Wednesday, July 29, 2015

the optimal amount of exercise

We finally have the truth.

If you've read my writing for any length of time, you'll see a few recurring themes about how much to exercise:

  • Generally speaking, it's important to get up and move around - being healthy assumes at least a little bit of fitness.
  • Diet is more important than exercise - it takes an almost un-doable amount of exercise to out-run you're poor eating choices. For example, running for an hour burns about 900 calories (give or take), while a single chicken burrito from Chipotle can cost you over 1,000 calories!
  • There's not a perfect amount of exercise - some is better than none, and consistent is better than inconsistent, but don't get caught up in the arms race of "most fittest". Breaking a sweat for 15-20 minutes a couple-few times a week goes a long way towards being healthy.
  • Fit and healthy doesn't guaranty longevity, but being overweight virtually guarantees you won't get there. (I've never found evidence of an obese centenarian.)

Interestingly, I read an article last week on FiveThirtyEight (a stats-nerd's dream website - those of you not familiar with it should check it out.) where they looked at the statistical differences among people who walk-jog-run different distances and at different speeds.

It's a long, deep, intensive article (and still worth reading!), but here's FiveThirtyEight's conclusion (emphasis mine):

"If we take this research at face value, we learn a few things. First, some exercise reduces your risk of death. Second, the optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging. The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph, and if you do 25 minutes about three times a week, you're all set. Nothing in the data suggests that running more - farther, or faster - will do more to lower your risk of death."

Wow! Statistical evidence, compiled by people far smarter than myself, who agree that exercise is connected to longevity, and that the arms race to most fittest isn't necessary. That's great news all the way around.

Eat a moderate amount of real food and get a moderate amount of exercise, and you'll have the statistical advantage of being healthy in your favor!

- Chris Butterworth


Monday, July 27, 2015

home made reusable ice packs

Sometimes you need an ice-pack.

Maybe your muscles are more sore than normal. Maybe you tweaked your hamstring or twisted your ankle. Maybe you have kids running around the house and want something on hand better than a bag of peas - just in case..

Here's the trick:

Mix 3 parts water with 1 part rubbing alcohol, and leave it in the freezer for when you need it.

The alcohol allows the bag to stay at very cold temperatures without freezing all the way. (or, if your freezer is super-cold and the bag freezes completely, it'll turn to slush pretty quickly at room temperature.) This lets the bag mold perfectly to your body, which makes it more effective than a bag of ice. (more surface area touching your body equals more cold.)

That's it. Simple as pie, and more effective than any other ice pack I've ever used.

Extra Tips

  • Triple-Bag - I poured the mixture into a zip lock bag, and then "triple bagged" it to avoid any potential leakage onto the couch. We bring the bags with us in a cooler to soccer practices and games, and they have yet to spring a leak. (double bonus - they keep our drinks cold in the cooler while they're waiting to be used.)
  • Multiple Sizes - I have a few sandwich bag sized ice packs, and a one-gallon sized monster ice pack. Any size ziplock bag is fair game for an ice-pack bag.
  • Works Great in a Cooler - Now that you have a super cold, leak-free, re-usable ice bag, why not use them in your cooler to keep your food fresh, cold, and dry?
  • Don't place ice packs directly on your skin - I'm not a doctor, but I've read that the extreme cold directly on your skin can do more harm than good. (google more details if you'd like.) Put the ice over your clothing, or place a towel between the ice pack and your skin.

Giving Credit - my wife picked this trick up from the internet about a year ago; I can't find the original source. (but I know I wasn't creative enough to think of this!)

Hopefully you won't need these anytime soon. But it doesn't hurt to have a couple good ice packs on hand for when you do...

- Chris Butterworth


Thursday, July 23, 2015

my diet starts next week

Have you ever heard someone talk about next week's diet, while gleefully shoving another piece of cake down their neck?

It's one thing to choose a future dated starting point because you want to get your ducks in a row before you start. Maybe you're spending time this week:
  • Researching calorie counts of the foods you eat most often.
  • Researching ideas and building a menu of foods you should be eating, or re-calibrating portion sizes of foods you already eat.
  • Tracking your current eating habits, to be more aware of potential pitfalls.
  • Clearing your pantry of the worst offenders and shopping for better alternatives.
  • Taking the first step forward with a 1, 2, 3 workout program.

It's another thing entirely if you're treating your future diet like a death sentence, and you need to get as much "living" in while you can. This sets you up for failure before you even start:
  • The 3-5 pounds you're going to gain this week is just that much more weight you'll need to take off later.
  • By making a big deal out of each glorious dessert, you're strengthening your desire for "bad" foods, which will make it that much harder to put them down later.
  • You're treating the upcoming diet as a temporary diet, rather than a long-term modification of eating habits to a more healthy lifestyle.

Treating a diet like a diet - like die with an extra t on the end of it - is a mindset doomed for failure. If that's your gameplan, save yourself the complaining and just forget about it.

You'll be successful when you can embrace a new, healthier lifestyle - one that you're planning on keeping for the rest of your life. Think slow and steady, small changes, and an overall healthier and fitter you. And then get started - whether that's today or next week doesn't matter.

- Chris Butterworth


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

the scale tells the truth, and the scale lies

When you're trying to lose weight, or even when you're trying to maintain your current weight, one option is to weigh yourself regularly, so you can see the progress you're making towards your goal.

The Scale Tells the Truth

Regardless of what what nutrition plan you're on, or how much exercise you did, or how hard you're trying - the scale tells you how much you weigh, and that number is a fact. The scale is the final arbiter of measuring your success. Whatever the scale says, goes. You're either successful, or your not.

Ultimately, if you're consuming fewer calories than you're burning, you will lose weight and the number on the scale will be smaller over time. Week after week, month after month - one of the great pleasures is to watch the scale honor your efforts by rewarding you with smaller numbers.

The Scale Lies

HOWEVER, if you weigh yourself everyday, you may see large fluctuations in the numbers that seem completely random - in no way related to the work you did yesterday.

You ate perfectly yesterday and worked out for 30 minutes? This morning the scale is up 1 lb.

You ate ok yesterday, but not great? Today the scale is down 1 lb.

You binged on a big dinner yesterday and skipped your workout? The scale shows no change.

My Scale

I step on the scale every morning, first thing. I wake up, hit the restroom, and step on the scale. This way my body is always in the same state - no extra food or fluids, no sweating, no change in clothing weight - just me at the beginning of the day. And my weight fluctuates 2-3 lbs over the course of a week!

my bathroom scale, ordered earlier this year from

I'm in maintenance mode right now - I'm exercising a few times a week and I'm not trying to gain or lose weight, and yet my weight fluctuates from one day to the next. This used to bother me, because in my mind I wanted to weigh X pounds, and I rarely seem to land on X. I'll be a pound over X on one day, and then 0.4 lbs under X the next day, but almost never X.

So I've gotten used to living within a range of X-ish, and I'm satisfied as long as I'm within that range. When I'm near the low end of the range for a couple days in a row, I give myself permission to eat a little bigger. Whenever I bounce to the top end of the range, I double-down and eat smaller for a couple days.

But over the long term, week after week, I keep the number within that range, daily fluctuations and all.


The scale might fluctuate over a range of a few pounds from day to day, to the point where you might question your diet and exercise regime. Don't get discouraged, and don't change you're approach. If you're patient, and continue to do good work, the scale will reward you on a weekly and monthly basis.

Count your calories. Pay attention to what you eat. Eat real foods in moderation. Move your body with active and passive exercise. And watch the scale over the long term; it'll tell you the truth.

- Chris Butterworth


Monday, July 20, 2015

Mexican food - ordering small against peer pressure

We ate out for Mexican food this weekend. Ah, Mexican food - one of my favorites, but I don't think there's a more gluttonous menu out there! Eating out at a Mexican food restaurant can be a big setback; it's one of those meals where you can get to 3,000 calories without trying too hard.

image clipped from Ajo Al's website.

But I had a plan. I ate small for breakfast and lunch, saving myself some extra calories in my daily budget. And I knew we'd be cooking at home the next couple days, so I'd be able to eat smaller and healthier portions as a follow-up if necessary.

I also planned to order small, knowing there's always plenty of food on the table anyway, in case I needed a little extra. I ordered a shredded beef taco with a side of beans, estimating 300-400 calories for the taco and 150-200 for the beans. Add in the chips and salsa before the meal and whatever I sampled from my wife's and kids' plates, and sticking with water to drink, and I shouldn't be too far past 1,000 calories for the meal.

  • Dieting Note - If you limit yourself to 10-12 chips w/ salsa, then eat the beef taco w/ beans, you can walk away from the meal at about 600-700 calories - totally doable even when dieting, as long as you budget for it within your day. Just make sure to avoid the dips and heavy sauces (guacamole, sour cream, queso dip, baja sauce), combo plates, and sugary drinks (sodas, margaritas).

The hardest part about the whole meal was not succumbing to peer pressure when ordering. I ordered an a la cart beef taco w/ a side of beans, and everyone at the table (including the waitress) looked at me like I had a 3rd eye. "Is that all you're going to eat?" was the common question.

I wavered, just for a moment, thinking about how good the tacos would be and whether I should order a 2nd, or maybe add a chicken enchilada (covered in sauce) to the plate. Nope - my order was good, and I was sticking to it. Funny looks or not.

Make a good plan, and stick to it - even under peer pressure, and you'll be successful.

- Chris Butterworth


Friday, July 17, 2015

irony and healthy thoughts at the grocery store

Garfield was my favorite comic when I was a kid. I remember one particular strip where that lazy, gluttonous, overweight feline came across a box of diet chocolate candy and thinks to himself, "Hmmm, not bad. A couple more boxes of these and I'll be skinny as a rail."

That's not exactly how it works, but I frequently hear and see people act this way.

Yesterday I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work, and came across two women who were making a pastime out of gossiping about what was in various shoppers' carts after they had passed by. But you know what they say about people who live in glass houses...

These women, to their credit, had carts full of healthy foods. Mostly meats, fruits, vegetables, and unsweetened drinks, from what I could see. The irony, though, was the women themselves. Each was significantly overweight, and neither looked like they could get up a flight of stairs without taking a break half-way.

The whole episode was odd, and got me to thinking:

Getting healthy is a process: Maybe these women had already lost a lot of weight, and they're well on their way to their goal weight. They could be so tuned in to what they are eating that it really bugs them to see others eating poorly. Maybe.

Weight is the first marker of healthy: We can argue about one type of food being healthier than another, but we can't argue with this: One thing all centenarians have in common. People live into their 100s with a wide range of diets, but nobody gets to that age by being obese.

Eating healthy opens your eyes: It's true that once you become aware of exactly what you're eating, you start to notice just how many bad choices are available - they're everywhere you look!

Be nice: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and when you point your finger there are three fingers pointed back at you. Be nice. Be friendly. Be respectful. It's just better that way.

- Chris Butterworth


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nike introduces Flyease

Nike gets 5 stars for this one.

Today marks the release of the Nike Flyease - a new kind of shoe, and the first time I can remember being impressed by a shoe company doing something good. Really good. Something which will impact people's lives in a meaningful way.

Check out the full story on Huffington Post - the fact that a high school student with cerebral palsy helped to initiate the project, and then become part of it, is simply awesome.

I've always loved Nike's slogans and marketing pieces, but I've been critical of Nike (the company) for years.

I don't like that they changed (created) the running shoe industry into what it is today, brainwashing people into believing they need expensive hi-tech running shoes in order to run properly, when the company doesn't have a single study showing this to be true.

I don't like that they changed the common expectation that sports shoes should cost well over $100 per pair. Once Air Jordans gained momentum in the 1980s, the price tags moved up permanently.

And I don't like that over the last few years, as there's been push-back from the running community towards more minimalist shoes, Nike has responded by offering a running shoe which they marketed along the lines of "as close to being barefoot as possible", for $140. Last time I checked, my bare feet didn't cost that much.

Today, with the release of the Flyease, I'm standing in Nike's corner.

Teenagers and young adults with special needs (and their parents) face challenges every day from things you wouldn't even think about. A person may be smart, motivated, friendly, and have a lot to offer the world, but if that person's fingers don't work as well as yours and mine, he'll have to make choices:
  • Do I wear the elastic waist pants that I can pull up and down by myself, because independence is a big deal? Or do I wear the "normal" pants (and need help with the button and zipper), because looking different from everybody else sucks?
  • Do I wear slip-on shoes so I can be independent? Or should I wear "regular" sneakers like all the other kids, except I can't tie them myself?
  • And on and on. People want to fit in with their friends and peers, regardless of the challenges they face.

Nike is working to give people shoes that can be both - cool shoes like everyone else is wearing that are also easy to open and close. Kudos to Nike.

Hopefully I'll be able to pick up a pair online this morning for my son before they sell out. Wish me luck..

- Chris Butterworth