Last week I attended the first ever Quantified Self Expo in San Francisco – which had a ton of interesting products and sessions on various topics covering areas of self-measurement. I was there demoing Revvo and also gave a talk titled “How to Measure Your Fitness Level”, which I thought would be useful for a wider group to review. Below are my slides :
I was inspired to write this post by a slew of recent studies showing that midlife fitness (midlife roughly defined as 40-65) makes a big difference to health outcomes and cognitive function for the rest of your life. I’ve certainly experienced this personally – increasing my fitness at 40 helped normalize my blood pressure levels. And I’m probably fitter today than I was in my 20s (talk about wasted youth!).
Here’s a short list of recent studies showing the connection between fitness, age and health issues / benefits. (Fitness, as I’ve explained earlier, is the ability of your body to supply fuel to muscle when you are active):
1/ Fitness measured for 45-62 year olds predicts chances of 10-year survival. (John Hopkins Study)
3/ Fit older adults (55-82) did as well as younger adults on cognitive function. Unfit older adults did poorly. (Boston University Medical Center Study)
4/ Higher midlife fitness prevents the brain from shrinking (Boston University School of Medicine Study)
5/ Higher midlife fitness associated with lower risk of certain cancers in men (University of Vermont Study)
The interesting thing about these studies is that you don’t have to be a super-athlete at 50 to stay healthy – the level of fitness expected – 12-13 METs is well within the reach of the average 50-year old male as you’ll see from the charts below.
(Many of these studies have been conducted amongst male cohorts so difficult to be as precise for women — I’m hoping to see more studies on female fitness & health impact in the future).
The other interesting question that it raises – if you can stay as fit as the average 30-year old (which is an achievable goal for most 50-year olds) can you entirely avoid aging related health issues ?
Disclaimer: The content on this blog (and linked websites) is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or linked websites. Reliance on any information provided on this blog is solely at your own risk.
Yes its the time of the year when a remarkably large number of people resolve to do something they will predictably give up within a few weeks of starting i.e. trying to get fit. And until recently I was part of this pattern — resolving countless times to get fit yet giving up within a few weeks of starting an exercise program. Something however changed the year before & for the last ~2 years I’ve actually managed to stay at it for long enough to now genuinely claim that I am indeed fit.
The biggest challenge with getting fit – as we all know – is to actually stick with it through thick & thin – rain, snow and heat – long days & sleepless nights (thanks to my 2-year old!). And to achieve this I had to completely ignore conventional wisdom on the subject (as reflected in countless articles – for example, see here & here).
1/ Find Something You Like Doing
Conventional wisdom suggests you should find an activity you like doing and do just that if you want to get fit. I LOVE cycling along the Erie Canal (which is a few minutes walk from where I live) — I can cycle for hours. Yet I managed to do this just twice in the whole of last year!
It’s not difficult to explain why — I need to dedicate a significant chunk of time for the activity, the weather needs to be decent and my kids cannot ask to join me (which they inevitably do & I find difficult to refuse and in which case all we end up doing is a short & gentle trip where my heart rate goes up only because my 8-yr old keeps trying his best to jump into the canal).
Also the reason why I like the long canal biking trips so much is their rarity .. if I was doing this daily (say this was my commute), I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it quite that much.
So forget trying to do the thing you like … instead focus on finding something that you can actually do on a daily basis.
2/ Find a Friend
When I was 27 (that feels like a looong time ago!), I had a friend living in the apartment below who would wake me up at 5.30 so both of us could go for a run. And on days that he was being lazy I would pay him back! Even after nights of partying until 2 am I still managed to get out for a run early the next morning, thanks to him.
Things change when you have kids — your friends don’t control your schedule, your kids do. And that’s true for your friends too. Its still possible occasionally to co-ordinate our schedules so we can all get together for activity. However its incredibly rare to be able to do this on a daily basis.
So ignore conventional wisdom & find an activity you are happy to do on your own. Think of this as your time, free of work, kids, family & social commitments.
3/ Set a Weight Loss Goal
This is the conventional wisdom that in my opinion is the most dangerous & counter-productive. Yet how could you argue against setting a weight loss goal ? The reason – weight loss does not really happen via exercise alone. Many studies have shown that the average person loses very little weight solely through exercise. And some of course even gain weight (because we want to reward ourselves for that long ‘hard’ run we just finished!).
And so if you do set a weight loss goal, you’ll probably end up giving up on exercise because you won’t see results.
The real reason why you should exercise is so that you can stay fit. Fitness, as I pointed out in an earlier post, is not about your weight. Its about how effective your body is in providing & utilizing oxygen to fuel your physical activity. And is perhaps the single best indicator of your overall health.
Ideally you should measure and track your fitness (which until now has required a visit to an exercise science lab). Or track a proxy – such as your average heart rate for the same activity level, or your average pace / finish time for a fixed distance you run or bike. And particularly if you’ve been sedentary for a while, you’ll see improvement within a few days / weeks of starting an exercise program.
So what are my personal suggestions to help you meet your fitness goals?
1/ Set a Fitness Goal
2/ Find a Short Workout Effective at Improving Fitness
3/ Integrate that into your Daily Life
My workout is indoor cycling (at home), at high intensity, for 10 minutes daily — I can do this rain or shine, sleepy or otherwise. It may not be quite as much fun as cycling on the canal but it does not require that I change my lifestyle, plus I can watch music on youtube as I bike. I track changes in my fitness each time I workout so I know how much meaningful progress I’m making. I am change the intensity as I make progress so I don’t plateau. (Full Disclosure : I’m building a smart exercise bike called Revvo that does all this).
I do this pretty much the same time everyday — its now literally like brushing my teeth or taking a shower so it doesn’t require an enormous amount of willpower to get me going. It’s just a habit and that’s how it should be.
Disclaimer: The content on this blog (and linked websites) is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or linked websites. Reliance on any information provided on this blog is solely at your own risk