Browsing the archives for the fitness tag.
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Getting More Fit Without Hard Work

Habits

Between late 2005 and early 2010, I lost more than 60 pounds as I gradually got the hang of exercising regularly and eating well. From a starting weight of 238, I dropped in fits and starts to 175 while adding a substantial amount of muscle. For the first time in my life, people were calling me “thin” and worrying I wasn’t eating enough (though they don’t need to worry: I’m nowhere near starvation). Since then, I’ve remained fit and active, even while my weight goes modestly up and down within a healthy range.

It’s not just about diet
Eating habits are an important part of getting fit, but in many ways they’re both the harder part and the less important part. The other key piece, of course, is exercise. Does the word “exercise” bring to mind images of people sweating on treadmills while being slowly bored to death, or running beside the road at 5:00 in the morning? Because while it can take that form, exercise can also be easy and appealing. After all, it’s not automatically true that when we use our bodies, we’re uncomfortable or unhappy–in fact, the reverse is closer to the truth. If jumping into hard-core, sweaty, “no pain no gain” exercise doesn’t appeal to you, there are many more tempting ways to get started. The wonderful thing about this is that regular exercise, especially in certain forms, becomes a “keystone habit”: that is, a positive change in behavior that encourages other positive changes.

Walking
I’ve heard it said that walking burns about as many calories per mile as running, but this turns out not to be true. In fact, if you look at net calories burned (that is, how many extra calories we’re burning while exercising compared to the amount we burn to maintain basic bodily functions even if we’re just sitting on the couch), running burns about twice as many calories per mile. Since a typical running speed is in the neighborhood of twice the typical walking speed, this means running burns about four times as many extra calories per hour as walking. (If you’ve heard that walking and running burn about the same number of calories or are just interested in the topic, see this article for some details and the study on which the statement is based.)

However, so what? The time advantage may mean a lot to someone who has no time to walk, but it’s often much easier to make time for walking than for running. There’s little need for special clothing or for showering afterward, so walking is actually a bit more efficient than it might seem in the time department. Walks are also a good way to spend time with friends or family members and a free activity that’s good for everyone involved. Walking lifts moods and provides a good opportunity for conversation. Walks can provide quality time with a romantic partner, children, or adult family members. They can make it possible to meet and interact with neighbors, and they are often an excellent way to improve mood (see “The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise“). Walking isn’t just exercise: it can be a mood booster, social time, family time, time to yourself, or a way to get from Point A to Point B (and not be dripping with sweat when you arrive).

Other easy ways in
Other easy kinds of exercise can be more strenuous but more entertaining. Dancing, for example, can often keep a person interested and happy for hours while providing anything from a mild to an intense workout. Speaking from personal experience, you don’t even have to be very good at it to both enjoy it and get the exercise benefits.

In the same way, any safe activity that keeps us in motion and keeps us engaged provides an avenue for exercise as entertainment. At our house, for example, both kids and adults play the outdated “dancing” video game Dance Dance Revolution. Taekwondo is nearly always engrossing for me, in the same way that kickboxing or rock climbing might be engrossing for someone else. Other options include team sports, group walks and bicycle rides, hiking, swimming, and paddling.

Limitations
It’s true that going for a walk twice a week or going out dancing every once in a while alone isn’t likely to make a dramatic difference in health–but it will make some difference, and even if it just means a few pounds lost over a month or two, that’s progress in the right direction. What’s important is that when any kind of exercise–whether it’s easy and entertaining or energetic and effortful–becomes a habit, that habit provides both a sense of competence and a metabolic boost that can set the stage for more improvements, with the end result of a dramatic change for the better.

Photo by Natodd

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Experimenting With a $100 Bet

Self-motivation examples

My son, who’s 14, has been wanting to get in better shape for quite some time. We’ve talked about good methods and about how to change diet and exercise to lose weight and build muscle, but he’s found it difficult to get moving. Often he’d begin to do something–say go walking every day or track everything he eats–but give up soon afterward. I suspect that part of the problem was not being sure that what he was doing would even work.

Motivating other people
My study and writing hasn’t generally been about motivating other people: it’s been about motivating ourselves. The big difference between those two tasks, if you ask me, is that when we’re motivating ourselves, we have direct access to the brain in question, and when motivating others, we don’t. Since the means I talk about have to do with our own thinking and attitudes, they’re not as useful to try to use on other people.

Still, I had been supporting my son as much as I could, offering information when he asked for it, volunteering techniques for making better progress, and talking through obstacles. But I wasn’t going to try to make him get more fit through imposing rules. If he was going to learn a healthy lifestyle, he’d have to decide to adopt healthy habits on his own. While I buy healthy food and make sure he has access to exercise activities, I’m pretty sure going beyond that and trying to force him to get fit would backfire in the long run (and maybe in the short run, too).

The bet
So what did I do? I decided to try an experiment, and I bet him a hundred dollars he couldn’t lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks.

10 pounds in 8 weeks isn’t a record-breaking goal, but it’s pretty solid weight loss, enough to know for sure that better fitness is possible and to see visible improvement. As to the hundred dollars, I reasoned that if he wanted to participate in some kind of exercise program for 8 weeks that cost $100, I’d scrape that money together in that situation. I’d be willing to do the same in this special case if he were going to exercise on his own.

He took the bet. He didn’t have anything like $100, so we established in the beginning that if he lost, he’d be paying it off in trade: I have plenty of little things he can do to help me with my own projects.

Yet I made it clear from the beginning that I wasn’t rooting for him to lose: instead, I’d do anything I could think of to help him win. I didn’t know what the long-term effects of winning the bet might be, but I figured if he won (I was pretty sure that was possible), he’d at least gain confidence that he could lose weight whenever he really made up his mind to, and there’s good research to support the idea that belief in one’s ability to accomplish something is a crucial building block for motivation.

How he did
The first two or three weeks were not promising. He lost a pound or two early on, but he stopped there. He didn’t seem strongly motivated, even though mentally he had already spent the $100.

Somewhere around the fourth week, though, his attitude changed. We had been talking about how his chances of winning the bet were weakening every day. At the rate he was going, he’d lose the bet.

Spurred on by thoughts of not getting the things he wanted to buy with the money and by worry about how long it would take to work off his debt if he lost, he got in gear. Instead of generally intending to exercise every once in a while, he exercised every day that he could, mostly cardio with some strength training. He stopped asking for and eating junk food and fast food: where they had been uncommon treats before, now he cut them entirely out of his diet. He chose salads without dressing for lunches at school and stuck with lean, healthy options at home. When he didn’t know whether or not a food was good for weight loss, he asked me, and I did my best to give him good guidelines. He avoided most carbs and focused on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a few whole grains. He stopped drinking juice and lemonade and stuck with spring water. And he started losing weight.

In fact, he lost weight very quickly: several pounds a week. He still had two weeks to spare when his weight loss hit ten pounds. He repeated the winning weigh-in with me as a witness, and was ceremoniously awarded his prize. It was spent on the wished-for items within hours.

The aftermath
I was hoping that he might develop some good habits in the course of his weight loss experiment, but that was based on the idea that he would adopt a healthy regimen over the whole eight weeks, not on the idea that he would lose almost all the weight in a self-disciplined rush in the middle. He had gotten down three weeks of good habits, but for complex behaviors, three weeks is rarely long enough for a habit to form (see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“).

So it wasn’t surprising, though it was disappointing, to see my son go back pretty much to his old habits of eating (although he’s a little more restrained about things like juice and desserts these days). It’s encouraging, though, that he is still doing fairly regular exercise. It appears that his short flirtation with weight loss may have gotten him over some reservations about exercise, which matches my experience: once you start doing it regularly, especially if you can find a mode that’s pleasurable for you, you no longer work so hard to avoid it.

So, was it a good idea?
In the end, I’m going to call this one a limited success. It certainly isn’t an ideal approach, since it didn’t do much of anything to change his internal attitudes or supply him with a long-burning passion for fitness (something that’s very difficult to even do for ourselves, let alone other people). It also didn’t turn out to get him doing healthy things long enough for them to become habits.

However, there’s no denying that the bet enabled him to lose 10 pounds on his own, and it certainly taught him some things about his ability to motivate himself when there are stakes that matter to him, about exercise, and about healthy living. If sooner or later he comes to feel that he really wants to commit to a healthier lifestyle, he’ll know how, and he’ll have confidence he can do it again on his own.

Photo by Todd Kravos

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Andrew’s Results: One Month of the Slow Carb Diet

Self-motivation examples

Here’s Andrew’s final update for his 31 day attempt to lose 20 pounds:

Well team,

Start weight on Feb 28th was 200.8 lbs.  Today’s weight: 193 flat.

I aimed for a 20 lb loss in 31 days.  Was the book even 50% correct?  No.  Was the book even 40% correct?  Just about right. I lost 7.8 lbs out of the desired 20 lbs.

Did I adhere to the regimen perfectly?  Yes.
Did I employ a cheat day each week per the book?  Yes.
Did I use the recommended dosage of vitamins and supplements?  Yes.
Did I employ ice baths and ice packs?  I used ice packs occasionally and only used one hellish ice bath as the book only called for those techniques to lose that grueling last 10 lbs
Did I do exercises before and after meals i.e. air squats and push-ups?  98% of the time.

What went wrong?  I suppose my body needed some time during the 1st week to even get into the swing of things.  I did experience a lot of weight swing throughout the process.  However, and despite the rather large jerks up and down, the end result was very good.

I feel great.  I added a bunch of muscle.  My energy is through the roof.  My heart rate is better than when I started.  I sleep better.  Allergy season barely affected me.  I do not tank during the day or yawn after meals.  When I do eat, the food is piled high, I leave the table stuffed and I am hungry by the next meal.

7.8 lbs in a month is successful if you ask me.

April’s goal is to lose 12 and then May’s goal is to lose an additional 5 so I end up at 175, down from the original 200.8.

Total inches lost (used a neck, waist at naval, waist at widest part, both upper arms, both forearms, both calves, both thighs and my shoulder width):

Total inches: 249, 248.5, 248.5 ,246.25 ,246.25 ,247.75

Why the fluctuation in inches?  1) measuring yourself with a tailor’s tape is a pain in the ass. 2) I dropped fat but I added muscle in my thighs, gluts, calves and biceps.

Good luck everyone and I will post my results at the end of April.

Congratulations to Andrew! His effort has been amazing, and his results, while not a miracle, seem very strong to me. Even the most concerted weight loss efforts normally can’t (and shouldn’t!) cause a loss of more than two pounds of fat per week, although The Four Hour Body asserts that it can accelerate healthy weight loss well beyond that mark.

Andrew’s success rate so far is about 1.76 pounds net body weight per week, and it seems likely that he gained more than enough muscle to put him over 2 pounds of fat loss per week. Especially sustained over a month, these are great results, despite the limitations of scales for measuring fitness (see “Why Weighing In Is a Poor Way to Measure Progress“. After all, the other available options aren’t much better in most respects, unless you can manage and afford professional bodyfat measurements on a regular basis).

What I don’t think we saw over this past month was a validation of any mind-blowing results of the Slow Carb Diet as laid out in Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body. This isn’t to say I think it’s a bad plan: on the contrary, I’m following it myself at the moment (though in more limited ways than Andrew), and generally speaking, the people I know on it have experienced increased energy and strength, though only sometimes actual weight loss. Better yet, people using the diet seem (in my limited experience so far) to be largely free from hunger and to enjoy their “off-day” or “cheat day” enormously.

The biggest drawback I know of so far is the “carb hangover” that can last for up to two days after cheat day (so three days in all–nearly half the week), resulting in low energy and less buoyant mood. Also, people I know who are following this plan, as I mentioned, are not all losing weight. However, if one follows it as carefully and energetically as Andrew, speedy weight loss (speaking in relative, healthy terms) does seem to be possible. How much of it is simply limiting calories through eating very healthy meals of protein, vegetables and legumes, and how much is exploiting human body chemistry through Ferriss’ many special tactics? I don’t know, and I’ll be interested to eventually find out.

And especially of interest here, how did Andrew manage to adhere so effectively to his diet plan? That’s a subject I hope to discuss with him soon, but his clear goal, his comfort with the idea that the goal was an ideal and not a restriction, and his constant sharing of his progress probably helped. I hope to talk to him more about the subject; stay tuned.

Photo by Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway

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Andrew, Week 3: Adjusting for a Moving Target

Self-motivation examples

Here are some recent updates from Andrew, who we’ve been following for several weeks as he tries Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body approach in an attempt to lose 20 pounds in 31 days (see “Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“). By last week, it seemed clear that while he was making good progress, 20 pounds was going to be too high a target; he’s now estimating 8.5 pounds lost by the end of his month of effort, which even when we don’t take into account any muscle he may have gained is an impressive amount.

Day 21 of 31: Weigh in: 195.6.  That’s 5.2 lost since Day 1 of 31.  I predicted a loss of 8.5 lbs last week using some very sketchy math …

That was surprisingly low for a post cheat day weigh in, especially considering I ate like a pig. [For anyone not familiar with Ferriss’s approach, it requires a weekly “off day” or “cheat day” of high calorie consumption, with the intention of keeping metabolism high. Because we’re checking in with Andrew soon after his weekly cheat day, the effects of that day, which last up to about 48 hours, are skewing his weight a little higher than it would be if we checked in with him, say, mid-week. — Luc]

Tomorrow begins the last full week for my self-experiment. I will continue beyond day 31 of course but the goal remains: How close can I get to my 20 lb goal?

Next post will be my measurement for TI [total inches].

End of 3rd week measurement for TI:

246.25 total inches.  This is down from the start measurement of 249.  Not thrilling results of course but here are the main changes in measurement, despite overall loss of inches:

Waist around navel: smaller
Waist around largest part (a**): smaller
Both thighs: larger
Calves: same or slightly smaller
Upper arms: exact same
Shoulders: potentially .5 inch smaller or the exact same
Forearms: smaller
Neck: smaller

The revised goal or expectation (20 pounds down to 8.5 pounds) seems perfectly fine to me from a self-motivation point of view. True, 20 pounds is more inspiring than 8.5 pounds, but the 5.2 pounds Andrew has actually lost is likely to be better motivation than any merely hoped-for results, as long as it’s thought of as an improvement over the start weight instead of as falling short of the desired weight at this stage in the game. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with setting a high goal as long as it keeps you on the right track and you aren’t discouraged if you fall short of it.

One of the advantages of Ferriss’s approach is that it involves four substantial meals each day (breakfast, lunch, a smaller second lunch, and dinner). The meals are not necessarily exciting or varied, but they’re fairly tasty, very healthy, and they’re filling, so that after an initial adjustment period, physical hunger isn’t a serious issue. In this respect, at the least, Ferriss’s system has a major advantage.

Keep on keeping on, Andrew, and thanks for the updates!

Photo by Arthur van Dam

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Andrew, Week 2: Movement in the Right Direction

Self-motivation examples

Here’s Andrew’s week 2 check-in (see “Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“).

My total inches is the same as last week but the measurements are changing a bit for each body part.

As of 3 days ago [before his weekly “cheat day” on which people who use this system need to eat a lot of high-calorie foods that temporarily make weight spike–LR], I had lost 3 lbs, 2.5 of which came off that 2nd week.  I only lost .5 the first week.

I am expecting great results this week and I am going to step up running and hit the pool (cool water draw heat out which burns cals!).

I am very far from 20 lbs my man but the pursuit is still hot!

Andrew isn’t currently on target to reach his goal of losing 20 pounds in 31 days, but having lost 2.5 pounds this past week, he’s much closer now than he was, and 2.5 pounds lost healthily is a big weight loss success by practically any measure.

His first week may have been affected by some eating habits he changed for week two, specifically cutting out significant amounts of of corn (which is often thought of as a vegetable, but which is actually a sweet grain) and drinking grapefruit juice on cheat days only. Tim Ferriss, the author of the Slow Carb Diet that Andrew’s following, recommends grapefruit juice on cheat days to help process carbohydrates more effectively–but on non-cheat days it’s not an allowed food, as it contains a lot of fructose, which interferes with the physiological processes the 6 days a week of proteins (including legumes at each meal) and vegetables are supposed to create.

In terms of motivation, Andrew’s clearly still pushing for a major success, and the results of his second week  suggest that he was right to persist but look for things he could improve after a disappointing first week.

Here’s a further update from Andrew, the following day:

Day 15 of 31:  Weigh in??  198.8.  That’s 1 lb less than yesterday and seems normal that it is still 1 lb elevated above my low weight recorded.  When I checked the weight on the day of my last cheat day, the day after cheat day and two days after, I had an elevated weight and then it tumbled off again quickly starting day 2 of the new week i.e. Tuesday.  Let’s see what week 3 brings now.

I swam 500 meters today and I’ll run a few miles tonight before dinner or before bed.  I will swim 1000 on Wednesday and 1500 on Friday.  I will keep my running miles at 3 miles or less and work some sprints into the routine on Saturday morning before my cheat day begins anew.

I notice that my stomach does not tell me I am hungry until almost 2 full days after cheat day has ended.  I think it takes my body that long to work out the garbage food and to coordinate itself again with the vitamins on day 1 of the new week and after the vitamin rest day after binge day.

For those who have chimed in to help me, I should begin to see a good amount of weight loss for the rest of this week 3 and then for week 4.

Cheers.

Photo by maxintosh

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Andrew, Week 1: Damn the Torpedoes; Full Speed Ahead

Self-motivation examples


Last week I got a chance to talk to Andrew (“Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“) about his determination to use Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet approach to weight loss to try to lose 20 pounds in 31 days. Ferriss’ approach has been very promising among people I know who have tried it, and the beginning of a new fitness process is often a honeymoon period, when the unaccustomed extra energy from more exercise, loss of water weight, etc. can much of the time provide a lot of encouragement.

Unfortunately, it appears Andrew isn’t going to be given a honeymoon period. He reports:

Well, the 1st week is over.  The results are far from impressive but maybe this week is the “basing” process for things to come in weeks 2-4.

I have lost .5 inches from my total inches (TI) measurements and I included the neck, shoulders, waist at navel, waist at largest area south of navel (butt), and the biceps, forearms, thighs and calves of both sides of the body.  The .5 inch drop in neck could be a mis-measurement so we’ll see next week.

The weight loss has not been anything special yet.  I began at 200.8 and I am now at 200.6.  Listen, this pales in comparison to what is written in his book!

My adherence to the food staples has been perfect, including the binge day regimen.  Sometimes I am hungry at the next meal and sometimes I do not care to eat.  I like the food I am eating so there is zero challenge to avoid other foods.

I can only assume my portion size is too large, but that, according to Ferriss’s book, should not be the case.

What changes am I going to make for week 2?

Here are the things to change:

  • Add cold showers each morning, icing at night while watching tv with my wife and boy and using ice baths on the weekend
  • As we are talking about calories, I may taper them back just slightly so I am at least hungry at the next meal
  • Exercise 3-4 times each week as I simply did it a couple of times this past week
  • Introduce cardio 3-4 times each week to enhance my metabolism

Final thoughts: I do feel great and I do not know if this is because of the vitamin regimen, the lack of “whites” to which Ferriss refers in his book, or a combination of both.

I’d like to imagine that there’s either a solution to this mystery or that Andrew will find his results drastically improve themselves over the coming week. For example, it could be that he’s getting a lot more salt in his diet and that therefore he’s retaining water and seeming heavier than he is–but who’s to know? Stay tuned, and next week we’ll find out whether this is a fluke or a trend.

Photo by MATEUS_27:24&25

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Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days

Self-motivation examples

A runner (not Andrew, obviously) in a lava field

Andrew, a reader of this site, is setting out on a daring project: he wants to lose 20 pounds of body fat, healthily, in 31 days.

If someone had described this plan to me a couple of months ago, I would have said it couldn’t be done. However, there’s a crazy but possibly brilliant guy named Tim Ferriss who’s written a book called The Four Hour Body, and in it he outlines his findings over the course of years and years of energetic research and extreme self-experimentation. Ferriss presents evidence that, assuming it’s accurate (and I have no reason to think it isn’t) would mean that Andrew’s project is entirely doable. I won’t go into Ferriss’s ideas in detail right now because I’m testing some of them out myself and want to speak from personal experience (and in addition I have concerns about some of Ferriss’ basic philosophies), but Andrew is going all-out. He’s going to do everything in his power to lose 20 pounds of bodyfat in 31 days, and he wants everyone to know about it. Accordingly, I asked him if I could post about it here. Andrew said “Let’s do it.”

I’ll be checking in with Andrew each week and posting his responses here. If he succeeds with even a large fraction of his goal, I’d call that a roaring success.

Andrew, what’s your motivation for such a radical change? And what do you think your biggest obstacles will be?

Andrew replied:

Complex: I want to feel my physical best so that I can fully participate in the outdoor and athletic life like I used to 10 years ago (I am 34 right now).  Carrying the extra weight around is probably killing my heart, knees, back and other organs, not to mentioned my mental and psychological states each day.  I suppose some of this is pure vanity as well as most people want to look good.  I could give a rip about looking like this person or that person, but humans have a healthy look to them and an unhealthy look to them and let’s be honest, I must fall into the latter category.  Although I must say I “carry the extra pounds pretty well”, I am not a picture of health right now and that really disturbs me.  I am also married and have a 3 year old boy so I honestly believe married couples owe it to each other to look good for as long as they can and my wife is hot so I need to bring more to the proverbial table!  When she and I met, I was in the midst of running up and down volcanoes, playing in monster ocean waves, eating well and living a very active lifestyle in her country of El Salvador.  As for my son, it’s critical to me that he pay testimony to a healthy life and not just lip service that we pay him at the dinner table each night.  Clearly, my goal is to personally push him in the athletic realm of the world as well as the intellectual dimension and me doing this while 20 lbs is hypocritical as I have no reason to be out of shape (just excuses).  I do have some personal fitness goals that revolved around distance running (I used to be a runner), cycling (I think I rode out of my mother), swimming (I am a newcomer to the sport) and to being a body weight exercise animal.  Lean and mean is the goal.

Simple: I want to feel amazing each day.

Obstacles: I suppose I am the obstacle.  If any laziness or regimen violations occur it will be because of me, plain and simple.  Barring injury, sickness or some other kind of life emergency, nothing should get in my way, period.

I have purchased the supplies needed i.e. vitamins and food and I have taken the body measurements outlined in his book, except for that I added my neck as well.

In the spirit of Ferriss’s Princeton student challenge i.e. reaching someone you think is unreachable and seeking advice etc., I am going after the man himself, Tim Ferriss and I will provide him my daily regimen and ask him if it’s spot on or if he has added anything since the revision of the most recent book.  I will tell him I am being watch by at least 1500 eyes each week, along with my own social sphere, so the test is on!

Photo by dneberto

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Instant Feedback: An Example

Strategies and goals

Back when I first started this site, I mentioned that a key inspiration for my beginning to study willpower was my sister, Su, who had demonstrated how effectively we can introduce changes of habit into our lives. Su is the fitness editor at Health magazine, and one of her recent posts on the Health Web site (“The Easy Way to Up Your Daily Steps (and Why That Matters)”) provides some insight on how instant feedback can help drive change painlessly.

10,000 steps
Her particular topic is the amount of walking we do on a daily basis. You may have heard the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day for fitness and weight loss. Apparently the 10,000 steps idea started in Japan as an encouraging guideline without any particular research behind it, but later studies (like the one described in this paper by Drs. Catrine Tudor-Locke and  David R. Bassett, Jr.) confirm that it’s an excellent goal for most people.

So 10,000 steps is good. How many steps do we actually take in a day? Su cites research that finds in America, our average is only half the recommended level (“Pedometer-Measured Physical Activity and Health Behaviors in U.S. Adults,” David R. Bassett, Jr.). This lands the average American solidly in the “not particularly active” zone except for those people who do regular, more energetic exercise that doesn’t involve stepping.

Automatic improvement
Other studies Su mentions seem to show that simply wearing a pedometer tends to result in an increased number of daily steps. This is exactly what Su tried–and it worked. “Eleven months later, the bloom is still not off the rose,” she says, “and I now routinely average 10,000 steps per day (including my workouts) without thinking too much about it. That’s pretty amazing to me, given that when I started out I was averaging around 5,200 or so.”

The tip alone is useful, but there’s also a meaningful lesson we can derive from it: awareness tends to automatically drive improvement. That is, when we have instant feedback on what we’re doing, we tend to do better at it. Competition can help a person do better, in part because they can measure how well they’re doing by comparison to others; using feedback loops provides a reliable, consistent boost to motivation (see “How Feedback Loops Maintain Self-Motivation”); and immediate feedback is a key component of “flow,” a state of optimal productivity and enjoyment  (see “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated” and “Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow“).

So if you want to inspire yourself to do better at a particular task, find a way to add immediate feedback: wear a pedometer, watch yourself in the mirror, time yourself, keep a log of how many words you write per day, use meters and monitors, and in whatever other way you can, try to get instant feedback … because while we human beings may not always be the most industrious creatures on the planet, we do love a challenge.

Photo by Eneas

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Tired? Try Getting Some Exercise

Uncategorized

When we’re feeling tired, run down, fatigued, or drained, exercise often seems unappealing. Feeling tired seems like a valid reason to avoid exercise. After all, if it’s an effort just to drag yourself from the car inside to the couch, there’s surely not enough extra energy to take a brisk walk, go swimming, or hit the gym–right?

But you probably picked up from the way I asked that this isn’t right, that how much energy we feel at a given moment isn’t really a reliable indicator of how much energy we could have in other circumstances. Certainly the exhaustion you feel after running a marathon means your body is tapped out, but at the end of a long day or in the middle of a lazy morning, feeling tired very often is only an indicator that our bodies haven’t received a signal that much energy is needed for the moment. Exercise can send just that kind of signal.

According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter in their book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, “A comprehensive analysis of more than 70 trials found that exercising is much more effective at eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs used for this purpose” (emphasis theirs). Exercise cranks up metabolism, helping to consume fat, build muscle, and create short-term and long-term energy.

In my own experience, this ability of exercise to make me feel more energized when tired came as a surprise. As I began to gain competency in Taekwondo over the last few years and was able to participated in advanced classes, I began going four to six hours a week. In order to keep that schedule up, many of the evenings I planned to go to Taekwondo turned out to be evenings when I felt dead tired. I tried going anyway, and to my surprise, my exhaustion almost always lifted by about ten minutes into the first class of the evening, and unless I was doing a very strenuous workout, I kept feeling energetic even after class.

Photo by Jean-Christophe Dichant

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Two Tips for Eating Less

Resources

One of the most popular posts on this site is my article “24 Ways to Stop Feeling Hungry.” While I am still evaluating the book You: On a Diet (currently it’s getting points added for lots of details about the workings of the human body and points off for a never-ending series of terrible similes), I’m intrigued by two hints they give for triggering the body’s natural systems for feeling full and satisfied. While I should qualify that I’ve neither tried these nor verified that they’re based on solid research (no offense intended to Doctors Roizen and Oz; I just like to check these kinds of things out), they seem promising enough to put forward for your consideration.

1. Eat a high-fiber breakfast
If you’re interested in weight loss and healthy eating, you probably already know that getting plenty of fiber helps us feel full and provides other health benefits. According to Oz and Roizen, however, eating a high-fiber breakfast specifically tends to suppress feelings of hunger in the late afternoon. My guess would be that this has to do with the speed at which the body processes fiber, but that’s strictly my own speculation.

2. Eat unsaturated fats about 20 minutes before a meal
According to Roizen and Oz, a certain amount of unsaturated fat (the “good” kind of fat, as found in foods like “nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils” according to the American Heart Association) naturally trigger’s one of the body’s “I’m not hungry” responses. They therefore recommend eating 65 calories or more of unsaturated fats (for instance, a handful of almonds) 20 minutes before a meal to prevent overeating during the meal. 20 minutes is about the amount of time your body needs to go from having enough food to signaling you that you’ve had enough food–which is one of several reasons eating slowly is such a great idea.

As you will have noticed, neither of these tricks has much to do with the psychology of eating: rather, they’re examples of stacking the cards in your favor to minimize the need to overcome urges you’d rather avoid. While overreliance on these kinds of techniques is likely to ultimately backfire, using them to help along more mental efforts can be a winning combination–as long as the tricks you’re using are good ones!

Photo by IainBuchanan

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