News Flash: Americans are lazy which makes us fat.

A new study from Stanford University’s Department of No Shit, Sherlock shows that Americans are among the laziest when it comes to walking anywhere other than to the fridge for more chocolate pie. Researchers used the step counters in the smartphones of 700,000 people in 46 different countries to figure this out:

The U.S. is one of the world’s laziest countries — and it’s making us fat — USA Today

Scott Delp, a professor of bioengineering who co-led the research, told the BBC the “study is 1,000 times larger than any previous study on human movement.”

The least lazy, according to the study published in the journal Nature, are the Chinese, particularly those in Hong Kong, where people averaged 6,880 a steps a day.

The worst nation was nearby Indonesia, where people walked nearly half as much, averaging 3,513 steps a day. The worldwide average is 4,961 steps, with Americans averaging 4,774.

Now this study might seem pointless, but it turns out it does reveal an interesting fact. Indonesia has the lowest average steps per day for its population so you’d think they’d be much more likely to be obese similar to people in the United States, but it turns out that’s not the case because there is much less variation in the population between who walks a lot and who doesn’t. The researchers refer to this as “activity inequality” and it turns out the bigger that inequality is the more likely a nation is to be obese:

In countries with less obesity, the Stanford researchers say, people typically walked a similar amount every day. In nations with higher rates of obesity, there were larger gaps between those who walked a lot and those who walked very little.

Among those latter countries is the United States, where “activity inequality” ranks Americans fourth from the bottom overall.

“If you think about some people in a country as ‘activity rich’ and others as ‘activity poor,’ the size of the gap between them is a strong indicator of obesity levels in that society,” Delp told the Stanford news site.

Tim Althoff, who worked on the study, pointed to Sweden, with an average of 5,863 steps, as having one of the smallest activity inequality gaps. “It also had one of the lowest rates of obesity,” he said.

Additionally, whether you lived in dense urban or less dense suburban areas also plays a factor:

Jennifer Hicks, another researcher in the study, told the Stanford news site that they examined three California cities located close to one another – San Francisco, San Jose and Fremont. They found San Francisco held both the highest walkability score and the lowest level of activity inequality.

“In cities that are more walkable, everyone tends to take more daily steps, whether male or female, young or old, healthy weight or obese,” Hicks said.

I can’t speak for any other Americans, but I am a fundamentally lazy person who hates to exercise even though I know I really should.  My previous attempts at establishing a walking routine have been documented on this very blog, all of which I gave up on. I just can’t seem to get into the walking habit.

That said, the move to our new home does put me within a reasonable walking distance to a few stores, though it’s still longer than I’d like to attempt in my current shape. We’ve managed to land in a decent neighborhood where it’s not uncommon to see folks out walking for exercise during the day.

I doubt I’ll try getting into walking again simply because I already know I won’t stick with it. However, part of the my motivation for buying a house was so I’d have someplace to store a bicycle and now that I have one I’ve started looking for a decent bike that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg that I could start peddling around the block a few times. The reason I want one that isn’t expensive is just in case I fail at establishing that as a routine too. No point in spending $700 on a bike I don’t use. Did that once with the elliptical exercise machine I bought back when we lived in Ann Arbor. Not making that mistake again.

There’s a local bike shop not too far from my house that I would like to stop by this weekend and take a look around. I don’t need anything with a million gears on it, just something that will stand up to my weight. I used to love riding my bike as a kid well up through my teenaged years and I’m hoping I’ll still enjoy it today. Granted, it won’t do me much good during the winter months, but some exercise would be better than none.

As for the rest of the country, I’ve no solutions to offer up to get us all to exercise a bit more. If I have a hard time motivating myself to do it there’s no way I can think of some way to get everyone else to do it.

I’ve never been fond of exercise. Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to force it.

I’m fat. The last time I stepped on my fancy WiFi enabled scale on September 1st I topped off at 291.7 pounds. That’s down from my high of 301, but it’s up from the 287 I managed to get to in July. My ideal body weight for someone my height should be between 132 to 167 pounds. My BMI is 42 and it should be between 20 and 25. I am what is considered morbidly obese. I am not what a lot of people think of when they think of morbidly obese people. Most folks don’t even realize I qualify for that designation.

This pic is 5 years old, but other than being a little grayer in the beard I still look more or less the same.

This pic is 5 years old, but other than being a little grayer in the beard I still look more or less the same. Click to embiggen.

That’s because I somehow manage to make it look damned good.

I’ve been this way for most of my adult life starting sometime in my late 20’s. I know it’s not healthy and I’ve been feeling the effects of carrying around all this extra weight for awhile now. Whether it’s my aching back or my feet that can’t seem to stay warm even in the heat of summer (not to mention a growing numbness in one of my big toes), I’m aware that I’m doing long term damage. I’m diabetic, but not to the point of needing insulin shots yet and I’m on medication to control my sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. In short, I have every reason in the world to be motivated to engage in regular exercise. Yet I don’t. Why? Because I really, really fucking hate it and I find it very hard to do things I hate as much as I hate exercising.

Taken on my wedding day, this was 14 years ago and I was at my heaviest weight.

Taken on my wedding day, this was 14 years ago and I was at my heaviest weight. Click to embiggen.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t tried. If you’ve been reading SEB for awhile then you may recall I bought an elliptical machine a few years back on the mistaken assumption that Anne and I would fall into a routine of using it regularly and having the pounds melt away. The reality was that it made a wonderful coat rack for the vast majority of the time it occupied a corner of our living room up until I sold it prior to moving to Canton because we wouldn’t have any spare space for it. Yes, there was a period of several months multiple times over the years were I made valiant attempts to put it to good use, but none of them lasted longer than a month and I never did manage to make it a habit. In the end it was depressing to even consider hauling my fat ass onto it. Then last year, after we gave up trying to buy a house, Anne and I tried getting into the simplest form of exercise you can do: walking. My company tried to help by offering up a Fitbit for free if I managed to walk 8,000 steps a day for 20 days during last October. I took up the challenge in the hopes that a whole month of walking regularly would make it a habit. While I did hit the goal, it didn’t become a habit and when winter set in my walking routine went the way of the dodo and hasn’t really recovered since.

So you can imagine my incredulity when I came across an article that basically said I probably shouldn’t be trying to exercise at all:

That hell I described is what the majority of the population thinks about regular exercise. They hate it, and they don’t want to do it. I am an internationally syndicated fitness columnist with columns read by a whole lot of people, and make my living writing about diet, exercise and weight loss. For years I’ve extolled the virtues of exercise as a way to control your eating behaviors and sculpt your physique into something that looks great and performs amazing feats.

And I have been wrong.

Wait, what? Yeah, that’s fitness journalist Jim Fell in an article titled The Exercise Myth he wrote this past February that I just stumbled across on Facebook. He continues:

It is not a personal failing in any person to fail to see the light with exercise, because that kind of light just isn’t visible for some. Actually, it doesn’t work for most. If you don’t want to exercise, then you qualify as “most.” You’re in the vast majority, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, because exercise isn’t exactly natural. It’s asking you to do something very unusual. It’s asking you to be someone you’re not. It’s asking you to expend energy and to embrace discomfort for a nebulous long-term goal that doesn’t actually accomplish anything in the near term other than shortness of breath and smelly laundry. Also, it costs money.

I’m not turning my back on exercise. I personally love it and will continue to do so (and I’ll keep writing about it too), but in learning to love it I realized how hard it was – how unnatural it was – to dedicate so many hours a week to running and cycling and the lifting of heavy things for no reason other than to put them back down and then lift them up again.

It’s like the man has known me my entire life. Jim goes on to talk about how the folks who really get into exercise to the point that it’s an effective weight loss are a minority making up maybe 5% of the population and only 25% get enough exercise to have any health benefits at all. He says we’re not lazy, just normal. That plays right into my cognitive biases so of course it appeals to me.

The myth about exercise is that it is a viable solution for the population at large to achieve lasting weight loss. Whether the reasons are physiological, psychological, practical or financial, most people are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Nike’s tagline. They Just can’t do it. They WON’T do it.

For some, exercise works as an important part of a weight loss program, but for most, they will never be able to make themselves exercise hard enough, long enough, and frequently enough to get a considerable caloric burn and therefore affect weight loss. THIS is the myth that has been perpetuated about exercise.

Jim goes on to explain all the problems inherent in regular exercise that keeps most folks from doing it and how much effort is involved to really get any benefit from it. He spends a lot of time on the traps and pitfalls a lot of folks who try to make a go at it end up falling into. All in all it would be a pretty depressing article if it weren’t for the end where he has suggestions for those of us who just can’t seem to get into exercise:

There is another option to assist weight loss for the non-exerciser, and it’s pretty neat.

Actually, make that NEAT. It’s Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is burning calories via methods other than traditional sport or exercise. It’s movement with a purpose, like walking instead of driving, using your bike as a mode of transportation, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting up and walking to a co-worker’s office to chat instead of picking up the phone, pacing while on the phone instead of sitting, doing housework, shoveling snow, yard work, carpentry, playing with your kids, walking the dog, doing laundry, moving furniture … All those things people stopped doing because of technology.

When you adopt a mindset of looking for every possible excuse to add in extra movement, traditional exercise be damned, you can burn more calories each day without the pain and hassle, and without nearly the risk of developing a reward mentality in regards to “earning” a tasty treat. What’s more, movement begets more movement. Starting slowly, you’ll find over time that you transform from a sitter to a mover, and you’ll rack up some caloric burns while achieving greater fitness.

And in terms of weight loss, if you sit less, spend less times in front of screens, and keep those hands busy you’ll be less inclined to engage in mindless snacking, and more likely to establish a regular meal pattern.

In other words, the NEAT approach to fitness can help you on the food intake side, which is where lasting weight loss really happens.

This makes a lot of sense to me and not just because it excuses my inability to develop an exercise habit.

Even as a skinny-ass kid I hated exercise. When it came time in gym class to do exercises such as push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, or running laps I always hated every second of it and did them in as half-assed a manner as I could and still claim I had done what I was asked. However, when it came time for dodge ball or basketball or volleyball or any of a number of other similar games I’d put my all into it and loved it. I also tended to enjoy swimming and riding my bike, two things I haven’t done in years. Anne and I keep talking about buying a couple of bikes, but living in an apartment makes figuring out where to keep them difficult. If I have to carry them up and down from the basement then I know they’re not going to get used, but I don’t have anyplace safe to store them outside where they won’t be stolen or damaged by the weather.

It’s clear that I’m never going to be an avid exerciser so perhaps it’s time I stop trying to become one. Perhaps the solution I should be trying is to just get up from my computer screens more often and seeing if I can’t find something I love to do that involves more movement. Playing is what kept me skinny as a kid, maybe it can help me as an adult.

I can totally relate to this.

ishouldprobablyexerciseYou may recall that back in October I took on a challenge my employer put out to walk 8,000 steps a day for 20 days in the month in order to get a Fitbit Flex for free (normally $99). My hope was that if I could complete the challenge it would become a habit and I’d be on my way to returning to the slim figure of my youth, or at least not as fat as I was.

So the bad news is that with the arrival of winter my time spent walking has slowly dropped off to the point that I only managed to get out and walk once in January and haven’t done it since (and I didn’t even make it to 8,000 steps that day). We’ve been in the grip of a polar vortex for a few weeks now — not to mention being sick as a dog with a nasty cold two weeks ago that kept me in bed — and it’s just more than I can muster the motivation to overcome.

The good news is that what little weight loss I have managed, about 10 to 15 pounds, has stuck with me. I was 300 pounds when I started and my weight is currently hovering between 281 and 285 (my last weight as of yesterday was 282.2). My fancy wi-fi scale tells me that I’m down 13.9 pounds in 9 months. I expect it has a lot to do with the healthier meals Anne and I have been eating as of late because it’s sure not from exercise.

Once the temps around here start averaging above terrifyingly-ball-shrinking levels I am determined to get back to walking regularly and I hope to see the losses increase. For now, I’m slightly healthier than I was. It’s nothing to celebrate, but it’s better than nothing.

 

Time for another “Les isn’t dead yet” update.

exercisemotivationI last wrote about my state of health back on August 2nd so I figured it was time to give those of you who are interested an update on my current status.

The short version: I’m not dead yet.

The long version: I’m doing better. I still haven’t lost any weight — in fact I shot up to 308 pounds at one point which was a first — but I am doing better. We still don’t know for sure exactly what my chest problem was, but it’s gone away and hasn’t been back and I’m no longer taking Prilosec for it. I’ve been trying to exercise and count calories since that incident flared up and I started off really strong managing to do 15 minutes on our elliptical every weekday morning for near three weeks until my back flared up and I took a week off. Since my back got better I’ve only managed two to three times a week for reasons including sore legs and back twinges. I’ve also given up on trying to accurately track my calories as the MyFitnessPal app only worked occasionally on my smartphone and figuring out dinner counts was way more of a hassle than it was worth. Not that it matters as even with over-estimating how much I was eating I was still coming in under what it said was my limit that should have made me lose a pound a week and yet, as you’ll recall from the first sentence, no weight loss has occurred.

I saw my doctor this past Monday and told her about how demoralized I was getting with the whole process. I’ve been told repeatedly the exercise will get easier. It hasn’t. I’ve been told to expect a little weight gain at first, but after a couple of weeks I’d drop below my starting weight. I haven’t and it’s been almost three months. I still can’t make it more than 15 minutes without risking my legs giving out. The only indicator I had that there was any improvement is that it now takes almost 10 minutes before I start sweating profusely whereas it was just a couple of minutes at the beginning. Other than that I’m making myself miserable and not seeing any positive results for it.

My doc is a smart lady. She knows I need something to show me I’m making a difference so she orders me to have blood work done right then and there without bothering to fast first as you’re supposed to. So I do as I’m told and yesterday we got the results back.

I mentioned last time that almost all the bad stuff was too high and the good stuff too low. I specifically mentioned that my sugar was 254 and this time it was 247 which is still high, but my HbA1C, which is an average of my blood sugar over the past few months, had dropped from 9.8 to 8.2. The goal is to get it to 7.0 or under and I’m headed in that direction. My total cholesterol has greatly improved dropping from 235 to 140 with the goal being less than 200. My LDL (bad cholesterol) went from 151 to 79, the target is 100 or less, but my HDL (good cholesterol) also dropped from 36 to 27. She says that happens sometimes when you lower the bad stuff and not to worry about it just yet. Finally my Triglycerides were 169 down from a high of 241 last time and the goal for that is less than 150. Considering this was a lab done without fasting that’s seems pretty good to me.

So the upshot of all that is I am far from perfect healthwise and I’ve not lost any weight yet (I was 299.6 on Monday), but I’m definitely getting better. She wants me to keep exercising for as long as I can managed it every other weekday (Mon, Wed, Fri) and if I can squeeze one in on the weekends that’d be gravy. I’m still trying to pay attention to calories and portion sizes and she’s pointed me to a couple of other possible apps to help with that. I go back for another lab and followup in three months.

I’m happy to see that at least something about my health appears to be improving, though even a tiny bit of weight loss would go a long damned way to helping my motivation. I don’t think I’ll ever be thin again, but losing at least a few pounds would be really nice. So I’m keeping at it. I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m managing it in my own way.

A small update on my health.

youarewhatyoueatI’ve had a couple of folks ask me for an update on my health so I thought I should post an entry about it. Here’s the short version:

We’re not 100% sure what the hell the problem was, but it appears to have gone away.

My doctor seems pretty confident that it was esophageal muscle spasms and I’m inclined to agree, but at the time I wrote the last blog entry they felt a lot like heart palpitations. I continued to experience whatever the hell they were for the next week and a half. They only stopped recurring a day or so ago. I was due to have a heart stress test today just to be on the safe side, but the place she originally recommended was out of my network so we’ve postponed it until I can find out from my insurance company of an in-network place I can go.

That said, the results from the blood work I had done show I’m in terrible shape. All the bad things are too high and the good things are too low. For example, my glucose level was 254 when it should have been (after a 12 hour fast) below 140. Bad cholesterol is too high, good cholesterol is too low along with vitamin D. It’s not all bad news as my electrolytes, liver, and kidneys all seem to be in good shape. Still, the whole experience scared me enough to motivate me to make some changes.

So a week ago Thursday I dusted off the elliptical and hauled my fat ass up onto it and did 15 minutes of exercise, which is about all I could handle before my legs gave out. I managed to crawl back on it last Friday and do another 15. I also installed the MyFitnessPal app on my phone and started trying to track calories. I put in my stats to the app (weight, height, amount of moving around I do at work) and it calculated out how many calories I could eat a day and still lose a pound a week before taking into account any exercise I did. Then the weekend hit and I fell off the wagon. Didn’t track calories. Didn’t get on the elliptical.

This week I’ve managed to do 15 minutes of exercise every day except Tuesday when I only managed 5 minutes due to some other events taking place that morning. Tracking calories hasn’t fully recovered. It’s a stunning pain in the ass to do and the app has been having trouble connecting to the servers and any of a number of other excuses I can make up, but I am still paying closer attention to the calorie count of the things I’m eating and trying to make better choices.

My legs are ready to mutiny and I’m starting to tire of all the folks telling me it’ll get easier as time goes on because it’s not getting any easier fast enough. It’s also somewhat disheartening to look down at the display on the elliptical just before my legs give out and see that after 15 minutes of vigorous exercise that has left me a panting, sweaty mess (which is why I’m doing it in the morning before my shower) that I’ve only managed to burn a pathetic 113 calories. My enthusiasm isn’t helped any further by the fact that last week when I stepped on the scale we have here at work (good for upwards of 2500 pounds) I came in at 298 and maybe a half pounds  — the scale couldn’t settle on whether that .5 was legit or not and kept flopping back and forth — and today, a week later, when I stepped on the scale it read a solid 299.5. Which means I’ve gained one to one and a half pounds since I started trying to control my calorie intake and exercise.

Needless to say I’m feeling pretty fucking pessimistic about my success at the diet and exercise thing, but at least my heart isn’t about to fail. I will trudge on and attempt to expand my daily exercise to 20 minutes a session by the end of next week and I’ll redouble my efforts to track my calories, but I’m going to be an a piss-poor mood for some time to come. And, yes, I realize it took me a long time to get myself into this situation and it’ll take a long time to get myself out of it, but it would help if the initial attempts to start doing the right things didn’t seem to make the situation worse. I would’ve been thrilled if I’d managed to lose .2 pounds, but nooooooo.

Certainly not me…

Just a quick note…

… to let folks know that things have been a bit quiet around here because I’ve had the week off between the old job ending and the new job starting next week. Combine that with running around getting ready for my knee surgery tomorrow and I’ve not spent much time blogging.

Did I not mention I was having knee surgery? Well, yes, I did mention it on Twitter more than once, but if you don’t follow me on Twitter then it’s probably news to you. It seems I’ve managed to somehow tear the meniscus in my left knee. So they need to go in, fill my knee with fluid, and remove part of the meniscus so that what’s left will work properly and my kneecap will stay in one place. I’ve been through this before on my right knee back when I was 25 and it was so much fun that almost 20 years later I’ve decided to get a matching set of knee scars.

You may recall my resolving to start exercising back on New Years Day. You may also not recall me saying anything else about it since then. It’s hard to exercise when your knee is messed up as fixing it needs to come first. Once I’ve recovered I plan to figure out what I will be doing to lose some weight. This is important for more reasons than just my knees as I’ve broken the 300 pound barrier for the first time in my life and it’s causing all manner of issues. Sleeping on my sides, as my weight keeps me from sleeping on my back, has damaged my rotator cuffs in my shoulders. My blood sugar level is way too high making me technically diabetic, but not to the point of needing insulin shots… yet. With exercise and weight loss I should be able to get it back down. My good cholesterol is too low as is my Vitamin D. The latter probably from staying indoors too much and not getting enough exercise, plus I should probably eat more green veggies.

Other than those things I’m not in terrible shape, but I will be if I continue down the path I’m on so I’m taking the time to do something about it. Now, if I can just figure out how to motivate myself…

How to get people to take the stairs: Make it fun!

Would you be more likely to take the stairs if they were fun? Say, they acted like the keys of a giant piano? Some folks decided to find out:

It seems to work, though I feel bad for anyone who has to spend any amount of time in the immediate vicinity listening to people on those stairs.

Found over at Gizmodo.

It’s the first day of spring for 2009.

And it’s actually somewhat spring-like outside. Still a bit on the cool side and it gets low enough during the nights to put frost on the ground, but it’s improving. The daily temps vary enough that it’s hard to tell whether to wear a light or heavy jacket in the morning and by afternoon you’ve usually made the wrong choice. The trees aren’t budding yet and the flowers are still hiding, but it won’t be too much longer before things stop being mostly brownish and the world fills with color.

At which point I’m going to try motivating myself to start exercising a bit starting off with brisk walks to get the heart pumping. Last time I was weighed I was back up to 296 pounds and it’s causing me all sorts of irritations such as not being able to sleep on my back. So it’s time I get off my ass and try to lose a few pounds. We’ve got a lovely nature preserve right beside us with a walking path just begging to be walked all over. My success rate at motivating myself to exercise is notoriously bad so we’ll see how well this goes, but I’m going to give it a shot. If nothing else it’ll be nice to get a little fresh air in me and see what the ducks and other wildlife are up to.