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I wanted to expand my knowledge of exercise so I raided my local library and these were some of the first books I consulted.


The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds.


This book promises to show us how science can help us overall be more healthy, fit people and basically fix our physical lives. Sounds good. It sure is chock full of excellent tips, if a little random. When googling articles to learn more about the science behind exercise I noticed MS. Reynolds name comes up very frequently. She does write as a health columnist for the New York Times after all. So she has been immersed in the sea of health news, fishing out the most accurate facts for quite a while. As a starting point I would tend to trust her science. As a read I was a little overwhelmed with the immensity of it all.

When I was looking over my notes about the book I realized that they were all one sentence snippets of excellent, but seemingly unrelated health facts. There was the advice that interval training might trick your brain into working harder. A caution that the typical pre-race stretches other runners intimidate me with before a race can actually decrease performance. I liked that one. Then I wrote something about flexibility being overrated, and literally “Yup, HIIT workouts,”


You could see that page after page of noticing really great, but really disconnected facts could lead to exhaustion. In the end I remember very little of what this book said mostly because my brain could not attach itself to any discernible pattern in the information. I didn’t feel flow from one chapter to the next, or progression. I missed that. I’m a bit sad that so much great science just seemed to slip through my fingers. In the end I can leave you with the final note among my slew of random science facts: “Conclusion: use it or lose it,” And there you have it.


The No Sweat Exercise Plan by Harvey B. Simon, M.D.


I expected that this book would be practical and give me some real actionable advice I could work with. It surely was well organized. Each chapter offers tests to figure out how fit you are in different categories and exercise options for those of you who haven’t been binge watching FitSugar workouts on Youtube for years, not that I have.


Dr. Simon starts at the beginning, with a pep talk about all of the benefits of exercise. Because, of course, a person who wants to exercise, but not sweat, presumably wouldn’t come to many positive conclusions about exercise on their own. The list of bodily functions exercise can help improve includes many cardiac related activities, obesity, and diabetes. He even list things like gallstones and erectile dysfunction. If there is a problem with a human body it surely appears that exercise can aid it. Now that you are convinced that you really do need to get off the couch Dr. Simon provides everything you need to find out where you are starting from and move you to the next step.

After an overview of exercise in general Dr. Simon gets directly in to your specific situation. He provides some nice charts to assess your heart situation and, gulp, calculate that pesky BMI. He suggests strength and flexibility assessments you can do on your own, and then you are off and running.


He divides exercising into separate categories that he devotes a chapter to each. Those are Cardiometabolic exercises, or for those of us who actually exercise, “cardio”, which he considers the most important. Then he addresses strength training, flexibility, and exercises for balance. Now that you have done the handy assessments you know just where you stand in each of those categories. The chapters provide specific exercises you can do and an explanation of how it will benefit you.


The rest of the book helps you put together an exercise program that will work for you, addresses common excuses that get in the way of putting that program into practice, and points out some warnings and pitfalls you should avoid.


The book is well rounded, and could truly take you from being a lazy couch potato to someone who knows their body and has a plan to improve it. If that sedentary seat warmer is you, then this is your book. If you can do a few push-ups and run maybe a mile in some sort of amount of time, then you are basically already too advanced for this book. I am in decent shape, and I have been genetically rather lucky to be pain and ache free in my 40s, but I don’t consider myself to be special. I aced most of the assessments, and I found a lot of the exercises to be pretty basic. It did stroke my ego a bit, but I was looking forward to more of a challenge. That was not this book. This book might be a good suggestion for that person in your life that really should get off their butt, and may be enticed by a title that caters to the lazy.


As far as my own education on exercising and my life, I am going to be seeking out more sources and more books with grandiose claims. Hopefully I will find the challenging exercise education I am looking for.

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