Driven by a family history of heart disease and diabetes and a job that is both high stress and low in physical activity, I have made exercise a regular part of my life. I started with 20 minutes a day and gradually built from there. Even though a regular part of my life, it is not always easy to get up and get it done. Is it worth it? How much exercise do I need? What type of exercise do I need? Not easy questions with all the competing information out there.
The First 20 Minutes, by Gretchen Reynolds, tackles these important questions. Ms. Reynolds seeks to provide today’s best answers to these questions by reviewing what science is currently telling us about exercise. She reviews what science says about its benefits, how much we should do, and what type we should do. And she uncovers a number of surprises uncovered by science in recent year.
In doing so, she has written a book that has helped me hone my exercise program and encourages me to keep it up.
While I think the book is worth buying and reading in its entirety, the greatest benefits will be gained in reading first chapter of the book (which may take more than 20 minutes).
While I hope to write more specifics later, here are some of the big ideas and specifics I got from the book:
- We get significant benefits to our longevity from regular activity and/or exercise, esp. from “the first 20 minutes”. So, “Move More” .
- There are profound additional benefits to our level of fitness for going beyond the first 20 minutes, and esp. with moderate intensity aerobic and strength training workouts. Recommended amounts of exercise for fitness is 150 minutes low-intensity exercise OR 75 weekly minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise plus weight training twice a week. You can split them almost any way you want. I am doing the later (bolded) approach.
- For the more fitness and athletic-minded, you must push yourself. Yes there is a point where additional activity yields little in the way of benefits to health.
- High-intensity internal training provides a way to health benefits in even less time. Recent studies indicate there is little value in stretching (“flexibility is overrated”) nor extended warm-ups. Instead brief dynamic stretching is more effective preparation.
- Diet and exercise – The book confirmed my notion that there is no pill (or powder) you can take to get in shape or that will contribute significantly to fitness. You just need to eat well.
- Drink when you are thirsty; don’t over do it.
- In regard to the relationship between of exercise and weight loss: if you are exercising to lose weight, you are likely to be disappointed. Instead, exercise for the health benefits, not for weight loss. Research however, does find that regular exercise benefits weight control as most people who keep weight off, exercise regularly.
- In regard to strength training and workouts, the book provides two primary lessons to me:
- Our form matters. For example many damage their backs by doing core training, and esp. crunches, incorrectly. I do my strength exercises with a DVD with a trainer who leads a workout consistent with best practices. (see my recommendations).
- It is good to take care in activities to prevent injury as you are much more likely to get injured if you have been injured before.
- Exercise also provides very significant benefits to our mind and mood. The chapter is definitely an encouragement to me to exercise when I don’t want to (for more on this see my review on Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain)
Again, there is much more and I hope in the coming weeks to provide more specifics from the book. In the mean time, you might pick up a copy from the library and read at least the first chapter.