Don’t let “the future” turn into “too late”

Exercise, Brain, Daily, Purpose, Future You

The forward march of evolution? Perhaps we missed a fork in the road…

Yes, we’ve come a long way. And despite the difficulty to perceive it, we are still evolving as a species. Though perhaps not as fast as our capabilities to harvest (exploit) the natural world around us. Or the structure of our society.

But it is not all bad, because our brains are also quite capable of adapting when our bodies have not yet done so. It is not all gloom and doom. Really.

Which is not to say our brains don’t need all the help they can get. Signposts, so to speak, on the evolutionary road.

A short while ago, I talked about how a big part of what’s holding a lot of us back from exercising regularly is that, despite all the evidence we have, we tend to discount the future too much for our own good.

In that post, I ended up suggesting a strategy for reducing the strength of that effect, to help our brains deal with it: Having frequent good looks at ourselves. Not in a mirror, because it is not about how we look today; instead, we need to look at what some refer to as the “Future Self,” the person you want to be when you get old(er).

Even that, however, does not always suffice. Because there are strong forces aligned against our regular exercising.

No, there is no great conspiracy or big money interests in fattening us up. Just plain human nature: Mainly, a tendency to want to make money (a proxy for controlling reproductive resources), which drives most business activities, including the food industry; also, a propensity to not understand just how optimistic we tend to be about the future.

It is this latter part that I want to talk about today.

The Lure of the Future

Perhaps you’ve had a chance to watch the talk I mentioned in that previous post. If so, then what I’m about to say will already be familiar. If not, I still urge you to watch it, even though I’m about to give you another big chunk of knowledge I gleaned from it.

At the same time as we discount the future benefits of being active and healthy, we tend to overestimate how much more willing to exercise we will be tomorrow. Like last time, I have a few pictures, also shamelessly lifted from the excellent talk by Dr. Whatshername, to bring the point home…

Exercise, Daily, Everyday

The present eventually turns into the future. But is it the future we had anticipated?

In a nutshell, today you might say “I’m tired, and I have a lot to do, so I’ll rest today and exercise tomorrow.” (Note: This can be quite alright, given that it is the exception, and that you do, in fact, regularly exercise. Rest is often a good idea, and listening to your body when it asks for it is always in good order.)

But what happens the next day? And the day after that? Without a strong commitment device (a Purpose, ideally, or perhaps some other mechanisms to help us in the short term), many of us simply overestimate how willing they will be to exercise in the future, and mainly fail to do it in the present.

It is called the “Present Bias,” but it could also be called “Procrastination.” I like to think of it as boundless optimism about the future, because what it comes down to is precisely that: An optimism about how much more willing and capable to exercise we will be tomorrow.

Admit it, you’ve felt that way. I sure have, all too often.

What’s wrong with that?

Exercise, Fitness, Health, Everyday

Today is the day. Everyday.

Well, when tomorrow comes, it is no longer “tomorrow,” but again “today.” And guess what? “Today” we feel just like we did on the “today” which was “yesterday.”

Confused yet?

Don’t think about it too much. Just keep this in mind: Today is the only time you have to make the right choices.

And there is a strategy to help your brain with that as well.

No-brainer Decisions

Yup, you guessed it (probably): The trick is to not think about making that decision, and just do what you know you need to do.

Don’t consider what you feel like doing tomorrow. Consider that exercising is the right thing to do today.

That’s a big part of the reason why I chose “No-brainer Fitness” as the name for this blog. I recognized a long time ago that many of the decisions we agonize over should not be agonized over. They need to become automatic. No-brainers. Because that is a good way to follow one’s Purpose on a daily basis.

By the way, the same applies to food as well. In everything I wrote about exercise, in this post and the previous one, you can substitute “eating right” and get the same result:

Diet, Exercise, Daily, Everyday, Health, Fitness

Exercise and diet, diet and exercise; two parts of the same future discounting and present bias.

It all comes down to the choices we make on a daily basis.

Those choices are the signposts of your own personal evolution towards fitness and a long, active life.

Being able to imagine the future, thinking about Future You, is a powerful tool. But too much optimism about the future, only just a day away, is also a dangerous procrastination device. It is not called a “double-edged” sword for nothing.

Hence my recommendation: Keep Future You in mind as you go through each day, and don’t consider what you might do tomorrow. Decide, each day, to work towards that Future You.

Perhaps more importantly, don’t even make the decision. Just exercise. It’s a no-brainer! Or it has to become one…

_____________

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 have spoken in a previous post.

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.

A bit of advice (about health and fitness advice) for the New Year

New Year, Resolution, Fitness, Health

It’s that time of the year again. Might as well make a good resolution.

New Year, New You, right?

This is the arbitrary time of the year when most of us will make resolutions of one kind or another. Even if we don’t say it out loud.

This is the time of the year that is like manna from Heaven for gyms and fitness clubs.

True, it is often the best of times to sign up, and you can get all sorts of great deals. But it is also the worst of times to sign up, because in all likelihood it will be a wishful waste of money.

By the way, there are other moments of the year when you can get equal, if not better, deals. Low times for gym attendance, like the summer months. But that’s not the point of this post.

My point, and it is a short one, is to suggest a different kind of resolution for the new year. One that is easy to keep, and doesn’t cost you anything. In fact, it may save you a whole lot of money.

The idea is simple: Apply a systematic filter to the advice you hear or read about fitness and health in 2015.

Let’s face it, we all want to be fit and have health for a long, active life. So we are prone to believe those who tell us we can get it, provided we eat this food, or take that supplement, or join this or adopt that. Especially if it means almost not effort on our part.

When it comes to health, we are gullible. And it pays off for many unscrupulous people. Entire business plans are built on that kind of gullibility.

To help you fight that, I’m proposing a kind of checklist that you should use to evaluate the advice you are being given. It is not meant to replace your instinctual willingness to believe, but rather as a sobering second thought. You’ll still need to do the rest of the considering on your own.

So, here are the verifications to make before accepting advice on health and fitness (and, truth be told, anything, really):

1) Is the person providing the advice profiting financially from the advice?

2) In particular, is that profiting financially revolving around the sale of products such as supplements or special items, as opposed to straight out guidance and support?

3) Does the advice include claims that are extraordinary?

4) Is the advice claimed to be something very few people know, or that some conspiracy would normally preclude from being widely known?

Most health-related advice on the web and in magazines these days get a check mark on all four. Steer clear!

Claims of requiring no effort, of guaranteed results, and such, qualify as extraordinary, by the way. For things like that, you need proof, and not just some “before and after” photos which are so easy to fake.

Getting two or more check marks, especially towards the bottom of the list, must trigger an alarm bell in your head. Yes, there are some evil folks on this planet, but there is no great conspiracy of the medical establishment against effective remedies. Otherwise my wife is still waiting for her membership card.

Getting only the first one checked may not be so bad, since there are legitimate service providers (like personal coaches) that are well-meaning. But beware especially of those that cause you to check #2 as well.

Remember that fitness comes from being more active, first and foremost, not from buying products. That’s my advice, and it’s a no-brainer.

For this advice, and any other you are bound to hear in 2015, use the checklist above.

Your wallet will thank you.

New Year, Fitness, Health

Time to celebrate!

Pictures from Pixabay.

Not until we also have artificial microbes to help us digest that

Artificial, NOT FOOD, Diet, Science, Fiber, Sweetener

We are not made of plastic, so why would we eat artificial stuff? Think about it.

You might have heard about this.

If you haven’t, then it is high time.

Although I have no tendency towards crying wolf, this is quite scary, and prompts me to want to warn everyone against certain aspect of our modern food supply.

For far too long we have been treating our bodies as if they were simple machines to which we only need to provide fuel (food) and some lubrication (water) to keep it going. What this picture of the human body, what I call the car analogy, fails to recognize is the intricacies, the inter-connectedness if you wish, of the processes that take place inside our bodies. That’s partially why I really hate car analogies; they are too simplistic by far.

Thanks to recent research into the microbiome in our digestive system, the microbes (bacteria and viruses) that live in our guts, this picture is being drastically revised.

So I’d like to draw your attention to two recent items of information that are hinting at greater care to be taken about what we allow into our bodies.

(Hint: Food is a good thing. NOT FOOD, not so much.)

Added Fibre

We’ve all heard that our diet could use more fiber (or fibre, if you are Canadian or British). It seems the entire (developed) world is constipated, by the sound of it. And we are not feeling full soon enough, so we keep eating, to the point of eating too much, which does not help with the constipation part.

Fibre, you see, no matter how you spell it, affects satiety, the feeling of having eaten enough, and facilitates the transit of food through our digestive tract. Eating more of it is a good thing because you feel full faster, and stuff goes through you more smoothly. Or at least comes out more easily. (Enough said. At least there is no car analogy for that.)

So what are we to do about it?

Eating food containing fibre is of course too difficult for most of us. (I’m being facetious. Bear with me.) So we must find easier ways. That’s where the folks who sell us food products come in. (Notice the presence of the word “products” in the previous sentence? That’s also a hint.)

And thus enter added fibres in our diets. Through a lot of products we are sold with added fibre.

What those companies don’t tell you, and what the recent research results seem to demonstrate, is that this added fibre is not of the kind that really makes a positive difference for our bodies. You would think that in order to add fibre in their products, companies would extract them from food sources in the first place. But that’s not the case. It is a lot cheaper to take fibre from non-food sources.

Unfortunately, those additives, I call them artificial fibre in the sense of not being fibre occurring naturally in food, are the wrong size and the wrong type to do the job. Simply put (from the Nutrition Action Newsletter):

“But all these added fibres are really different,” explains (Joanne) Slavin (professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota). “If people think, ‘I’ll get nine grams of fibre in this chocolate bar and I won’t have to worry about getting enough fibre,’ that’s a mistake.” (…)

“Most added fibres don’t affect satiety,” noted Slavin. “If you can sneak added fibre into a food or drink and it doesn’t affect the taste, it’s not likely to have any effect on satiety.”

Basically, added fibre is a marketing gimmick that does nothing good. But as it goes through you, it could do something bad to some of the good bacteria in there, so why risk it? At any rate, don’t waste your money products containing such NOT FOOD.

Artificial Sweeteners

It seems we also have a sweet tooth, for various reasons, the most important of them having to do with evolution and the scarcity of nutrient-rich food sources throughout most of that time.

But too much sugar means too many calories, and the logical consequences of weight gain and increased risks of negative health outcomes like heart disease and diabetes (to mention only those).

Once again, asking us to reduce our consumption of sugar is obviously not the way to go. Especially since it seems sweets are practically addictive.

So what is to be done?

The obvious answer is to find alternatives that are as sweet but that, somehow, do not provide calories.

And thus enter artificial sweeteners into our diet.

In theory, according to all the science artificial sweetening agents’ developers have accumulated, these sweet but otherwise inert additives go through our digestive system without contributing a single calorie.

What they seem to have forgotten, and what new evidence is pointing to, is that as they go through our bodies, artificial sweeteners affect the many living creatures in there. In a nutshell, they modify the equilibrium of our gut microbiome.

This can be bad, as a recent article published in Nature indicated. Why?

Those bacteria and viruses have evolved along with us, and work together with our digestive system. In fact, our digestive system includes the microbiome. But it is also always a bit of a battle between bacteria that help, and bacteria that can hinder our health. When our diet changes, the relative strength of each type of bacteria can be affected. Sometimes in a way that is very detrimental.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from a New Scientist article about the study:

“The most shocking result is that the use of sweeteners aimed at preventing diabetes might actually be contributing to and possibly driving the epidemic that it aims to prevent,” says Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who co-supervised the work with his colleague Eran Segal.

Segal says most artificial sweeteners pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. This means that when they get to our intestine, they directly encounter our gut bacteria. Because what we eat can shift this bacterial make-up, the researchers wondered whether the glucose intolerance might be caused by a change in the bacterial composition.

A second test, with saccharin, confirmed this. Wiping out the rodents’ gut bacteria using antibiotics abolished all the effects of glucose intolerance in the mice. In other words, no bacteria, no problem regulating glucose levels.

Further experiments supported this conclusion. For example, when the researchers transferred the gut bacteria of mice who had consumed saccharin into mice whose guts were bacteria-free, it caused these previously healthy mice to become glucose intolerant. Similar transplants from mice drinking glucose-enriched water had no negative effects on health.

So what was going on? When the team analysed the gut bacteria present before and after the experiments, they saw an increase in several different types of bacteria in the mice that consumed sweeteners. Segal says these bacteria have already been linked with obesity in humans in previous studies.

The take home message
In the case of added fibre, which I dubbed artificial fibre, we are being duped into eating indigestible stuff that has no real benefit for our health. That’s the very definition of NOT FOOD.

In the case of artificial sweeteners, some of us might in fact negatively affect their health even as they try to prevent weight gain. Far from helping control conditions like pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, it may contribute to causing such diseases in some people.

There is only one sure way to not get duped, and to promote health through food: Eat real food, not too much, and mostly from plants. If it has been processed by something else than the bio-mechanical and bio-molecular apparatus of something alive, be very, very cautious.

Understand that we are animals, inhabited by other animals and microbes with which we have co-evolved, and that together we are supposed to eat natural food.

Until we have some artificial gut microbes designed specifically to deal with any artificial stuff we might put in our bodies, we should refrain from eating any.

No need to think particularly long or hard about it. It’s a no-brainer!

You can find a blog post from Scientific American that talks about the research on artificial sweeteners; it has a link to the original article in Nature, in case the one I provided earlier in this post does not work. It is the same research about which the New Scientist article was talking in issue 2987 published on September 17, 2014 (written by Helen Thomson).

For some information on added (artificial) fibre, look into the Nutrition Action Newsletter of October 2014; it is a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Picture from Pixabay.

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.

 

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).