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.



Fitness trends for 2014

Some of these you may have already been participating in, but some might be a new thing for you to try.  Health and fitness is a popular new year’s resolution for many people, so here are some fitness trends that I think will be popular for this year:

  1. HIIT
  2. Functional Fitness
  3. CrossFit
  4. Yoga
  5. Wearable fitness technologies

Let’s start with #5.  This arena is just exploding right now!!  I guess manufacturers were trying to get their devices on the market before the big shopping holidays and just in time for the new year’s resolution surge. You have probably already seen the Nike+ Fuelband and the FitBit but what about the Misfit Shine, the Jawbone or the Garmin Viviofit?  There are so many options with various features, it could be hard to choose.  Shape magazine recommends that you “…be sure to do your homework before you buy—some pricier devices might offer more features than you really need to reach your goals so to save money, skip the ones with tools you’ll never use.

#4 is yoga, which is increasing in popularity as it has in years past.  This one’s a no-brainer – it’s an excellent way to stretch and strengthen your body.  If you have never taken a yoga class you may think it looks easy, but take a power yoga class and then see how you feel!

#3, Cross Fit, became wildly popular in 2013 and I think 2014 holds much of the same.  If you are planning to try it out this year, get the OK from your doctor then find a local class.  I’m emphasizing that you should make sure you get the OK from your physician because CrossFit is known to be quite hard on the body. And, be careful, because CrossFit and other boot camp-type classes are addictive!

I’ve listed functional fitness as #2 because this is a growing trend I’ve heard a lot about lately, and I think it’s the awesome sauce. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, functional fitness, or functional training, is working out so you can be stronger for real life situations.  According to the MayoClinic, “Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities…” This might include picking up or carrying your small children or carrying multiple bags of groceries.  The idea is to strengthen your core plus major muscles in the upper and lower body.  You’ll work these various muscles and their corresponding joints in conjunction so that you’re prepared for them to function optimally in common, everyday situations.  This program has its roots in rehabilitation, but I think it can work well for everyone regardless of their age or current fitness level.  It will make everyday activities easier and reduce your risk of being injured.

And #1, HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training, is another trend that began gaining popularity months ago but I think will garner more attention in 2014.  The principle behind HIIT is that you’ll reap more benefits from quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by a short rest period (which is barely enough to catch your breath), before beginning the next burst.  Do that for 8 sessions of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off and you have done Tabata.  If you can do HIIT 3 to 4 days a week for a few weeks, you’ll see significant gains in your aerobic and anaerobic systems.  I have done various versions of HIIT from 2 rounds of Tabata during a boot camp class to a full 45 minute HIIT-specific class, and they were all really intense but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards was very rewarding.  The great thing about HIIT is the variety of exercises you can include – you could do all cardiovascular exercises, or mix it up with weight-bearing exercises.

That’s my list! What new fitness trend will you be trying this year?