Please Explain: How to Exercise Smarter

Friday, January 25, 2013

Some 45 million Americans belong to a gym or exercise on their own, hoping to improve their physical fitness and their health. Gretchen Reynolds, writer of the New York Times Phys Ed column and author of The First 20 Minutes, answers questions and debunks myths about exercise. She explains the latest research on the mental and physical benefits of exercise and tells how much and what kind of exercise is needed to stay fit, improve health, or lose weight.

If you have a question about exercise, leave it as a comment! Or call during the show at 212-433-9692.


Gretchen Reynolds

Comments [41]

Cori from NJ

I have to disagree with her comment about yoga not being a proper pre-exercise or running warm-up. Much of yoga incorporates the active type of warming up. Ashtanga, which is the single thing that has kept me flexible at 52, is based in part on developing body heat (regardless of the ambient temperature) so begins with 5 of each kind of sun salutation, after which, it becomes possible to get into all the other poses and complete what is a fairly challenging workout.

I use sun salutations before running, P90x workouts and every other kind of activity and it makes them all easier and less injurious.

That said, in yoga classes without the 10 sun salutations, I do find that I'm insufficiently warmed up and so, for me, in those cases, the static stretching problems do apply.

Feb. 01 2013 12:29 PM
Karl from Brooklyn

For the most part this was a great discussion that put out important information and dispelled several entrenched myths about exercise and fitness. However, the treatment of yoga as just some form of static stretching is very inaccurate. It can be much more than that depending on how it is practiced. For instance, certain poses done in a gentle and fluid manner without extended holding times are much closer to the dynamic warmups Ms. Reynolds mentioned. The problem with a short discussion about a broad topic is that we cant account for individual differences. The idea that one shouldn't do any static stretches presupposes a relatively proper length-tension relationship in muscles, but if someone is extremely tight, in say the hamstrings for example, it may be beneficial to do gentle static stretches before engaging in exercise.

Although there is obvious benefit to informing your exercise with a close scrutiny of scientific literature, for which we owe people like Gretchen Reynolds our gratitude. I think it is important to include personal experience as a guide as well. I've been a fitness professional in the past and a life-long exerciser and I know the value of srtretching, sometimes before, and definitely after, a routine. I'm pretty sure there is very little scientific evidence showing any benefits of stretching at all.

Also, I noticed some posters above discuss how dangerous yoga is. I'm assuming this comes from a reading of William Broad's series of articles and new book on the topic. I would read him with caution. His articles are sensationalist and doubtless they are aimed at promoting his book sales. Also, he himself is a long time practitioner of it, and he ultimately recommends it. Done incorrectly, without proper attitude and guidance, yes, it can lead to injury. That is no different than exercise in general. The following link is to a more extensive rebuttal of Broad's claims:

Feb. 01 2013 12:03 PM
Yvonne from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I am dismayed at the carte blanche dismissal of the importance of cooling down.

The most important thing about cooling down after a strenuous activity like running is not to stretch muscles or prevent soreness; it is to reduce the risk of heart attack since the different processes in the the body that accelerate when we do something strenuous do not all decelerate at the same pace and, if one stops abruptly, this can be potentially dangerous.

Cooling down, doing the same activity at a slower rate, allows these processes to catch up with each other. Though this was not the only factor at work in the death of Jim Fix as he had an undiagnosed heart defect, it was a contributing factor. I do not remember the tech terms for all of this so I am sorry if I am not being clear but I think this is an important issue for anyone doing strenuous exercise.

Jan. 26 2013 02:11 AM

One of the best and most enjoyable exercise is hiking, start out walking and build up with the adk or amc in the ny area. They have beginners hikes up to serious climbs. The trains in nyc take you to hiking trails, a great convenience.
I had a life changing injury, and i need to get back into my fitness. one item i got was a fitbit, it tracks your walking and stair climbing. Since getting it in august i have never taken the elevator in my building, 5 flights, or at train or any place i go. The fitbit tracks my stair climbing so i get a visual feedback on the computer of what i did everyday, 28 years in this building and it took the fitbit to have me take the stairs every time i do not have a cart.
The one problem i had with her talk, was the reptitons for lifting weights, more reps -lighter weight or less reps and heavier weight.
The problem she gave no numbers! IS 30 reps ok? i think not due to tendons and ligament. but she has to gove numbers. Serious weight lifters go for doubles or triple rep sets and heavy weight. Many people would think 8 reps was low, and 20 high. Numbers are important especially to beginners in older age where tendon and ligment damages rampant.
Yoga causes more injuries then probably any activity. Especially class type studio yoga,but it is a bid secret. I detached my bicep tendon, needing surgery to reattach, and a week latter a guy tore his Achilles tendon=very bad, may never heal. Plenty of strokes from headstands.
your putting your life into a person who has no idea of your medical.
Also antibiotics cause tendon rupture, even 6 months later

Jan. 25 2013 03:52 PM

jgarbuz -- Hahaha, pretty good trick for apartment living!! Better than trying that on a Wii board which will break if you're too enthusiastic.

I should just put a pad down on our floor. My son periodically jumps on me (he is a black belt), I periodically jump on him and sometimes we roll around on the floor. Unfortunately, he's now taller than I am and soon I will lose the weight advantage as well. Of course, I've told him that now that fit and fat is in according to one relatively poorly designed study, I'm just going to keep on eating so I keep my edge in weight.

The cat prefers jumping off the walls -- literally.

Jan. 25 2013 02:14 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I do some jumping on a pillow on my carpet. I take great care because without your feet, you are a lame duck only good to be shot and eaten :)

Jan. 25 2013 02:08 PM
Julia from UWS

To Eryka- I have long days too and when I travel for work exercise is certainly feels like a distant priority. However - I use the a slightly modified 5BX program. 5BX is a regimen developed and used by the canadian air force for physical maintenance, Basically 11-12 min. of INTENSE exercise.
It's been a huge time saver for me when you don't have time for regular workouts and keeps the weight in check.

Jan. 25 2013 02:06 PM

At age 51 I took up Martial Arts. Its a good 45 minutes of very strenuous exercise. I didn't lose weight, however, until I also added running around the reservoir (which I hate, but it doesn't take too long to do 1.7 miles).

Now I do the Mixed Martial Arts 4-5 night a week and I've added Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the night that I do the class for the upper belts. Never felt better in my life. Great for the arthritis in my knees -- never feel it now and great for my allergies. I have to thank the black belt who wrote an essay about starting Martial Arts at age 57 and the 20 something sensei who saw all the moms watching their kids and talked them into doing the classes as well. Plus -- I'm two belts away from black belt now so I'm not afraid of someone trying to mug me because I'm short, female and have white hair.

So much for sedate walks. Haha.

Jan. 25 2013 02:03 PM
Ed from New Jersey

I'm going to be 48 next month. Although my work keeps me moving( I'm a ICU nurse) I am overweight and have not exercised in many years. What are some resources for me to begin to get back into exercising regularly without joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer? I'll need to start slow as I have moderate osteoarthritis. Thank you

Jan. 25 2013 02:03 PM

Leonard, you really need to have this woman back for a Part 2. There are so many questions that we never got to. Good questions.

Jan. 25 2013 02:00 PM
Dièry Prudent from Brooklyn

Hi Gretchen: I'm a fitness trainer and a fan. Congrats on your book.

In terms of functional fitness, specificity of training matters. It's great to complete an hour of spinning or a routine with weights. It's quite another to hike a rocky uphill trail for the same amount of time.

Dièry Prudent
Prudent Fitness: custom fitness services in a Brooklyn brownstone studio

Jan. 25 2013 01:58 PM
Mark from Chelsea

I'd like to know her thoughts on Yoga??

Jan. 25 2013 01:55 PM
Chris from Southside

What can you tell us about super-slow weight training, where the do shorter workouts with lower weights but do the lift for long periods of time?

Jan. 25 2013 01:54 PM
Eryka from Queens

How about those of us who feel too busy to exercise. I often work 10-11 hour days and when I get home I'm pooped! What is the shortest routine one should do to remain healthy?

Jan. 25 2013 01:54 PM
Henry from Manhattan

Any tips for getting stronger?

I’m not looking to compete in Mr. Universe, just accomplish good form push-ups and pull-ups and such.

Jan. 25 2013 01:53 PM

Is it true that taking the stairs instead of the elevator or getting out of the subway one stop before the subway stop closest to your destination can make a cumulative difference to your fitness?

Jan. 25 2013 01:52 PM
Ellyn from Queens, NY

What about Yoga?

Jan. 25 2013 01:51 PM
tom LI

Jgarbuz - how is jumping on ones feet and ankles any diff than walk/running? Same if not more pressure on the joints, etc...whereas walking spreads the pressure and releases it on the forward movement...

Jan. 25 2013 01:51 PM
capper from NYC

What she seems to be saying is that the best time of day is to workout at the end of day. If you're relatively active throughout the day, getting up, sitting down, walking here, walking there, then your body should be "warmed up" by end of day.

Jan. 25 2013 01:51 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

While I disagree with the cult of walking and running, I do agree with most of what your guest is saying. A variety of brief BUT INTENSE exerices, varied on different days, is important. A little stretching yoga style. A little weights to help retain bone and muscle mass. Push-ups are good. Jumping until your heart beats fast. Anything that gets the blood circulating, with more oxygen getting to every cell in the body, and keeps you flexible and strong is good. And it does not require all that much time. Twenty minutes of good exercise is better than two hours of worthless exercise.

Jan. 25 2013 01:50 PM
John from Los Angeles

Cycling! Can't beat it.

Jan. 25 2013 01:49 PM

What about Tai Chi?

Jan. 25 2013 01:48 PM
The Truth from Becky

*Oops entered too quickly* Swimming? Is the physical exercise from swimming enough to keep you fit? or in good health?

Jan. 25 2013 01:45 PM

Opinion on Nike+ technology on the iPhone. Is it accurate?

Jan. 25 2013 01:45 PM
tom LI

To Mark - Yes! Upper body strength training...makes a huge diff for cyclists and endurance'd be surprised and amazed at how much more power and endurance you'll have when your strengthen your upper body.

Jan. 25 2013 01:45 PM
jeremy from manhattan

I'm athletic, middle aged and notice that the hip that I broke in a bike accident years ago is chronically a source of pain. I moderate my exercise accordingly and want to remain in athletic shape while avoiding making the hip worse, I'd even like to find out if there is a way to heal what ever is wrong in that joint. I don't like swimming nor do I have access to a pool so can you recommend an approach for me?

Jan. 25 2013 01:44 PM
The Truth from Becky


Jan. 25 2013 01:43 PM
tom LI

To Luna - pick something new...switch up your regimen add weights, reduce weights and go for endurance, ...focus on core exercises...workout at diff times if possible. Revamp the diet, eliminate all sugars...pick a competition like an obstacle course race, and train for an event. Pick exercises that are not easy for you...pull-ups, push-ups, rope climbing, etc...

Jan. 25 2013 01:41 PM
Capper from NYC

What is the recommended weekly excercise? I work out 3 days a week every week for 1hr 15 min. I include cardio and weights in my routine. Is this enough to gain long term benefits?

Jan. 25 2013 01:41 PM
Lynda Abraham

Is interval running a better way to be fit than regular running and why?

Jan. 25 2013 01:40 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I disagree on the walking bit. Some walking is good for sure, but not for everybody. Too much walking and running puts a lot of pressure on the feet bones and ankles. There are many alternatives, like jumping on place until you feel your heart beating. I believe in short but intense exercises of all kinds, but this religion of walking is nonsense to me. It may be good for many, but not for me, because I was born with bad feet and now with arthritis limits my ability to walk any distance without pain. But that doesn't mean that I'm out of shape. I do a variety of plenty of exercises, but walking distances is not one of them, and I am physically okay for age 66.

Jan. 25 2013 01:39 PM
Ana from Summit, NJ

I started exercising and running last year and had the benefit of having a fitness assessment at the beginning of the exercise and 6 months later. I lost 4 % of body fat but not much weight (about 4 lbs). I am somebody that is about 100 lbs overweight and this is a litte frustrating although very happy to be able to run 5 miles now. How to reconcile weightloss with fat loss?

Jan. 25 2013 01:38 PM
Mark from brooklyn

Can you advise those of us who bicycle frequently, but don't do any other exercise activity, whether we need other kinds of exercise.

Jan. 25 2013 01:37 PM
tom LI

Obvious Q. What's the guests Fitness level?

Jan. 25 2013 01:36 PM
Christine from Westchester

How does your guest feel about those standing (and walking in place) desks for work?

Jan. 25 2013 01:34 PM
tom LI

Why isn't the Medical Industry and Physicians up to speed on exercise ? Every doctor I have ever seen is clueless about the Fit patients needs.

Jan. 25 2013 01:30 PM

Last year I really buckled down to look good in a bikini for my vacation. Vain I know but it worked. I lost 40 lbs! BUT now I've plateaued....what can should I be doing to lose those holiday pounds to look good in last year's bikinis?

Jan. 25 2013 01:30 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Some people exercise too much. Most exercise too little. But exercise doesn't necessarily extend your life, but can make your life better if done in a smart way, depending on your own bodily needs.
And most people do not have to exercise a whole lot to stay basically in decent shape and reasonably healthy. Ten to twenty minutes a day is sufficient if used correctly. It doesn't have to be long, but just intense.
Also variety is important. Some combination of aerobic, light weights, yoga style stretching and even isometrics can help even arthritic people like myself.
Of course eating properly and drinking lots of water and getting lots of sleep are equally important. Staying away from excess sugars and other carbohydrates, and eating nutrition foods, not empty calories, helps immensely in keeping weight down and energy up.

Jan. 25 2013 01:13 PM
Rick from NYC

question for Ms. Reynolds: in your book, and in your columns in the Times, you've mentioned research that suggests that being sedentary, specifically sitting, is bad for health, and that one should stand as much as possible. If that REALLY were the case, wouldn't those whose jobs require them to be on their feet all day (i.e.: traffic cops, short order cooks, etc.) be in OPTIMUM health? I DOUBT if that's the case.

Jan. 25 2013 01:08 PM
Terry from NYC

Stop comparing yourself to anyone else or where they are in terms of fitness. Write down your goals and put your schedule on your calendar. Tell others. Break down your goals to small achievements (but don't tease yourself with false rewards, like rationalizing cheating, etc).

And realize that it isn't how fast you run or how much weight you can lift, it's about challenging the voice in your head that says you can't, won't, will not. Take out the earplugs and confront your insecurities -

Jan. 25 2013 11:54 AM from NYC

Easy way to exercise is by biking. The invites everyone on our bike

Jan. 25 2013 10:51 AM

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