Category Archives: Fitness

Fitness: Complete summary

Just like yesterday’s nutritional summary post, this post will present the One in a Billion fitness strategy and link back to more detailed previous posts for easy reference.

As always, the primary aim of this plan is to construct a micro-environment that makes doing the right thing as easy and natural as at all possible. In the case of fitness, we will actually construct two such environments,  passive and active, which also have two distinctly different purposes:

  • The passive fitness environment should be used for weight control and maintaining good health
  • The active fitness environment should be used for having fun and taking your body to the next level

The reason why modern fitness programs almost never last (and the average person gets 4 times less exercise than needed) is because they neglect the passive environment and try to use a (very poorly constructed) active environment to also serve the purposes of the passive environment. This has lead to a very unfortunate stigmatization of exercise as painful and burdensome self-sacrifice and can even be dangerous.

So, here is how it should be done (in my humble opinion at least):

1. Build your passive fitness environment

The basis of the passive environment is the fact that the human body must move regularly in order to maintain good health. Our modern sedentary lifestyles where we sit for hours on end are totally unnatural and it really is no wonder that we are beset by a true epidemic of degenerative disease. You can rectify this matter quite easily by making the switch back to human power (example), cashing in on all of those free exercise opportunities available to you every day and making sure that you avoid long periods of stagnation (example). This type of easy, regular motion is what the body was designed for and is absolutely essential for good health.

2. Build your active fitness environment

Firstly, it must be emphasized again that actively exercising for the purpose of weight loss and health is a highly erroneous strategy and that the typical modern motivation for exercise is totally self-defeating. From this basis, we can explore the two true purposes of your active environment; having fun and taking your body to the next level (1, 2), and also discuss how to correctly measure your progress. I want to stress, however, that it is perfectly OK to only maintain your passive fitness environment and just keep a little active environment on the side by engaging in some fun social sports every once in a while. The “taking your body to the next level” step is completely optional and should be viewed only as an added bonus. For those who are keen, some examples on the four primary fitness components; aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility and skills, were also provided.

So, that’s it. Take some time to understand these guidelines and use them to construct your very own healthy fitness environment within which exercise happens all by itself. You will be very glad you did 🙂

Fitness example: Skills training

This final category is the place where exercise can really become interesting. Whenever you do some form of exercise where you have to use a wide range of skills, it automatically becomes a lot more engaging and a lot more fun to do. And yes, having fun while exercising is central to the healthy fitness environment we are building here.

Since almost any sport contains some element of coordination, reflex or balance training, most common sports fall in this category. Not only are social sports a lot of fun; they also offer a wide range of benefits. Depending on the sport, it will probably contain a significant amount of aerobic and anaerobic exercise which in itself has a wide range of health benefits as discussed in the respective linked posts. In addition, training your coordination, reflexes and balance simply makes your body more useful, both for sports and in daily life.

It is therefore highly recommended that you engage in a range of activities that offer a good combination of coordination, reflex and balance training. Ball sports are the most complete package for this purpose, but sports which feature some form of equipment that must be used in a skilled way (mountain biking, surfing, skiing etc.) offer similar benefits.

Personally, I wish I had the time to do more sports, but my current combination of regular cycling, cross-country skiing and rugby covers all the bases and keeps my skills sharp for the occasional fun game of ping-pong, football, cricket, pool or downhill skiing.

So, that’s it. If you can incorporate regular exercise from all four categories: aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility and skills, you will end up with a body that really functions as it was meant to function. Such a body just makes life a lot easier and a lot more fun. It certainly is highly recommended that you get yourself one of these.

Fitness example: Flexibility training

The primary benefit of flexibility training (stretching) is an increased range of motion which significantly reduces the risk of injury and leads to greater athletic performance. In addition, there are also a number of very handy secondary advantages such as improved circulation, improved balance and coordination, higher energy levels and even better heart health. Regular flexibly training is therefore an important part of any healthy fitness environment.

Similarly to the anaerobic exercise discussed in the previous post, the primary problem with stretching is that it is simply not much fun. For this reason, it can be very helpful to not only stretch for the sake of stretching, but rather engage in some broader activity that simply has stretching as a by-product – an activity such as Yoga. To be honest, I only began doing Yoga very recently when I learned about the importance of flexibility and became very concerned about my own current lack of flexibility. Even though I’ve always been fit and strong, my flexibility really is quite terrible. The first time I took the quick health profile test linked on the top right of this blog, I received a flexibility score of 30% which was enough to shock me into buying a Yoga DVD.

Initially I found the Yoga routines to be very challenging (simply because I was so inflexible), but as my flexibility improved the routines became gradually more enjoyable and I’m now at the stage where I actually look forward to them. The result has been that my flexibility score has improved from 30% to 80% (which is still below average, but at least not much of a health risk anymore). I still cannot touch my toes, but hopefully that wonderful day will arrive soon 😉

Some other ways in which you can make stretching an automatic part of your healthy fitness environment is to make a habit of always warming down properly after exercise and to consciously stretch your muscles every time you have to bend down to pick something up during daily life. These are two very handy habits which I have found to become automatic quite quickly.

So, take some concrete steps towards improving your flexibility. Before I decided to educate myself on this matter, I also saw stretching just as a simple warmup activity that had to be done just because the coach said so, but now it has become an essential and enjoyable part of my automatic healthy fitness environment. It is definitely highly recommended.

Fitness example: Anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise can generally be seen as those activities that push your muscles close to their maximum capacity for short periods of time – either for the purpose of strength or speed. Benefits of this kind of exercise include protection against various forms of degenerative disease, improved strength, speed and agility, reduced risk of injury to muscles, tendons and bones, increased metabolic rate (making it harder to put on fat), as well as some psychological benefits such as stress reduction, improved self-esteem and better sleep.

Weight training is the most widely used form of anaerobic exercise and also the best way to build muscle. The only problem with incorporating weight training into your self-sustaining active fitness environment is that it is not all that much fun (for me at least). Going to the gym to lift weights is therefore not something that I can realistically see myself doing consistently for the rest of my life (which automatically disqualifies it from my personal healthy environment).

But even though weight training is not my favorite activity, it does happen from time to time that I feel the need to lift some weights. For this reason, I bought myself two very innovative adjustable dumbbells (video below) and a weightlifting chair so that I can easily do a few reps whenever I feel like it. The costs amount to only about one year of gym membership so it definitely is a financially savvy choice as well.

Another tactic I found to be very helpful is to simply have one light weight in hand while walking around the room, dictating to my computer (as discussed in an earlier post). In fact, this is what I’m doing right now and, without even thinking, I have already racked up a large number of light bicep curls and shoulder lifts. I do this light lifting for 20-30 minutes every morning while writing the first draft of my daily post and would highly recommend this tactic to anyone who writes a lot (a blogger for example). (Note that heavy weight training requires at least 48 hours of rest between sessions.)

But weight training is not the only form of anaerobic exercise. Any form of training where you push your body to the max for a short period of time falls in this category. Sprinting is a common form of anaerobic exercise. So is hillclimbing. This implies that aerobic exercise (as discussed in the previous post) can also contain a significant anaerobic component. The particular aerobic activities that I engage in regularly (cycling, cross-country skiing and rugby) all offer many opportunities for short bursts of anaerobic exercise which I always make good use of.

So, do some thinking about ways in which you can incorporate some enjoyable and automatic anaerobic exercise into your daily exercise routine. It complements aerobic exercise very nicely and is an important part of optimal health.

Fitness example: Aerobic exercise (cardio)

Regular aerobic exercise is the most important part of the active fitness environment outlined in the One in a Billion project. This kind of exercise is essential for good heart health, weight control and the prevention of various types of degenerative disease. Cardiovascular fitness also has many psychological benefits such as improving mood, self-confidence and sleep, and alleviating stress, anxiety and depression. It really is an essential form of exercise that the body simply has to have.

The VO2 max score described in a previous post is the most accurate measure of cardiovascular fitness and should be checked at least once a year. My employer has this excellent policy of giving this test to all employees once a year and I’m sure that this single test saves a truckload of money through reduced sick-days and increased productivity.

From my experience, you need about four hours of aerobic exercise per week in order to attain near-optimum fitness. Four hours per week might sound like a lot, but in reality it is only 3.6% of the time that you are awake and almost 10 times less than the time the average American spends in front of the TV. Once again, the only thing that stands in your way is our self-destructive cultural conditioning. 

Even though getting 4 hours of aerobic exercise per week is not hard, you can make it even easier for yourself by switching to human power for much of your transportation needs. For example, cycling to work gives me about two hours of cardio every week. In addition to that, I do 1-2 hours per week of active running at rugby practice, about one hour of cross-country skiing and the occasional cycling trip up the mountain.

The key here is that these are all activities which I really enjoy. With the exception of the cycle trips to work, my cardio activities also have a very nice social aspect which makes them even more fun. All in all, I can confidently say that my cardiovascular fitness happens completely automatically and requires absolutely no willpower to maintain.

This consistent 4-5 hours of aerobic exercise per week has given me a VO2 max score of 62 ml/min/kg which is about the average for a professional athlete and quite exceptional for a computer nerd such as myself. I have therefore successfully proven to my scientist-self that an intelligent active fitness environment can maintain professional fitness levels without requiring any willpower whatsoever.

This, I think, is quite a revelation and I really wish that more people would invest the little bit of upfront effort required to construct a solid active fitness environment and reap these great benefits.

Fitness example: Motivation

The key to setting up and maintaining a good active fitness environment is making sure that you are exercising for the right reasons. We have gotten stuck in a very worrying cultural trance which labels fitness is this painful thing that we have to force ourselves through in order to look good on the beach this summer. This notion is greatly flawed and is a big part of the reason why developed nations today are so terribly unfit and overweight.

First and foremost, you are setting yourself up for almost certain failure by having good looks as the primary motivation for regular exercise. This form of motivation is inherently self-defeating primarily because it links your happiness to what you think other people might think of you – a true psychological death trap. Also, since the source of motivation is wholly external, it will only last as long as the external factors driving it are strong enough (hence the many yo-yo diets we see today).

No, the principal motivation for good fitness should come from a fully internal drive towards optimal health – a state where your most precious possession, your body, is fully optimized and operating at maximum efficiency. This form of motivation is always with you and is not dependent on any outside factors.

Secondly, you can be sure that exercise can be a lot of fun. As mentioned before, I think exercise is the healthiest and purest form of recreation available to humankind today and a radical shift in our cultural conditioning is sorely needed in this respect. The image of fitness has to be transformed from painful and boring running on a treadmill in a gym to challenging and enjoyable social sports events with friends. There is a myriad of sports available out there to suit everyone’s liking and fitness levels.

Personally, I never think of good looks as a motivation to exercise. My understanding of the crucial importance of exercise for optimal health has truly made daily exercise as natural as breathing. It simply must happen. And then of course I always make sure that exercise is as much fun as possible just to ensure that my healthy fitness environment is completely indestructible. Yes, it is fun to have solid sixpack abs and to feel completely comfortable in any clothing, but these are just small bonuses that come as a result of the ultimate prize: optimal health.

To further illustrate this point, the next four example posts will describe my active fitness environment as divided into the four categories discussed in a previous post: aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility and skills. I hope these examples will help you to set up something similar of your own.

Fitness example: Keep on moving

One of the most important fitness realizations I have had on my journey to good health is the importance of a solid passive fitness environment. The human body was made to move regularly in order to accomplish the day’s work, but now that fossil fuels are doing all the work for us, our bodies regularly stagnate for hours on end. This is totally unnatural and it really is no wonder that we have a degenerative disease epidemic on our hands.

It therefore is vitally important that you incorporate some regular motion into your day (1, 2). And the good news is that doing this is quite easy and can significantly boost your productivity. Here is how I do it:

I have a typical sedentary job where my purpose is to sit in front of the PC and run reactor simulations the whole day. The trick therefore lies in finding ways to put in many hours on the computer and still move regularly throughout the day. The key ingredient in doing this is having a raise and lower desk which allows you to stand and work for extended periods of time. I have three of these: one at work, one in my home office and one in my little home recording studio.

The home office one is shown in the image below. I don’t even have to move that desk on the right hand side one up and down since I just stand while working on the computer and when my legs feel a little tired I move to the comfortable chair in front of the TV. My PC is connected to my TV via an HDMI cable so that it doubles as a large computer screen which I control via wireless keyboard and mouse.

Whenever I have to write a first draft of any kind, I take one minute to change the setup slightly (shown below) and put on my wireless headset so that I can walk around the room, dictate to my computer (which displays on the TV) and also use the keyboard and mouse whenever convenient. Aside from being very healthy, this is also a very efficient way of producing written material.

I’ll freely admit that this setup is probably only practical for a single engineer in his twenties and most normal people might want a more stylish solution 😉 But give this a thought and see what your mind comes up with. Such an arrangement is very practical, works very efficiently and is essential to maintain the good health of anyone who spends a lot of time on the computer. I highly recommend it.