Monday, June 16, 2014

The learning curve is, admittedly, steep and humiliating

In general I'm more interested in fiction over nonfiction. Unless it's Bill Bryson. He makes up a third of the nonfiction I've read this year.* I was thinking I should probably expand on that so when I saw Laura's review of Gretchen Reynold's book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer I decided this was a good one to go with. Which is saying a lot about the power of Laura's review because that title is just terrible and had she not so highly recommended it I never would have considered it.

Reynold's is a New York Times columnist writing their exercise and phys ed column and her book feels a bit like extended columns about topics like stretching, endurance training, and the effect of exercise on the brain. Which I realize doesn't sound like the most entertaining topic, but Reynolds is very funny and is able to take what would other be very try concepts and make them interesting.

"That's important to bear in mind, especially for those, like me, who are fairly confident that we sit outside the bounds of mortality and don't need to obsess about premature death but really, really want to trounce our spouses at the next community Fun Run."

This isn't a book about a specific exercise routine that you HAVE to do if you want to lose weight/win an Olympic gold medal/become immortal, even if that's what the title seems to suggest. It's really a series of studies and reports about exercise. And it's studies about everything. The effects of endurance versus strength training, the effect exercise has on life expectancy and joint health, whether stretching does anything or not, how does exercise affect the brain. The entire book can probably be summed up with "You should exercise." Sure, not exactly new information, but she cites a number of compelling studies about exactly what exercise can do for you.

"Just how much improvement a beginning exerciser can expect in the early stages of a new performance in the early stages of a new cardiovascular exercise routine varies, but the anecdotal evidence, including estimates from coaches and practitioners, would suggest that a reliable, mathematical estimate would be "lots."'

This has been a book I have been annoying a lot of people about lately, mostly by quoting random stats from it while insisting people check it out. And I'm pretty sure I scared a couple co-workers when I mentioned the stats that those who sit most of the day for work (as all of us at my job do) have shorter life expectancy over those that are standing all day, even when you take into account people who sit for work but are otherwise very active, or if those that stand at work are in general unhealthy. Because yeah, I'm that killjoy. I'm also thinking the person who had the standing desk at work probably had the right idea and one I could never make work.

"If improved mental health is a goal, cleaning the house seems, oddly, to help. In addition to the survey of Scots people in which housekeeping was one of the activities associated with less 'psychological distress,' another new, larger-scale survey in Europe found 'an inverse association between housework and distress.' Vacuuming and mopping may make you happier. My house is available anytime for training."

I can't end this without including a quote from the book Laura included in her review that really sealed the deal for me. I was sort of on the fence until this quote at which point I said "Yes, I think I will need to get this book."

"In a study from New Zealand, a group of untrained men in their twenties were brought into a human performance lab and allowed to determine the intensity of their warm-ups on stationary bicycles. They spontaneously started competing with each other and were subsequently too fatigued to complete a cycling power test, a result that may say more about 20 year old males than about the hazards of a too strenuous warm up."
See? Good stuff.

If you have any interest in exercise, or just simply would like to get interested in it, check this out. It's definitely not a how-to book, which really makes it 100% better.

Oh and I also recommend checking out some of the negative Goodreads reviews because one of them included the complaint that this (284 page) tome had the NERVE to average 3 paragraphs per page instead of...well I guess a far greater paragraph per page rate than that. I'm not really sure what they were going for. But they weren't happy!

*I mean, that doesn't really say much considering I only read three nonfiction books this year, but still.

Title quote from location 2680

Reynolds, Gretchen. The First 20 Minutes. Hudson St Press, 2012. Kindle edition.