Now that’s my kind of conspiracy theory

Fitness, Health, JFK, History

Finally, a JFK conspiracy worth subscribing to…

I recently visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

I’m no history buff, nor am I particularly into admiring political figures of the past (or present, for that matter). But I must admit that the visit turned out quite fascinating on various levels.

This guy (John F. Kennedy, to be precise) clearly died way too soon. I picked up a few good quotations and a new-found respect for what he tried to do during his brief stint as POTUS.

And I got one major surprise in the process, as the picture at the top of this post hints at.

You see, back in the early 1960s, people like JFK were already very concerned about the fitness level of Americans.

JFK re-launched a council on fitness early on in his presidency, and got a fitness program created and disseminated to schools in the US. Later on, he enlisted the help of the artist who was then drawing the Superman comics and asked him to create a special story in which Superman went on a mission to help kids get into better shape.

You could say that JFK was conspiring with a few other people to improve the fitness of Americans. That’s the kind of conspiracy that’s worth talking about.

Keep in mind that this was back in the early 1960s! Already then, there was unease about the fitness level of people, and of kids in particular…

JFK, Superman, Fitness, Health, Exercise

This is done to promote fitness. Let’s hope I don’t get sued.

Some things change, some things stay the same

Sadly, JFK died before the book was published, but his successor got the comics published, as you can see from the other image.

Did it work? Apparently not; the general population, and kids in particular, have been getting less fit, even though elite athletes have been getting better and records have been broken systematically. You could say a wider chasm has been growing in terms of fitness, even as people have been getting wider…

What’s really interesting, however, other than the fact that this was happening already over 50 years ago, is that very little has changed in terms of what is being recommended as regular physical activity. Except perhaps that infamous rope climbing thing (now we beat the crap out of floors with ropes). Sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, running, variations on those themes.

We also have a lot more evidence, scientific at that, about how much to move, and at what intensity. Guess what? We should be moving every day. That’s a no-brainer.

Why has it not worked?

That’s a fair question. Consider the simple fact that we’ve known for a long while how to maintain our bodies; we’ve just fallen short of finding better ways to get people moving when they are not.

Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of understanding of how to best promote fitness among kids. Standardized tests and competitions are not the way to go; measuring personal improvements based on heart rate and deployed effort is much better, as Dr. Ratey illustrates in his excellent book Spark, (and about which I provided a brief review a few days ago).

We tend to focus on providing logical, rational, scientific arguments, trying to convince everyone of the importance of moving. Unfortunately, that does not work. Our relationship to effort is one based on emotion, not rationality. That’s the real problem. Something even Superman couldn’t fix.

What can’t be denied is that the last 50 years have seen a continued rise of suburban lifestyles that almost make cars mandatory even as schools have been cutting their physical education courses and made free play practically illegal in schoolyards. Instead of walking everywhere and playing, sometimes rough, now kids are driven and made to behave all the time when in fact what they need is to learn to use their bodies in a fun way and spend energy.

In any case, let’s not forget that we’ve been struggling with this for a while, so a solution is not likely to be easy. But we’ve known for a while that we need to move more, on a daily basis. That remains the key.

Moving On

By the way, the council on fitness still exists, and every few years a new document is created, new guidelines are provided, and so on. It’s an ongoing battle. The documents are getting thicker, perhaps so they can be used for weight lifting some day. The site is there, though I have yet to find useful advice there.

Instead, we should all join the conspiracy directly and get moving. No thinking, no arguing, no rationalizing. Just moving.

Should you happen to be in the Boston area, I highly recommend a visit of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. If you go, do as I did (and dragged my mom into doing with me): Walk from the nearest T stop instead of taking the bus. That way you’ll keep to the spirit of John “Fitness” Kennedy…

Images “borrowed” from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum Web site, which is visible to everyone, and that I highly recommend visiting to anyone in the Boston area (so please don’t sue me for having used them).


Let’s do the Paleo Thing (yeah!)

(The above title needs to be sung to the tune of “Let’s do the Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

Paleo, Diet, Movement

Here’s a picture of something “Paleo.” But is it reality?

This post is not what you think it is.


Because the Paleo Thing, is not what you think it is.

Bear with me. It will all become clear.

The Paleo Diet is dead…

If you are even remotely interested in health and fitness, you have heard of the Paleo Diet by now.

Most likely than not, what you think you know about it, or what you have been told, is false.

How can I make such a bold statement? Very simply:

1) For starters, we don’t know for sure what our ancestors ate on a daily basis.

What we have is a picture, incomplete at that, of their overall dietary intake. We get this from the analysis of archeological sites dating back many thousands of years, and of human remains when they are available (and often much more recent if they are complete enough to provide information).

To a lesser extent, we get some data from the current diets of so-called “primitive” people that somehow manage to exist in this day and age. So we have bits and pieces, hints scattered all over the place. And we “reconstruct” the most likely scenarios based on that.

But the complete, precise picture will elude us until we have time travel capabilities. (As a physicist, I feel pretty confident about making the equally bold statement that we never will.)

2) More importantly for this discussion, there is hardly any food nowadays that are still exactly the way they were when our ancestors of the Paleolithic were around.

Over thousands of years of selecting, breeding, and, yes, engineering plants and animals, you can be certain that what you eat nowadays is related, but not the same, as what our ancestors ate.

And if you go out of your way to select foods that have not been changed in some way, you are back to the first point I made: chances are very slim that those food items were actually eaten by our ancestors. You can be pretty sure that our ancestors, smart as they were, picked the foods they preferred when they started domesticating things. They would not have spent what little energy and time they had available on the things they did not enjoy eating.

So what you eat nowadays, no matter what anyone tries to sell you, is not what our ancestors ate. It is not, therefore, “Paleo.”

This idea of “eating a Paleo diet” must die once and for all. (Yeah, I know, good luck with that.)

…long live the Paleo Lifestyle

Now, given there is no such thing as a “Paleo Diet”, what is the big fuss about?

There is another reason why adherent to the “Paleo Diet” get it wrong: They pretty much get stuck on the notion that diet is the key to healthy living.

But our ancestors of the Paleolithic had something else going for them that makes all the difference:

They moved more than we do. A lot more.

Just eating well, whatever you call the diet, is not enough if you are entirely sedentary.

On the other hand, moving a lot, even if your diet is less than perfect, makes a huge difference in your health and fitness to survive in this world.

That’s why instead of a “Paleo Diet,” we had better embrace a “Paleo Lifestyle.” A lifestyle that puts emphasis on what contributes most to our health: movement.

So I’m arguing we should embrace the “Paleo Lifestyle” by exercising and moving all the time.

That’s a lot more reasonable that pretending to be eating what our ancestors were eating while taking our cars to the corner store to buy some meat…

But, what about diet? you ask

Good question.

The “thing” in the “Paleo Thing” of the title is that when I talk about lifestyle, I do mean making choices about diet that make sense as well.

Without being “Paleo,” the diet part is actually quite simple, and something our ancestors were indeed doing: eat real foods, mostly from plants, and as close as possible to the way they are found in nature.

To put it another way: seek foods that are not processed, or that have been processed as little as possible.

By the way, that does not mean raw food. Our ancestors had discovered fire for cooking well before agriculture. It also does not mean vegetarian or vegan, though there are excellent ethical and philosophical reasons to embrace such diets.

But keep in mind that we are still physiologically very much like our ancestors. Incidentally, they were opportunistic omnivores, and ate just about what they could find as they moved about and over the seasons. That included roots, fruits, animals, plants, and even insects. At least, that’s the part of the picture that scientists are pretty sure about.

Therefore, the “Paleo Lifestyle” I’m suggesting consists of moving a lot more, on a daily basis, and eating unprocessed foods. (Though I’m still not touching insects.)

I realize that even that, given our current society, is like turning back the clock on a lot of modern comforts and energy-saving technology. It is not easy.

But does it make any more sense than pretending to be eating what our ancestors ate?

At least we know for sure how our ancestors moved: they used their feet!

Movement, Exercise, Paleo, Daily

Embrace the Paleo Lifestyle: use your feet more!

Pictures from Pixabay.

Dieting Does Not Work

Dieting does not work

Trying to lose weight? Stay away from the D verb…

It’s been a long time coming, and for that I must apologize. I was on a sort of “vacation” from No-brainer Fitness. Sort of.

Not an excuse, just the reality of starting a new job and upping my own training for my next Ironman(TM) (IM Louisville, on August 24th, in case you are curious).

And I took the opportunity to do quite a bit of reading, for this post, future posts, and just to relax…

So here it is, the post I’ve been planning for quite some time.

First, let’s be clear about what I mean, and what researchers in this area mean, when we talk about “dieting”.

A “diet” is, as I’ve indicated elsewhere in this blog and on No-brainer Fitness: D, what we eat. The word, a noun, in itself has no implied value of the quality of said diet; it simply is the correct term to describe the overall nutritional intake.

In contrast, when we use the verb “dieting”, or when we say “go on a diet”, we mean following a specifically designed diet that is providing a lower total quantity of calories than is generally required for sustaining normal activities. In effect, dieting is restricting the caloric content of your nutritional intake through a particular set of constraints as to which foods are eaten, or which quantity of food is eaten. Or both.

So it is fair to say things like “that’s not part of my diet” when talking about certain foods, or NOT FOOD items. But careful with anyone saying “I don’t eat that because I’m on a diet.” That spells trouble.

Dieting does not work

Eat well, not too much…


Because dieting does not work.

You don’t believe me? Perhaps you’d take someone else’s word on it:

“The typical outcome of dieting is that you will gain weight.” -Sandra Aamodt, in a TED Talk

Ah, yes, but that’s hardly better, since you don’t know who she is, and even though she has done way more research on the subject than I have, that’s still no guarantee.

Ok, so perhaps a comprehensive review by researchers on behalf of Medicare? That’s exactly the conclusion reached back in 2007 by researchers at the University of California. The title of the paper would be enough, but it would make for a very short post: “Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments – Diets Are Not The Answer”.

The main conclusion is that, while some weight loss occurs in the short term, if you follow the dieters for a while after, and it does not even need to be very long, you’ll find that dieting alone will lead to weight being gained back. And often some more.

This is why programs designed to cause weight loss based only, or in large part, on food intake changes are misguided at best, bad for your health at worst.

Dieting does not work

… mostly plants. And don’t forget to move more!


Still not convinced? Here are some cherry-picked quotations from the Traci Mann et al. paper:

“As noted in one review, ‘It is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain, that appears open to debate’ (Garner & Wooley, 1991, p 740).” Traci Mann et al., 2007, p. 221.

“There is some evidence for the effectiveness of diets in leading to other beneficial health outcomes, particularly in helping people stay off antihypertensive drugs and preventing diabetes, but this evidence is not consistent across the studies. In addition, it is not possible to detect whether the diet components of these interventions were potent, as the interventions all contained other components that may have reduced hypertension or prevented diabetes (e.g. increases in physical activity, reduction in smoking, alcohol use, and sodium).” Traci Mann et al., 2007, p. 224.

Speaking of the effect of exercise, because although not the focus of the research, it was mentioned, here’s a good one about one of the very few studies they came across that indicated a weight loss:

“These results may not directly be due to the diet part of the intervention, but in fact participants in the lifestyle intervention engaged in large amounts of physical activity (averaging 227 minutes per week), and this may be the potent factor.” Traci Mann et al., 2007, p. 222.

A final one, “for the road”:

“In sum, the potential benefits of dieting on long-term weight outcomes are minimal, the potential benefits of dieting on long-term health outcomes are not clearly or consistently demonstrated, and the potential harms of weight cycling, although not definitely demonstrated, are a clear source of concern. The benefits of dieting are simply too small and the potential harms of dieting are too large for it to be recommended as a safe and effective treatment for obesity.”

Don’t, not even for a moment, entertain the thought that, because it is no good for fighting obesity, it may be any better for “just losing a little weight.” The evidence is in, and anyone who tells you dieting works is trying to sell you something.

It appears clear, from this and other sources, that the solution on the food side of things is not to restrict calories and disallow some foods, or focus food intake on some nutrients or particular foods, but rather to promote a more healthy balance of whole foods in a quantity that is sufficient to sustain daily activities. It is a simple recipe: Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.

As to weight loss, if it is a desired outcome, it must come from increasing the level of activity. There is simply no other sustainable, or healthy, way of achieving that.

So: Eat well, and move a lot.


Traci Mann et al., Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatment – Diets Are Not The Answer, American Psychologist, April 2007, Vol. 62, No. 3, 220-233.

Here’s a link to Sandra Aamodt’s TED talk

Pictures from Pixabay.

The best moment of the day to exercise

Movement, Daily, Morning

Seize the day!

We all should be moving all the time, be true Everyday Athletes. But let’s face it, most of us have jobs that tie us down to a desk for large chunks of the day.

So the question can be raised: When, on any given day, should we exercise in order to fit it all in?

The answer, of course, is: first thing in the morning.

There you go, question answered. Shortest blog post ever!

Ok, maybe not.

Leaving aside the facile answer (which, for many reasons, remains probably the right answer for many), let’s have a look at the pros and cons of various moments of the day.

Assume for the sake of this discussion, that you are doing “some” exercise only. It could be the basic program of No-brainer Fitness: E, or some other light to moderate training regimen…

The Morning: Seize the Day!

The main positive aspects of exercising first thing in the morning is that you can make sure that it gets done. Especially if it is a short routine that only takes a few minutes, there’s no time like the present to get it done!

You are also mentally most energetic at this time of day; your stores of willpower and decision-making energy are full from a good night’s rest, so there is less chance you will give up in the middle of your routine.

However, be careful of eating a little something (unless you are purposefully training “on empty”) because you might not feel enough physical energy.

The main drawbacks to exercising in the morning come from family life and logistics in general. If you have kids, it is often hard to get everything prepared and the kids ready and fit some exercise in the morning. Also, having to get everything or everyone else ready then head over to a gym or pool, and then get ready yourself for work, is a major hassle.

It may be difficult to get the kind of class or training session you seek at a time and location that is practical for you in the morning. So perhaps mornings are not best for you.

However, for short exercise routines that don’t need to be done at a gym or pool, and especially with a good partner to share the load, the morning time remains ideal for exercise.

Also, a lot of the morning pressure can be lifted by getting up earlier, for instance well before the kids, and doing your exercise then. This can become your personal time. But make sure to get to bed earlier as well (getting to bed too late is a major problem in modern life, about which it is high time I write something on this blog…).

Lunch Time or Mid-Day: Re-energize!

The main positive aspect of exercising in the middle of the day is that it provides a very good break from work, and can even replenish your energy levels for the rest of the day.

It is certainly always a good change of pace, if you can swing it.

Unfortunately, most people’s lunch time is often too short to be of much use, especially considering the need to go somewhere, get changed, exercise, get changed again, go back, and still find time to eat something.

If you can just zip out for a run or a brisk walk, that’s great. And there might be some short fitness classes offered near your work. Much of anything else is sure to be a logistical challenge.

Our modern schedules are bad. We really should be able to take the time we need during the day to stay fit. Our productivity would soar! But until that’s the case, exercising in the middle of the day won’t be ideal.

Evening: Make or Break Time!

Everybody’s favourite time of day; freed from work, time for ourselves… and family/household obligations.

The evening provides far more flexibility for exercising, and there are plenty of activities to choose from. It would seem ideal at first, but there are major drawbacks.

By this point, even if you’ve psyched yourself all day, you are at your most tired mentally. And at the greatest risk of simply skipping the workout.

Also, there are equally many things to juggle at night: cooking, homework, dishes, catching up on your partner’s day, etc. Making time for exercise is even more an issue in the evening as it may seem to be in the morning. And without clear deadlines (school or daycare time, being at work, etc.) the temptation to take it easy so as to stress less often leads to overruns and something having to drop. Care to guess what is most likely to get dropped?

If you are still keen and decide to exercise “later”, say as last thing in the evening, then you face the worst possible scenario: needing another meal, and not being able to fall asleep for quite some time. Indeed, the boost to your hormonal levels and wakefulness due to exercise, and the need to refuel, will push your bedtime to the point of making getting up the next day a Herculean task.

Some light routine, a bit of strength work and relaxing stretches, or making sure your training is before dinner time, can work just fine.

So there you have it, more fully.

When’s the best moment to exercise? Whenever it works best for you.

But if you are thinking about starting a new routine, consider making it a morning one, and making sure you get that sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning, to give a positive outlook on your entire day…

(And this turned out to be one of my longest posts. But it could have been the shortest.)

Photo by Pixabay.

A (first) simple prescription for moving more

My goal is to help people move more. Sustainably. So that we will all be more fit, and ultimately more healthy. Or, perhaps more accurately, as healthy as we can be.

Let’s face it: with a few exceptions, we are all far too sedentary. We have used our tremendous brainpower over the centuries to devise ways to save ourselves much in terms of efforts and physical labour.

So it is only natural that I propose some ways of moving more. “About time this blog starts being useful”, you might even think!

If you are hoping for a silver bullet, a no-effort required method that has guaranteed success, you will be disappointed.

If you are hoping for a simple way to make a big difference, well, then, there is hope. But it requires some effort nevertheless.

I’d like to propose a first tookit, a prescription of sort, to get moving more:

1) Move every hour.

Whether at work or at home, we tend to sit way more than is healthy. What you should do is 10 minutes of moving for every 50 of sitting. At least 5 minutes, if you think 10 is too much. The moving part does not need to be very dynamic. Go for a walk on your floor, or around the block. Do some squats and some push-ups. Or take the stairwell and go up one floor, then back down. The key is to not spend hours on end without moving. Getting that blood to flow a little faster will help your overall productivity. Also, the mental break of switching away from what you are doing does wonder for idea generation and clarification…

2) Take the stairs.

I warned you (if you read my previous post), but this theme will keep coming back. Stairs are great. Stairs are your friends. Really. Whenever there are escalators, don’t take them. Whenever you “must” take an elevator, get off a floor or two higher or lower than where you are going, and walk some stairs. There’s a big opportunity for daily, quality moving, in just making that slight tweak to your habits. It really doesn’t take that much longer, and the payoff is substantial.

3) Walk more.

Whether you commute by car or public transit, a long distance or a short one, a change to your habits to include more walking will make a huge difference. Get off a stop (or more) sooner than you usually do and walk the rest of the way. Park your car at a farther (and perhaps less expensive) parkade and walk from there. If you normally drive but could take public transit, consider switching to the already more physically demanding method. The key thing is to include some systematic walking in your normal habits on a daily basis.

4) Do something with your muscles every day.

This is more tricky because it conjures up images of body building and going to the gym. But, in fact, although it is the more difficult part to add to your daily routine, it has great potential and does not require that much of an effort. I’m a big fan of the “7-Minute Workout” which aims to get your most important muscle groups to work a little more than most of us are unfortunately used to in our sedentary lifestyle. Restoring muscle tone means increasing your base metabolism, and immediately helping with your overall ability to deal with daily demands put on your body by the rest of your activities.

That’s it. For now.

I’ll get back to this topic frequently, offering more advice and tricks, and explaining the numerous benefits. But there you have it. Already enough to make a big difference…