The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Long er Hardcover – Apr 26 2012
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"[This book] delivers answers to many perennial training questions [and] does a great job of myth-busting some well-established beliefs. It's a great guide for the mindful athlete who wants to gain all the benefits of physical training while minimizing downtime from injury or overtraining."
— Danny Dreyer, founder of Chi Running
"There has never been a better time in history to grow stronger, faster and smarter; there has never been a more helpful book than Gretchen Reynolds's The First 20 Minutes. Smart, clear, and beautifully useful, this is the new fitness bible for the modern age."
— Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code
"The First 20 Minutes is packed with interesting tips and insights. Pickle juice for cramps, who would have ever thought! Gretchen Reynolds once again delivers a winner."
— Dean Karnazes, NYT bestselling author of UltraMarathon Man
About the Author
GRETCHEN REYNOLDS pens the “Phys Ed” column for the New York Times, which appears on the “Well” blog online and in the Science Times print section. An award-winning journalist, her byline has appeared in the New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; AARP Magazine; Popular Science; and Outside, among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Top Customer Reviews
The message of this book is, "Keep moving." When you sit still, it's bad for you. So if you are in a chair, twitch and move around as you sit.
I was pleased to see that Ms. Reynolds aimed her book at a wide audience, from those who want to be more competitive in highly difficult activities to those who are elderly and are losing more strength than they can afford. I think you'll find yourself in here somewhere.
The book leans initially on exploding many myths about exercise such as stretching avoids injuries (not!) and improves performance (also, not!). In a few instances, there's almost a gimmicky focus to make the book seem more novel than it really is, such as identifying types of extreme, brief exercise that can effectively replace longer duration activity.
While not knowing what I would learn, I definitely came away some valuable insights for someone of my years and flabbiness. I was persuaded that resistance training should be added to my exercise repertoire and that I don't need to walk any further than I do now. And I'll be squirming a lot more while I type and read. I always did like to hop up every few minutes. I'll probably do that more often in the future.
P.S. As someone who was a competitive athlete in my youth, I learned many of these things from trial and error then. I'm sure you won't be as surprised as the author thinks you will be in places.
It would have been nice if there was a summary of best practices based upon the current research.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
1) Inactivity is the greatest public health threat of this century. A great deal of the physical effects that we once thought were caused by aging are actually the results of inactivity.
2) Although 'Health' and 'Fitness' are often automatically joined together, they are different things. 'Health' is a slippery term, often defined by its absence (it's 'unhealthy' to have high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a wide waist or actuall illnesses, from cold to cancer).
Physical 'Fitness' refers to cardiovascular or cardiorrespiratory fitness(includes measures of lung function). It is a measure of how efficiently you transport oxygen to laboring muscles to maintain movement. A fit person has a robust heart, strong lungs and sturdy muscles. But it doesn't mean he is 'healthy' (he can still have high cholesterol or ulcers).
3) How little activity can people get away with? The best available science indicates that, in order to improve your health, you should walk or work out lightly for 150 minutes a week. You can split them almost any way you want. 30 minutes a day can be split in 3 walks of 10' each. Other option is to do 75 weekly minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise plus weight training twice a week.
4) Almost all of the mortality reductions are due to the first 20 minutes of exercise, which drops your risk of premature death by 20%. (If you triple that minimum level, you drop your risk of premature rate further, but only by another 4%). However, this is true if you're looking for health benefits, but not if your objective is fitness.
5) If your objective is to improve fitness and performance, you must overload the muscoloskeletal and cardiovascular systems, i.e.: you will have to push your body somewhat, increasing the intensity or frequency of your usual workouts. Aerobic exercise (endurance) is the wellspring of fitness and may be the single most important determinant of how long you live.
6) Exercise has been endurance-centric for quite some time, but now there is evidence strength training is also important. It changes the dynamics of aging by combating loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) and building bone, which we start losing at middle age. Squats are considered by some scientists the single best exercise. And Yoga (or Pilates and its variations) have been shown to prompt muscular remodeling almost as readily as working with weight machines does.
7) The benefits of exercise appear to be curvilinear: they rise precipitously when you first start exercising, level off as you do more and, at some point, drop if you overdo things (although when the break point occurs differs by person). And then you may develop injuries and need to stop for a while. But the good news is that reductions in exercise don't have to strip you of your hard-won health and fitness gains as long as you don't stop completely (once a week seems to be enough until you can get back on track).
8) Sitting adversely affects the health of even the well-exercised. Even if you exercise one hour a day, it does not counteract the ill effects of sitting for the rest of the day. It's important to break up the long hours of sitting, even if it's for a two-minute stroll. This was probably the most shocking discovery for me, who felt very virtuous by exercising every morning before my one hour drive to work followed by 8 hours sitting on a chair!
9) Exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss since, as a species, we're astonishingly efficient at compensating for the loss of calories. It was discovered that, for example, people relying on exercising to burn out calories sometimes, without deliberate intent, begin moving less during the rest of the day. The body, and especially in the case of women, also has hormonal mechanisms to maintain body fat, such as recalibrating the appetite and increasing the desire to eat after exercise, as well as affecting the rate at which the body burns fuel (acylated ghrelin, leptin and insulin are the key hormones intervening in the process).
10) However, although exercise doesn't aid much in weight loss, it is helpful in weight control or maintenance in the long term (even brisk walking). Exercise not also helps to reduce weight regain but to keep visceral or abdominal fats in check. (They contribute to metabolic problems, diabetes and heart disease).
11) If you want to lose weight: work out before breakfast and include eggs in your breakfast. Emerging evidence also suggests that, unlike bouts of moderate-vigorous exercise, low-intensity ambulation, standing, etc. may contribute to daily energy expenditure without triggering the caloric compensation effect. Just get rid of your chair!
12) Exercise helps to get better brainpower, pushing the onset of dementia by several years. It has a prophylactic effect against the buildup of anger and helps handle stress. It speeds the brain's production of serotonin alleviating anxiety and depression. And it has great influence on kids' brains, improving test scores and IQ.
People who have been active in their twenties, no matter what their activity levels are now, have longer telomeres, a reliable marker of younger cell age. (Telomeres are the minuscule protective caps at the end of the DNA strands, often compared to the tips of shoelaces and serving the same purpose: to prevent fraying and tattering).
Those points summarize my key takeaways from the book. It's also interesting that the author questions some myths, such as the need for stretching and warming up, the benefits of massage (she says it actually impairs the removal of lactic acid) or immersing in ice to ease muscle soreness. There is no correlation at all between wearing the proper running shoes and avoiding injury. You don't need special food or drinks: real food is fine and chocolate milk is the best post workout drink. Vitamins not only are not helpful, but they may undercut the exercise's benefits (since they prevent the induction of molecular regulators of insulin sensitivity and endogenous antioxidant defense - the body 'decided' it wasn't needed). The best remedy for muscle cramps is pickle juice!
And, finally, avoid over drinking: you don't need to stay ahead of your thirst. If you're thirsty, drink. If not, you're sufficiently hydrated. Hyponatremia (water intoxication) is what causes deaths at marathons, not dehydration.
Did you know that most of us drink too much during and after exercise, and the need for electrolyte replacement is mostly a marketing myth? Some other myths include: the effectiveness of pre-exertion stretching. It actually hurts athletic performance and doesn't appear to prevent injury. Strength an power don't always translate well. Strength training and cardio training can be performed in the same workout with the same results as when carefully separating them. Running form has little if anything to do with race results. There are many more such revelations. It's all fascinating, unless, of course, you are heavily invested in a belief that doesn't withstand the light of research.
The book is a fascinating read. If you are serious about understanding the current state of the art in exercise knowledge, it's wonderful. I certainly wouldn't consider it my first choice for designing a workout. There isn't a coherent plan. The exercised offered lack pictures to clarify the sometimes specific instructions. And other than a chapter or two, little is actually elucidated on the subject of short workouts, so "The First 20 Minutes," is a bit misleading, hence my 4 star rating. However, as a foundation with which to evaluate other workout books, this is invaluable.
On pages 2-3 we learn that people who exercise little and people who exercise a lot both complain of more "unhealthy days" than people who exercise a moderate amount. "Or, to be blunt, the issue of just how much exercise people need and how much may be either to little or too much is, from a scientific standpoint, a big fat mess." There you have it.
This business of the "first" 20 minutes is left unclarified: How long between workouts should one wait in order for the next workout to count as another "first" 20 minutes? Do I enjoy greater benefit from walking 20 minutes in the morning, at noon, and after supper than in one continuous hour? Do I have to wait until the next day to get the greater benefits of that "first" 20 minutes? The author is silent on this point.
In various places throughout the book, the author suggests that exercise causes our bodies to generate new cells, and seems to suggest that this is a good thing. But in chapter 10, in the discussion of telomeres, we learn that new cells have shorter telomeres, and that's a bad thing: Cells with shorter telomeres are somehow less robust. From this standpoint, it seems that preserving older cells would be better than generating new ones. I found the whole discussion confusing.
There are some nuggets, here:
Chapter 4, which addresses weight loss, offers that while exercise will not necessarily help one lose weight, there is evidence that it helps in keeping the weight off, once lost, or at least slows the rate at which lost weight is regained. This gives weight to the aphorism (that I read elsewhere), "Get fit at the gym; lose weight in the kitchen."
Also in chapter 4 is an interesting description of an insidious phenomenon called "non-volitional exercise-induced inactivity." From pp. 82-83: "People relying on exercise to burn calories sometimes, without deliberate intent, begin moving less during the rest of the day." Knowing this can help one to guard against it; I will try to keep moving during the non-exercise parts of my day.
Stretching is of dubious benefit. Good to know: Though I rather like stretching, when I'm short on time, I'll choose that part of my workout to skip.
While there is still a great muddle about how much and what kind of exercise is optimal, it's pretty clear that sitting is bad (maybe worse than lying down and taking a nap, though the author doesn't address this point explicitly).
Some strength training will make a big difference. As a result of reading this book, I will try to work my way up to being able to do some pushups. Starting at a 45-degree angle on the stairs.
In conclusion, the book mostly reinforced my faith in what I am already doing. (Confirmation bias?) I learned a couple of new things. It is not a bad book, but I had hoped it would present more scientific findings that would either supersede or more definitively validate common sense. For me, it fell short of that.
Enter The First 20 Minutes. It took a small sample of the book for me to be sold on buying it. I poured through this book and devoured it within a couple of hours. The result? I am now more knowledgeable of areas of exercise I've known about (and sometimes participated in) but was never aware of the science behind them:
- Interval training
- Changing up the routine
- Most effective cardio workouts
- Amount of exercise needed
These are just some of areas of exercising I've done (or at least tried to) but have always had questions about. This informative book taught me a ton on these specific areas but also much more, which has led me to alter my exercise regiment based on scientific research and studies, not babble spouted from the so-called "exercise experts" at my gym.
Bottom line, if you are like me and want to further your knowledge about exercising and be able to see scientific evidence to back it up, this book is most definitely for you.
At first I found the author's personal quips amusing and the conclusions interesting. However as I read further into the work I found more and more studies quoted about subjects I happen to have personal experience in. It those instances it appeared that the author either tends to cherry pick research results to prove her point (or worse to sensationalize her writings) or that her conclusions involve a leap of logic the quoted research does not necessarily support. In either case these shortcomings tend to lead me to question her other conclusions thus rendering the entire work amusing but fairly worthless to this reader.
Finally the total lack of a bibliography (which one would think necessary given some of the claims the author espouses) makes it impossible to cross check her work even if I were so inclined.