Death, the big news this week, can come in many forms, but the one that caps a life of sloth is unnecessary and preventable. Current data suggests that more than 1/3rd of the world’s population has taken up voluntary physical inactivity…the social consequences of this “couch potato” syndrome are and will be far-reaching; and more devastating than those wrought by smoking and alcohol. From an individual perspective, since most of us, thanks to modern medicine, will live well into our 80s and 90s, we need to be reasonably fit and healthy all the time to make sure that our longevity does not become a curse.
No book puts this in better perspective than Gretchen Reynolds’, “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer”.
The field of exercise physiology is currently on a roll. Researchers these days have access to sophisticated tools and methodologies that allow them to find answers to all kinds of questions related to physical exercise. Ms. Reynolds keeps track of these on a regular basis in her column in the New York Times and has put these together in her book.
She addresses questions ranging from what is the bare minimum one needs to exercise (20 minutes a week) to whether there is a threshold beyond which further physical activity makes no difference. And for active runners she discusses a host of relevant issues including whether we should warm-up or not (ideally not, unless you know exactly what to do, which most don’t), how much water to drink during a run (preferably only when you are thirsty), whether carbohydrate loading before a run helps (not particularly), whether icing helps the muscles to heal faster (not really), should we cross-train (yes), what kind of shoes to wear (debatable), how to run (front foot versus heel-first), etc. The chapters are loaded with data, stripped of scientific jargon and interpreted in the context of exercise and running for regular people like you and I. A must read!
Last year, I had written about “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall where he talks about the Tarahumara people in Mexico and their running prowess. The book inspired me to switch to Vibrams Five-Fingers and front-foot running and changed my running life completely. I have gone from a slow 8K / hour to a reasonable 10K / hour speed, while enjoying every bit of every run. If you run but need motivation or have never run and want to start running, this is the book that will help.
And then to understand what extreme running can do to an individual, and how you can become an ultra-runner (longer than 50 mile runs) while still being vegan, Scott Jurek’s book, “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness” is great fun. Scott is one of the world’s top ultra-runners and his book is an autobiography that mixes vegan recipes with his personal perspective on how to run well, using his own experiences and travails.
I finished the book in one read over a weekend and I was riveted by Scott’s passion and focus. For anyone who has wanted to give up during the 17th km of a half-marathon, or can’t find the energy to get up on a Saturday morning to take to the roads, this book is worth the inspiration it provides to keep moving on.
These three books should help immensely, especially now that the 2013 Mumbai Marathon entries are open. Try and read them in the order above…they will make a difference.