Good-enough exercise to keep the Guiness gut off?
March 17, 2004 1:54 AM   Subscribe

Physical Exertion. I work from home and drink Guinness and so am getting heavier than I'd like to be, so i want to do some exercise. I'm not fat, but will become so. I also have trouble getting to sleep; my doctor says it's because I don't physically exert myself enough to become sleepy.

Can anyone suggest some good exercise? My difficulty is, I have no interest at all in competitive sports (no killer instinct) nor body building to look like Arnie. I have mild asthma and used to smoke; I also have mild Multiple Sclerosis. Is Yoga exertion enough, or is it more meditative? Is there a martial art that would suit me?
posted by Pericles to Health & Fitness (34 answers total)
i just joined a gym for the first time, i'm 32, trying to get back down into my late 20's weight range--about 30 pounds less.

the personal trainer who helped me start out said to do strength training to build muscle, (more muscle mass which burns more calories, all day long), and then do a little bit of cardio type stuff....stationary bike, treadmill, crosstrainer.

so my wife and i will go and do the weight machines for whatever group [arms, chest, legs, back], and then do cardio for about 15-20 minutes is isn't to burn calories really, its just to feel a bit more fit.

after a month of that i've actually gained some weight, but i feel pretty darn good.

yoga is next on my list, my wife is really enjoying it, from the stretches she is teaching me, it definately isn't just meditative, i'll tell you that much--would probably help you feel better.

what i would really like--in case any inventors are tuned in here--is a stationary bike with internet access. Maybe one hooked into a generator, that way i could play online, reduce my power bill and have a hot geek body. Just imagine if you had to pedal to see Metafilter. I'd be like a shut-in Lance Armstrong.
posted by th3ph17 at 2:53 AM on March 17, 2004

Pericles: walk. Walking is the great all-round life-saver. Anything else is too radical for the likes of us. Walking brings about the greatest benefits. Not fast walking or pedometer-controlled walking - just strolling to your favourite restaurant; looking around; going out for a stroll.

I see you live in Birmingham, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside in England. Just get in your car (or on a bus or a train) and wander. It doesn't really matter. Just walk about. It's the best exercise of all and the trick is not to notice you're doing it.

Or just walk around the city centre. Or anywhere else interesting. Take a notebook; a camera; a shopping list - anything to convince you you're pursuing your own interests, rather than just exercising.

Anything obligatory is a chore and doomed to failure. Walking is the solution, believe me! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:02 AM on March 17, 2004

Can you swim? Plenty of good swimming baths in Birmingham - it's easy, relaxing, very good exercise, and you can't injure yourself. If you want a challenge, try the Swimathon (5km)
posted by BigCalm at 3:50 AM on March 17, 2004

Got a Play Station? Get a dance-mat. I think there are some for the PC as well, if you have some place near the computer to put it down.
posted by Goofyy at 4:09 AM on March 17, 2004

+Migs. Walk! It's all about distance. 20 minutes on a treadmill (every day?) is a good start, but 30 minutes each day seems to be the minimum to be effective. I have advanced heart disease and I walk at least an hour each day, sometimes 2 hours.

For weight maintenance, one trick I use is what I call 'passive calorie burning'. I drink a minimum of 8 glasses of ice water each day. That water must be brought to body temperature before it can be processed. The calories burned to do that are roughly equivalent to the calories burned in walking a half mile, likewise eating cold food (although obviously that is ingesting calories as well). My mother lost 10 pounds over 6 weeks simply by drinking ice water each day without changing her diet in any other way.

Another is adding hot spices to my food, like pepper or cinnamon. These spices cause your body temperature to rise somewhat. I haven't calculated how much, but imagine the energy burned in raising 200 lbs of what is mostly water just one degree.

Another passive trick is standing whenever possible over sitting. Standing burns twice as many calories as sitting, 2 per minute over 1 per minute, roughly. I read once that sitting and doing nothing actually burns more calories per hour than sitting and watching television. If you can't break your TV habit, then stand and do some light weights while watching. Anything to burn a calorie, I say.

You lived a particular lifestyle for years, and only a serious commitment of time will reverse the effects. I know the pain of having to commit an hour or two each day to something so seemingly unproductive, but walking does give me time to think and prioritize. I carry a cheap organizer and enter my thoughts as they occur.

On review re Goofyy: Learn to dance with your wife. Not only does it burn calories, but dancing generally leads to other calorie burning activities. ;-P
posted by mischief at 4:31 AM on March 17, 2004

with asthma i think you need to talk to your doctor before thinking about exercise, but...

...i have (had?) *very* mild asthma (like, difficulty breathing maybe once a year, when it's hot and i'm exhausted). running seems to have fixed that for me. by running i mean running along roads or across country - not on a machine in a gym (which may be ok, i've just never done it). i'm not at all into group activities and have never raced in my life, but running has become an important part of my life - it keeps my body feeling right and seems to help keep my mind on an even keel too :o) it's also easy to do anywhere - all you need is running shoes and shorts (assuming you normally have socks + t-shirts anyway!).

if you do it, take it easy when starting. when i started i read lots of advice saying the same, was amazed with how quickly i improved, forgot the advice, pushed too hard and injured myself (see ancient diary).

having said all that, i wouldn't rely on exercise to keep weight down. if you're putting weight on you need to change how you eat too, imho.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:11 AM on March 17, 2004

There are many activities to increase your exercise level (walking, running, swimming, cycling) The key is to find one that you like doing. Personally, I walk to a pool 2 miles away and go swimming for 30 minutes to an hour every other day. My friend says he can't imagine going out of his way to exercise and that he prefers to use his elliptical trainer in front of the TV in his living room.
What's better? The one you're willing to do rather than the one you're willing to feel guilty about not doing.
posted by cardboard at 5:38 AM on March 17, 2004

Another alternative to yoga is tai chi - very slow, very meditative, and very much a work-out.

btw, congratulations on getting out there and being willing to exercise. The first part is always going to be the hardest, but after you get over that initial hump, you will feel great, and your body will thank you too.
posted by jazzkat11 at 5:41 AM on March 17, 2004

It's drinking water instead of other crap that contributes to weight loss, not the temperature difference.

The energy contained in food is given in kilocalories, or units of 1000 calories. For some strange reason probably involving a desire to avoid freaking out the masses the term for 1000 calories is Calories instead of kilocalories. So if you eat a 240 Calorie chocolate bar you're really eating 240,000 calories.

You can figure out how much energy heating 8 glasses of water up to body temperature requires pretty easily.
  • Eight 8 ounce glasses of water adds up to a total of 64 ounces.
  • 64 ounces comes out to 1.89 liters
  • 1.89 liters of water has a mass of 1890 grams.
  • It takes 1 calorie to raise a gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
  • The coldest ice water can be is 0 degrees (this would be a mix of slush and water)
  • Body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius.
  • This all totals up to 69,930 calories or 69.93 Calories.
To burn off 1 pound of fat requires that you some how take in 3500 Calories of energy less than you expend. To lose one pound of weight in a week through drinking ice water would take 50 liters of water or about 7 liters per day.

The human body isn't 100% efficient and that will work somewhat in your favour (I couldn't find any information on body efficiency) but I doubt that it's only 14% efficient which would have to be true for mischief's anecdote to be correct.

For an additional reference point I just looked at a bottle of Pepsi on my desk. It's 20 ounces or 590 mL or 590 grams. It was very cold when I drank it (had slush on top because it was in my car) and raising it to body temperature took 590 calories. According to the bottle it has 140 Calories. If the Calories on the bottle were identical to the calories expended heating up the Pepsi I'd have actually burned 450 of them actually drinking a very cold Pepsi.
posted by substrate at 5:51 AM on March 17, 2004

i worked with someone who did tai chi (i think he was european champion of something or other that involved waving a stick around :o) and what he did was certainly not all slow and meditative! it did seem like a pretty cool sport and kept him in good shape.

incidentally, i had missed the comment about (mild) multiple sclerosis when i suggested running. i have no idea how that affects what you can do so running may have been inapprorpriate - sorry if so.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:57 AM on March 17, 2004

Pericles, I was going to suggest Yoga before I got to the part where you mentioned it. That and walking, Miguel is right.

Let's not even call it Yoga! Yoga sound intimidating. Just ease yourself gently into a routine of several stretches that hit all your major muscle groups. Do them in succession, breathing deep and taking short breaks in between. Do hurdlers stretches for your hamstrings; do a runners' stretch, leaning against a wall or do the warrior posture for your back and calves; do the cobra for your back and shoulders and stomach (this one feels good!); stretch your fingers backward to counteract what your keyboard does to your hands.

And so many Yoga postures, like this one, can be done lying on the floor (bonus!), and if you stretch aggressively but not to the point of pain, you'll feel the need to breathe deep as your muscles demand oxygen.

If a garden hose is kinked, the water will not run through it. When you stretch, your muscles unkink and expand and fill with blood and oxygen. It's a good feeling.

It's a real workout, much more than most people realize, yet you can do so much of it on the floor lying down with the TV on! This site , that I just Googled, has some basic postures that are well illustrated.

And it feels good, especially to us stiff over-thirty crowd.

Tai Chi is greeeeat too, but you really need to find a really good instructor. If you find a Chinese fellow who will also teach you the self-defense applications, you've found a gem.

And take it easy. It's better to go slow than to start off overloading yourself with a routine that you won't keep up. Start off exercizing twice a week, giving your muscles time to build up and adjust to the new stresses. Eventually you will probably feel like exercizing more.

I would suggest eating well too, a balanced diet of carbs and preotein (and anything in moderation -- Guinness really is good for you), making sure you are not calorie-deficient. Better to eat a little too much than to put your body in starvation mode, causing your metabolism to slow and hoard fat and conserve on burning calories.

Whoa, sorry -- looong speech.
posted by Shane at 6:04 AM on March 17, 2004

Eight 8 ounce glasses of water = ... = 69.93 Calories : Walking a mile burns about 100 calories, so complete the math.

Like I said, investing time is what makes the difference. Drinking that ice water over the course of a year contributes to weight maintenance.

Further, most of the weight loss when one starts to drink that quantity of water on a daily basis is actually water weight. However, continuing to drink water consistently keeps that water weight from returning. Consider the volume that 10 pounds of water occupies and that is the volume of body mass that is shed.

Weight control is not a one-time, one-activity process. The entire program is the sum of all life-style changes, each of which contributes its small share.
posted by mischief at 6:16 AM on March 17, 2004

I don't know what your particular MS symptoms are, but if they don't affect your balance, motor control, etc., too much, I'd second Goofyy's recommendation of a dance mat. 30-45 minutes of Dance Dance Revolution each day for two months has done wonders for my cardiovascular health, and I've shed some weight because of it as well. Whoever thought of combining the addictiveness of videogames with the rigor of aerobic exercise deserves some sort of prize.
posted by Prospero at 6:17 AM on March 17, 2004

"Is Yoga exertion enough, or is it more meditative? Is there a martial art that would suit me?"

A cool thing about yoga is that the intensity can range anywhere from easy-peasy limbering up for a couch-potato all the way up to a killer workout for a pro athlete. If the first class you try is too easy/hard for you, you can always find another class which is harder/easier.

You can certainly find martial arts classes which will be at an appropriate level of exertion for you. The question is, would you personally enjoy it enough to keep coming back? If you think you might have an interest in that direction, try visiting a few dojos and watching a class. If you see one that just grabs your imagination as a fun thing to do, give it a shot.
posted by tdismukes at 6:27 AM on March 17, 2004

I too vote for walking! At least 30 min. per day. If you get bored, carry an mp3 player or listen to a book-on-tape/CD. I have walked from the Shire to Mordor and back several times (Rob Inglis is an absolutely wonderful reader.) If that's not your cuppa, you could try learning a new language.
posted by jfuller at 6:32 AM on March 17, 2004

Ditto what cardboard said. The exercise you'll do beats all others.

Cycling is what floats my boat, lots of action and decisions and done at 14 mph or better burns beaucoup calories, everything else is just so t-e-d-i-o-u-s (for me.) Your mileage may, etc.
posted by mojohand at 6:52 AM on March 17, 2004

I'd second cardboard's advice: the best exercise is the one you'll actually stick to.

If your living arrangements make it feasible to run errands on foot and you aren't already doing so, do so. Take stairs instead of elevators when the situation arises. Little stuff like that adds up quickly if you're sedentary.
posted by adamrice at 6:57 AM on March 17, 2004

My vote: join a gym. Weightlifting will not make you look like Arnie, it'll just give you better muscle tone and increase your metabolism. It's relatively low impact, especially if you use lower weights/higher repetititions, which focus more on toning and less on building as well. Thus, once you burn off calories by running or swimming or some other aerobic activity, you'll have a nice body underneath. Plus, weightlifting (and other anaerobic activities) burns calories for a good period of time after the fact (24 hours according to my former roommate, who was a pretty competent wrestler). Rowing machines are also nice.

And don't lay the blame on Guinness... it's calorie content is exactly average, and nowhere near the worst of beers, or foods in general.

On preview: being active in life is nice, but unless you're going to significantly cut back on food intake, having actual exercise activities is necessary to maintain weight and body tone.
posted by The Michael The at 7:05 AM on March 17, 2004

As far as the "best exercise is something you'll stick with:" Even if you're not a group-activity fan, finding someone to go with every day can keep you going back. Dropping a commitment with a friend is poor, and always trumps the lingering desire to stay at home.
posted by whatzit at 7:36 AM on March 17, 2004

Thanks all for the great advice. My Guinness level equalled my exercise level when I had a brisk 15 minute stroll to and from work and used stairs when I got there; it's the change to merely moving 10 metres from bed to home office that's caused a 5 kilo girth gain! My diet is pretty healthy and the MS is mild enough not to provide any major impediement to "layman's exercise" (tho I'll never be a pro athlete - but I expect 20 years of filling Phillip Morris' coffers makes that certain).

In conclusion: I've decided to watch Tai Chi and yoga and see what takes my fancy, as I lack the urge to compete and if I can clear my mind as well as stimulate my body, that's a double whammy. And I've promised to take the 5 year old heiress to Chateau Pericles swimming once a week.

Thanks all for your input!
posted by Pericles at 7:44 AM on March 17, 2004

A good alternative to Yoga is Pilates - it's sort of like Yoga, but a good deal more active. Like Yoga, but with reps. Also, try riding bike riding., hikes on the weekends...that's basically my exercise regimen in a nutshell.
posted by skwm at 8:04 AM on March 17, 2004

Oh, also: stick with it. Things will be difficult at first especially b/c of Phillip Morris' input, but will get easier quickly, I promise, and your enjoyment will grow exponentially. Good luck!
posted by The Michael The at 8:10 AM on March 17, 2004

Set goals you can achieve, and give yourself rewards when you achieve them. Helps you stick with your workout.

For me, I started lifting weights again after an 8-month break. Forcing myself to get up at 7 when I normally got up at 8 was hard, but I used my sweet tooth to my advantage. I don't eat desserts, but I *do* make a protein drink after I lift. The drinks (GNC Mega MRP) actually taste pretty good, are sweet, chocolate-flavored, and both help me gain muscle mass while giving my sweet tooth what it craves. Everyone wins!
posted by gramcracker at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2004

I vote for swimming as the best all-round exercise -- I just started again after 15 years and it's kicking my butt daily - but without any of that nasty lingering pain from something like running or having the red-hot poker of a bicycle seat up my ass (why are they so damned small?).

Also, get a workout buddy -- like someone said in a previous comment, it's easier to miss a commitment to yourself than to miss a commitment to meet a friend - even if you split up to exercise. The hard part is just getting up and moving, once you're equipped and ready to go you'll workout.
posted by dragstroke at 9:05 AM on March 17, 2004

I've been taking one-hour Hatha Yoga classes once a week for three weeks, and I'm amazed at how exhausted I am by the end of a session. And unlike most exercises (running, biking, PUMPING IRON) there is no pain from soreness.
posted by goethean at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2004

Wow, I need to stop using dashes to connect thoughts - soon.
posted by dragstroke at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2004

to add to the din: the best exercise is the one you do.

i do yoga a few days a week and i supplement it with walking. i find that the yoga is great exertion for specific muscle groups, but the weight maintenance comes primarily from the walking. (i walk several miles in a day, driving almost never and taking public transportation/cabs only sometimes.) in addition to the benefits of the yoga itself, doing it regularly also creates a space in the day which i fill with the stairmaster or a purely recreational walk (and sometimes with a vigorous videogame workout) when i don't feel like doing the yoga.

i know many people find that the only exercise they can commit to is one that is purely incidental to what they're doing. walking really fits that bill for me.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2004

Another vote for walking.

I've tried many approaches to physical fitness over the years, and I've found that only the really easy-to-do manage to stick around more than a month or so. I get up and fast-walk about two miles every morning before breakfast, which takes about 45 minutes, including 10 for stretching, (very important).

I'm no super-fitness buff, and I don't need to be; I just want to stay aware of my body. When I can do that, it seems to take care of itself pretty well. As in, it lets me know when it needs a stretch, a rest, or has eaten enough.
posted by squirrel at 9:42 AM on March 17, 2004

I'd say brisk walking too---can you institute a daily dad and daughter afterdinner walk or something? Circle the block once, and build up to twice or more. Or else do it yourself and use a walkman, and play fast-ish or peppy songs.
posted by amberglow at 4:38 PM on March 17, 2004

Resistance training doesn't necessarily mean you want to build muscles up to look like somebody inflated you. Instead, it is about building strength as well as muscle tissue, which is very dense.

Muscle burns fat, which means the more muscle you have, the more calories (or Calories, pick one) you will burn.

I'd suggest doing some minor things like dumbells and that sort of thing. Crunches are good workouts, as are push ups. Things you can do without equipment are great, and can be fit in any time during the day.

Nowadays, you hear less about "abs" and such and more about "the core", the midsection of your body. Everything that supports everything else. For good health, it is good to have a good core. This means good core strength, which means crunches, situp, et. al.

If you are maintaining weight, walking will work. But if you want to burn fat, you need to get your heart rate up. I would suggest getting a heart monitor, maybe a monitor watch. You wrap a strap around your chest, which communicates wirelessly with the watch. It will then observe your heart rate, and tell you when you are in your target zone. Figure out your target heart rate, and get yourself there when you work out. It ensures a good workout.

Stretching is also important. I found the US Army Physical Fitness Guide for stretching very useful. (Though it seems to be down right now.)

I can tell you that exercise will improve your sleeping. I used to have restless nights of no end, but I also weighed over three hundred pounds at the time, as well. Since I started working out, I sleep better, and a thinner (not thin yet) body does help in many other things as well.
posted by benjh at 5:44 PM on March 17, 2004

The exercise you should do is the one that you would like to make a habit out of. If you like nature photography, go on hikes and take pictures. If you like swimming, by all means swim. If you love playing around with swords, fence. The important thing is to create a regular habit out of whatever you do, and to not give up.

Soon, you'll find that you feel better when you do your regular activity and feel worse when you don't... and you'll want that regular daily activity and view it as a very special escape for you from the rest of life.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:50 PM on March 17, 2004

Great comments all around; i cannot emphasize walking enough. I make it a point to walk anywhere i can get to in under an hour rather than taking a bus or asking someone to drive me. I'm convinced that it's the only thing counterbalancing my chronic ice-cream habit.

Here a question from a level 3 non-exerciser: What is the next stage up of passive activity from water drinking and walking? I'm in decent shape, I do my 8 cups a day, and walk 2-5 miles a day, but i don't have the time for more than a few minutes of focused actual execrise. Is there a passive-style activity (like walking) that is useful for the upper body? I've had people tell me to use wrist weights when i'm just doing normal office work, but it seems like it would not be friends to my CTS preventive measures. Any thoughts?
posted by krisis at 10:29 AM on March 18, 2004

th3ph17: There's already been a couple TV-powering bikes (none sold commercially, though :p)

The solution to your proposal: Recumbent bike, HMD (or TV-out via graphics card or the hard way), and a Gyroscopic mouse. Plus a copy of NaturallySpeaking for typing (though the rule is supposed to be if you can talk easily, you're not really working out). Total cost: probably less than $5,000.
posted by abcde at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2004

Do you garden, krisis? Digging, weeding, and other yardwork are marvellous exercise.

If you're an urban person, the next thing is to make errands part of the walk: carry things. Groceries, your laundry, whatever.

And for incidental upper body exercise, I recommend the missionary position ;-)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:12 PM on March 18, 2004

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