popular embrace of a Paleo diet, [paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas] and others point out, is based on a stew of misconceptions.”

3) While meat was indeed part of the diet of our ancestors, the use of fire to cook food was perhaps more important in the greater scheme of things, and we definitely were eating plants, including grains, to survive:

The real Paleolithic diet, though, wasn’t all meat and marrow. It’s true that hunter-gatherers around the world crave meat more than any other food and usually get around 30 percent of their annual calories from animals. But most also endure lean times when they eat less than a handful of meat each week. New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.”

“So how do hunter-gatherers get energy when there’s no meat? It turns out that “man the hunter” is backed up by “woman the forager,” who, with some help from children, provides more calories during difficult times. When meat, fruit, or honey is scarce, foragers depend on “fallback foods,” says [paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks of George Washington University].”

““There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human,” says Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “Frankly, I think that misses half of the story. They want meat, sure. But what they actually live on is plant foods.””

“If [Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham] is right, cooking not only gave early humans the energy they needed to build bigger brains but also helped them get more calories from food so that they could gain weight.”

Oh, and by the way, we have kept evolving, as can clearly be seen by looking at the various populations around the world, and things like lactose tolerance into adulthood:

“All humans digest mother’s milk as infants, but until cattle began being domesticated 10,000 years ago, weaned children no longer needed to digest milk. As a result, they stopped making the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose into simple sugars. After humans began herding cattle, it became tremendously advantageous to digest milk, and lactose tolerance evolved independently among cattle herders in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Groups not dependent on cattle, such as the Chinese and Thai, the Pima Indians of the American Southwest, and the Bantu of West Africa, remain lactose intolerant.”

“What’s more, she found starch granules from plants on fossil teeth and stone tools, which suggests humans may have been eating grains, as well as tubers, for at least 100,000 years—long enough to have evolved the ability to tolerate them.”

In conclusion (because this is already getting long):

“We have gotten so good at processing foods that for the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they burn in a day. “Rough breads have given way to Twinkies, apples to apple juice,” [Wrangham] writes. “We need to become more aware of the calorie-raising consequences of a highly processed diet.””

“It’s this shift to processed foods, taking place all over the world, that’s contributing to a rising epidemic of obesity and related diseases. If most of the world ate more local fruits and vegetables, a little meat, fish, and some whole grains (as in the highly touted Mediterranean diet), and exercised an hour a day, that would be good news for our health—and for the planet.” (Emphasis mine.)

Reference:

The Evolution of Diet, by Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014, p. 35-53

Picture from Pixabay.