- The beginning
- Health and Physical Fitness
Health and Physical Fitness
“It isn’t a matter of getting the body you want, it’s a matter of doing the most you can with the body you have.”
– John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running
Born to Run is not only a classic Bruce Springsteen song but also a book that has become just as much of a classic among runners, written by Christopher McDougall. Even though we could argue about the theory suggested by the title of the book, scientific literature suggests that the primary purpose of the human brain is not problem-solving, creativity, or coordination of other organs. Actually, it’s movement. An extreme example of this is the tunicate. Once fully developed and attached to a rock, this aquatic invertebrate animal spends the rest of its days eating its own brain – no need to move, no need for a brain. Another example is artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence can beat the world chess champion, but that wouldn’t help robots catch a tennis ball as any five-year-old could. So, if you really want to move your brain, you should choose a workout rather than a crossword. Sport is great, but opposite to what The Flintstones might suggest, our ancestors didn’t go to the gym and didn’t lift stones instead of dumbbells. Moving around was enough.
The World Health Organisation recommends spending 150 minutes a week (about 22 a day) on easy physical activity or 75 minutes (just seven minutes a day!) on intense physical activity. This is the minimum. If you want to reap more benefits of moving your body, you can double this recommended time. That doesn’t necessarily require going to a gym. A study involving 130,000 people from 17 countries found that going to work on foot and chores such as vacuuming, or scrubbing were sufficient activities to reduce the risk of premature death by 28 percent if done for 150 minutes a week. And that’s only the beginning. Try reframing certain activities, such as shopping or going to and from work, in your mind. Is carrying a shopping basket around the store really a struggle and a drag? Or is it exercise comparable to weightlifting at the gym? And is being stuck in traffic (whether in your own car or public transport) really better than walking? You can walk half the way or just a couple of bus stops. A study in 2019 involving nearly 150,000 Australians showed that it takes more than an hour of intense movement a day to eliminate the negative health effects of seated work. Scientists announce that sitting is the new smoking, so maybe leaving the car at home and going to the store on foot after work is worth it? Not finding time to move is like not finding time to sleep, which is a separate part of this formula, or breathe (we recommend reading Breath by James Nestor which uncovers that most people don’t know how to breathe correctly). In 2005, specialists from the US even topped the well-known diet pyramid with stairs to highlight that it is difficult to talk about good health if a person is not moving or exercising enough.
There is probably no doubt that our health, well-being, mood, and even ability to work depend on our diet, but everyone interprets differently what it means to eat healthily or unhealthily, correctly, or incorrectly. There is no universal formula for a good diet but if we put trends aside (you can’t earn anew from old theories), a solid recommendation was formulated back in 2008 by Michael Pollan in his book In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating: “Eat food . Not too much. Mostly plants”. In the resources list, you will also find two Michael Greger’s books – How Not to Die and How Not to Diet. In the first, based only on research, Michael Greger investigates the leading causes of death in the US (which are similar to those in Lithuania) and examines their relation to diet. In the second one, How Not to Diet, Greger looks at the most popular diets of current times (“diet” as a dietary regime rather than a restrictive way to lose weight), how effective they are, and what you can do to achieve the best results. These books are well-acclaimed but quite lengthy, so those who want something more like a research summary should look at the Healthy Eating Pyramid, a document by the HARVARD T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Time spent on nutrition (cooking at home, reading labels, researching, etc.) will add many years of a healthy life and improve your wellbeing both now and in the future.
Lastly, a couple of words about preventive care and taking an interest in your health. Many people know more (and often are more interested) about smartwatches, phones, cars, or a celebrity living in another part of the world than about their own health or health in general. For example, 9 out of 10 Lithuanians (an optimistic number) are vitamin D deficient. The effects of its deficiency include frequent colds, persistent fatigue, low mood (as mentioned above, Michael Greger references vitamin D deficiency as related to one of the leading causes of death in the US – suicide), slow-healing of wounds, hair loss, bone pain, backaches, and muscle pain, etc. The main source of vitamin D is the Sun, which we don’t get a lot of in Lithuania. Since the sky here is often characterised as zeppelin-coloured, and only a couple of months are sunny enough to make vitamin D, the easiest way to stock up on it is using supplements prescribed by a doctor. Keep in mind that most the over-the-counter supplements sold in pharmacies are meant to maintain a stable vitamin D level, not to restore it. Vitamin D deficiency serves as an example issue that most Lithuanians neither suspect nor somehow deal with it. Proper health care also requires preventive health checks and controlled use of medication (as well as antibiotics). Is it worth investing in your health, or is it something that just “is what it is”?
The goal here is not to lecture you on when, how, and how much you should move or exercise, what and how much to eat, or how to take care of your health. The authors of this formula want to remind you that this area is essential for our general wellbeing. It’s up to you to decide whether investing in this area of life is worth it, whether this area is more important, a little more important or less important than others, is up to you to decide.
How to find the time and where do I start?
Reduce the obstacles between you and the result. Research shows that the further the gym (or just a sporting venue) is from your home, the smaller the chance of going there. As a result, it is often the simplest, easiest, and cheapest to go jogging outside or exercise at home.
Find an exercise buddy. Sometimes, it’s easier to get ready to do something when you know you have already committed to someone to exercise together.
Exercise with your family or friends, thus combining quality time with family and improving your physical form.
To exercise in the morning, prepare the night before. Put running shoes and workout outfit by the bed, or, in the worst-case scenario – go to bed in running pants or shorts.
Sport (like any other activity) has to provide pleasure. If you feel bad, drained, or (unpleasantly) tired after it, you may be doing something wrong – too much, too fast, etc. Leave the logic of per aspera ad astra (Eng. through hardships to the stars) to professional athletes.
Try, and combine different sports or modes of movement, and find what you really like: walking, running, cycling, boxing, yoga, tennis, basketball, etc.
Give the day-to-day movement a new meaning. For example, try carrying heavy bags of groceries as if it was an alternative to lifting weights at a gym, etc.
Add all 4 main exercise groups to your arsenal: 1) aerobic/cardio, 2) strength, 3) flexibility, and 4) balance. It’s better to move step by step than all at once. No need to be able to tie up your shoes without bending down when you can’t go up the stairs to the fifth floor.
Replace driving by public transport or car with walking or cycling. In those cases where the distance to big, shorten it by getting off public transport a few stops earlier and taking a quick walk.
Track your activity on a smartphone via Google Fit (Android) or Apple Health (iPhone). If a smartphone is always with you, you can install additional applications that turn your phone into the best sports partner. Share your accomplishments with your friends, invite them to join challenges, and compete.
Buy a smartwatch or a bracelet that will track your activity 24/7. If you only need the basic parameters, a 20-30 Euro device will suffice, but if you plan on getting involved in sports more seriously, choose a Garmin, Polar, Suunto, or Coros, which also allow you to track your heartbeat.
Initiate or join wellness programs at your workplace. Often employees are not aware of possible wellness-related compensations, benefits, and even having a gym in their office. Ask your workplace to provide the possibility to exercise or at least come to work by bicycle (including bicycle stands and showers).
Have car-free days (just for yourself or in your workplace) once a month or week.
Turn movement and sport into a habit with time dedicated to it in your agenda, not just something that happens when you have no other commitments. Both good and bad habits take a while to attain, but in the same way, it takes a while to lose them.
Pay attention to what you eat and understand what labels mean: “vegetable oil” is no good if it’s palm oil, “full-grain” is a better option only when the fibre-to-carbohydrate ratio is 1:5 (or less), etc.
Give yourself a healthy gift: a massage, new sports activities (swimming pool, rock climbing, CrossFit, etc.), a health check, etc.
In your healthcare institution, find out what free preventive health checks you can access.
Check your vitamin D level. There’s almost no doubt that you’re deficient; the only question is – how badly?
Check your iron (or ferritin) level, which can also be done when becoming a blood donor, thus connecting the areas of healthcare and community service in your life. Encourage the workplace to organise a donation campaign and donate blood with your colleagues.
 Scott A Lear, PhD, Weihong hu, MSc, Sumathy Rangarajan, MSc, Danjela Gasevic, PhD, Darryl Leong, PhD, Romaina Iqbal, PhD et al. The Effect of Physical Activity on Mortality and Cariovasclar Disease in 130 000 People from 17 High-Income, Middle-Income, and Low-Income Countries: The PURE Study. The Lancet, volume 390, issue 10113, 2017.
 Emmanuel Stamatakis, Joanne Gale, Adrian Bauman, Ulf Ekelund, Mark Hamer, and Ding Ding J Am Coll Cardiol. Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, volume 73, No. 16, 2019.
 Meaning that one should eat real food, not processed, food-like products.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants (Bill Bryson, 2020). This book offers a detailed and thorough investigation of each part of the human body as if it was an unknown continent. The author provides scientific facts about our organs and how they work, bacteria and microbes, brain function and sense of smell, how the body works, and sometimes even heals itself. “The Body” is a remarkable guide to our own selves that captivates and leaves you in awe and, at the same time, makes you laugh at the human attempts to figure ourselves out.
How Not to Die (Michael Greger, 2015). In this science-based book, Michael Greger examines the leading cause of death in the United States (which are very similar to those of Lithuania) and investigates their relation to diet. The second part of the book presents practical nutrition advice that leads to living longer and healthier.
How Not to Diet (Michael Greger, 2019). The second book by Michael Greger is about the impact of nutrition on our bodies and the effectiveness of the most popular diets nowadays (diets as in dietary regimes, not a restrictive way to lose weight).
Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement (Katy Bowman, 2017). A book about the benefits of movement. When a person moves, it is not only their body that moves: every single cell in their body moves. Each movement uniquely affects our cells; thus, it is important to diversify movement. Nowadays, people move less, which harms healthy body functions. The book provides a list of corrective exercises that will help you move the areas of the body that don’t usually move and a list of tips to change your lifestyle and start moving more (especially for those who don’t want to exercise).
HARVARD T.H. Chan School of Public Health Healthy Eating Pyramid: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-pyramid/
The website of Dr Michael Greger, the author of How Not to Die and How Not to Diet: https://nutritionfacts.org/. Here, you will find everything about a healthy diet, different food products, and their effects on your body as well as your physical and emotional health.