I consider myself a relatively fit person. Of course, “relatively” is still relative. I try to watch what I eat. I usually exercise five days a week. Heck, I’ve even run a couple half-marathons. But the rest of my days are pretty much sedentary. I sit in a climate-controlled office staring at my computer screen. I make dinner in my highly-automated kitchen. After dinner I sit in the living room sipping wine and watching TV or talking to Greta. Then I go to bed and start the process over again.
That’s not a whole lot of activity for a creature that evolved for endurance. Over a 50 mile course, a race between a man and a horse can be quite competitive. Millions of people all over the world do hard manual labor day in and day out. But millions of others don’t set aside any time for exercise. In my half-marathons, I’ve finished in the top half of competitors, so compared to a lot of people, I must be doing something right. Right? Or do my sedentary days outweigh my occasional bursts of activity? I exercise an average of 4 hours per week. That’s less than 4 percent of my total waking time. Is that really enough to stay fit?
There’s some evidence that a sedentary lifestyle increases mortality, even when exercise levels are taken into account.
I think a lot of people are in my position, living basically sedentary lives and adding in a few minutes here and there for exercise. That’s why, this month, I’m going to discuss fitness. What does it take to be a truly “fit” person? What’s the best way to maximize your health and live a long, active life?
Needless to say, there’s tons of research on the topic, often conflicting. I’ll try to negotiate through as much of it as I can while steering clear of fad diets and scams.
Meanwhile, over the course of the month I’m going to be keeping track of every calorie I consume and every moment of exercise. In fact, I’ve started up an account on a website that allows you to report your consumption to the world, so you can check up on me any time you like by following this link. The site also has an iPhone app, so in principle I should be able to keep track of this stuff wherever I go. I’ll provide updates here from time to time in case you don’t want to check a different site.
One interesting point about the MyFitnessPal site is that it assumes what you want to do is lose weight. You can’t even sign up without entering a weight-loss goal. For the most part, people feel that getting “fit” involves losing weight. I agree, I’d probably be a bit more “attractive” if I lost 20 pounds or so, but would that really make me healthier? There are places on the site to enter your weight, height, and measurements, but no spot to enter other health measures, like resting heart rate, cholesterol levels, and so on. Is this common among the many “fitness” tools out there? I may take some time this month to analyze the most popular fitness web sites and applications, to learn if any one is better than the others (I chose this one because its iPhone app is free and it received better reviews than most of the paid options).
The ultimate goal is to come up with a regimen that doesn’t sacrifice quality of life for health benefits. I’m not going to be eating spelt granola and wheatgrass, and I’m not going to work out for four hours a day. Is it possible to extend and improve your life while still actually living it? With any luck, by the end of this month, we’ll find out.
*This blog post was originally published at The Daily Monthly*