Book Review: The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer


The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds covers the gamut of fitness topics, with conclusions drawn from the most current scientific studies available. Indeed, this book truly focuses on what we can learn from scientific research on the given topic.  Areas discussed include improved general health, how to exercise, stretch, and recover for maximum effectiveness, even how exercise affects the brain and body. The biggest take-aways for me were:

  • Exercise is essential for preventing weight gain/preserving weight loss.
    • an improved insulin response lasts 30-45 minutes post-workout, and protein intake increases that time frame slightly; extra calorie-burning ends when the workout does (the “after burn” is a myth!)
    • Regular endurance training will increase the body’s ability to use fat as fuel during exercise.
  • The negative effects of the aging process can often be remediated with physical activity.
  • Daily exercise does not counteract the negative effects of sitting for hours on end each day
    • try to be active for at least 2-3 minutes out of every 30, throughout the day
    •  accumulate approximately 150 minutes of light exercise per week for improved health.
  • Strength and power training improve overall performance in increase efficiency and inter-muscular coordination and neuromuscular function.  It may also be more effective at preventing disease than endurance activities.
  • Typically 1 rest day per week will be enough, and it can include light activity such as yoga.
  • Stretching must be done daily to see improvements, and increases will be small and will take months.

I found this book to be well-organized and not only useful, but also an interesting read.  When all is said and done, you have a big-picture view of how you can be more in-control of your health. I would suggest this book particularly for fitness professionals or those more interested in the scientific research on various fitness topics. It won’t play as nicely with leisure readers, probably, but is a worthwhile read nonetheless.


How much water should you drink every day?

When it comes to drinking “enough” water, are you like me? I go through spurts where I’m particularly conscious about drinking water and mostly water.  I have a glass of water at my desk, or even carry an empty water bottle through airport security so I can fill it before I reach the gate.  Then, sometimes days will go by when I don’t even think my water consumption and I usually end up drinking very little.

So here’s what I’ve noticed about myself: When I drink more water I feel better, especially during long runs or exercise sessions.  I am certain that it’s important for me to hydrate before a run longer than 5 miles, ideally beginning the day before and continuing through the night (yes, that means I get up a lot to pee and then drink some more during the night) and right up until the run starts.  If I do that, I usually don’t have to carry something to hydrate with during my run.

Experts agree with my findings, apparently.  It takes an hour for consumed water to reach your muscles, so if you’re active every day you really should be hydrating throughout each day.  Experts disagree on how much people water we should drink everyday but I’m guessing that each individual should be able to determine the ideal amount based on the pee test (you should drink enough so that your pee is clear. Nuclear yellow pee in the toilet means you’re not consuming enough!) and just how they feel in general.  If you go out for a run and get cramps, you probably didn’t hydrate enough in the hours preceding the run!  Also, if you’re getting hunger pangs often and can’t figure out why, try drinking a bit of water before grabbing a snack.  I’ve read from multiple sources that the body will send hunger signals when dehydrated.  Your metabolism (and other cellular functions) also operates more efficiently when you’re hydrated.

Also, we’ve been told for years that coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks are diuretics and therefore dehydrate you, but apparently that’s not true unless you’re over-doing it on those drinks.  That being said, I think there are plenty of reasons to avoid caffeine, anyway, but that’s another post for another time.

To sum up: have your coffee first thing in the morning, if you must, or your tea or milk or OJ, and continue hydrating with water for the rest of the day.  Water is awesome in so many ways!  It’s refreshing and versatile (hot or cold, by itself or spiced up with some lemon), and it’s free at most restaurants. Go on, be a cheap date!!