WillPower: The Book

The single best nonfiction book I have read this year, and maybe the best one I have read in three or more years, was Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister, and  John Tierney published by The Penguin Press in 2011.  I will save you the trouble and provide you the Amazon link here.  According to Wikipedia Roy Baumeister is the internationally known “Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.”  You can also visit his faculty web site.

This book offers remarkable insight into the obstacles we face when losing weight, exercising, and otherwise trying to lead an organized, healthy, fulfilling, and productive lifestyle.

I always highlight, and write notes when I read, if the book is intriguing. I then go back and take notes.  I have not done that yet, but below is a list of the most memorable, and useful items, that I remember from my first visit. In no particular order:

  • although we can increase our capacity for using willpower, it is also something that can be depleted.  When it is depleted you make bad choices you regret later.
  • making too many decisions too fast can deplete willpower. This phenomenon is known as decision fatigue and is related to the next item:
  • willpower requires energy (our brain is 2% of our body but consumes a whooping 20% of the total calories we burn).  If our energy is depleted our willpower, along with other functions, decreases.
  • we can have too many goals.  It is not a good idea to have a large  laundry list of goals (and goals are not to be confused with tasks).  Finishing a degree, writing that novel, and remodeling the house, while you are trying to lose weight is probably not a good idea.
  • organization is the friend of willpower.  The more organized you are the less stress, and cognitive energy, goes into finding things, doing things at the last minute or missing deadlines, and worrying about what has not been done.  Unfinished business, commitments, and obligations creates an “open loop.” This leads to yet one more item:
  • I personally think that it is essential to have some kind of organizing system like the Getting Things Done (GTD) system of David Allen which postulates the aforementioned “open loop” problem.  Tame your tasks. Unfinished business creates an open loop and we often have lots of little, and big, unfinished tasks, commitments, and promises. We are into something else, or maybe two other things, and suddenly remember another thing we forgot to do because we have no system of keeping track of what needs to be done, and what has already been accomplished.  That is known as a todo list my friend.  Get one, and love it.   The GTD system is specifically mentioned in the book and I have had fantastic results with it so far and I am just in the early stages of learning it.  I will be reviewing that book next since I am still reading it.
  • avoid having to make too many decisions and especially trivial ones.  Make a decision, and unless it is a disaster or obviously the wrong one stick with it.   Either have yogurt or egg whites for breakfast and stop worrying about it. They are both good choice.  Wear the gray or black socks.  Does it Preplanning meals, workouts, and activities is a best practice.  You can be flexible but don’t fret too much about first world problems or matters that well, don’t matter.
  • habits are your friend.  If something is habitual you don’t have a chance to think about it.

I also think that reducing clutter (in all areas of your life), and practicing some degree of minimization is helpful.  Everything is connected.

The book is not the complete instruction manual for building willpower I was hoping for.  It was also written in 2011, and I am sure there has been a lot of good research since then.  But, it is entertaining, and filled with lots of great information that you can apply.  I will be investigating the phenomenon of what we call willpower from the psychological and neuroscience perspective to try to see what best practices are being developed.  It is a fascinating and useful field.


Are expensive running shes better than cheap ones? Apparently not!

I had not planned on posting this week, but I could not pass up this opportunity.  I have always been sceptical of special issue running shoe reviews printed in running magazines.  I think it is inherently a conflict of interest, and frankly the studies are not very scientific.  I also think that running shoe design is more marketing than research and development. Much more.  It seems that most of what is written about running shoes is at best questionable, and at worst  just nonsense.  I have always wondered if the prices charged for more expensive running shoes, are worth it,  especially after the most expensive pair of running shoes I ever purchased, were absolutely the worst.  They hurt my feet so much that they were unwearable. I was delighted to read about a new study that actually suggested that owners seemed to be more pleased with the cheaper shoes over the more expensive models.

The information below is from  Run Repeat, and is used with their permission (as outlined on their website) as long as I cite them.  Specifically, the information is from  their report which is available online.  However, at the very end of this report I will provide a disclaimer:

Expensive Running Shoes Are Not Better Than More Affordable Running Shoes (Study)

Based on 134,867 reviews of 391 running shoes from 24 brands, this study compare the list price of running shoes with how well rated they are. The key conclusion is that expensive running shoes are not better than more affordable ones. In fact, inexpensive running shoes are better rated than expensive ones.


Based on 134,867 reviews and 391 running shoes from 24 running shoe brands:

  1. The higher the list price, the lower ratings the running shoes get.
  2. The 10 most expensive running shoes (avg. list price: $181) are rated 8.1% worse than the 10 cheapest running shoes (avg. list price: $61).
  3. Running specialist brands are rated 2.8% higher than running shoes from broad sports brands.
  4. The top three best rated brands are: #1 Skechers, #2 Saucony and #3 VibramFiveFingers, while the three worst rated are #22 New Balance, #23 Adidas and #24 Reebok. Adidas Group owns both Reebok and Adidas.
  5. The three most affordable brands are #1 Skechers, #2 Vivobarefoot and #3 Puma, while the three most expensive brands are #22 On, #23 Newton and #24 Hoka One One.


Me again.  Correlation does not mean causation, and the cost of the shoes may not have anything to do with how good they are, but rather how pleased the owners were with them.  I would think that it would take a lot of shoe to please me for $200, but I would be more forgiving of a shoe that retailed for around $65 dollars, but which I perhaps purchased for $10 or less on sale.   I also do not think I am that much different from other people.  They cheaper running shoes are perhaps not better per se, but rather a better value.  Two different things.  Here is what the research does perhaps lead up to.  You do not have to spend over $70 to be perfectly satisfied with your shoes.

Caveat emptor.

Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise — a review

This is a review of  Dr. Robert Thayer’s last book (b. 1935 – d. 2014). Dr. Thayer was a psychology professor at  California State University, Long Beach.  He was an internationally known mood scientist, and his book is worth a look.

Dr. Thayer’s book explores the relationship between a depressed mood and over eating, and  not having the energy, or not feeling like, exercise.  His premise is that we often eat to help regulate our mood, and that even a moderately DSC_0002depressed mood drives us toward inactivity.  Paradoxically we do not have the energy to exercise, and use food to elevate mood creating a feedback loop.  While written in 2001 Dr. Thayer had already identified technology as something that has contributed to a rise in chronic background stress over and above what occurred previously.   Now I am going to tell you why you should read it.

I think the science clearly shows that our mood does effect when and how we exercise, as well as when and how we eat.  This book provides some great advice, and I will mention just a few things:

1. Sleep.  Get enough of it.  Lack of sleep has an adverse effect on mood.  Not only do we perform poorly when we have not had enough sleep, it does contribute to a negative mood, and to poor eating habits.  I am working very hard to get my own sleep regulated, and I suffer for it when that does not work out.

2.  You can use exercise to reduce the urge to snack.  Here is a quote:

If one of the reasons we snack is for the pleasure it gives us in the form of increased energy and reduced tension, and if exercise also gives similar pleasure through its effects on our moods, then it ought to be possible to substitute exercise for snacking, at least in a limited sort or way. pg. 79

He cites research that shows exercise can suppress appetite, and is particularly effective for when we cycle through our periods of low mood which happens periodically as a matter of course.

There is a lot more good information in the book.  Dr. Thayer has started us down the road into understanding how self-awareness can help us to not only be more aware of what is happening with our bodies, but also to  begin learning how to take evasive action to avoid the negative things in our life.

I am predicting that in the future we will find out that  learning how to control our moods will be a critical part of our fitness arsenal.  Running is nothing more than a tool for me, and one of many, no matter how much I like it.  And remember, at least for me, this is not just about  staying fit. I am not in it for the six-pack.  Not at 58 years of age.  It is about leading a sane life, with joy, vigour, and pleasure in every moment that we can.  I am also continually amazed at how everything is connected.  We cannot ignore one thing at the expense of another.

Live long and prosper. And get some sleep!


10,000 Steps?

This is the first of a three part series of posts about walking for fitness, and it will begin by focusing on the 10,000 step fitness phenomenon.  The next two posts in the series will deal with inexpensive, but effective,  devices for counting those steps that can help keep you motivated.

kara and cody
My two faithful running companions Cody and Kara. They never failed me.

When I started getting in shape over four years ago, like a lot of people who have let  themselves go, all I could do was walk. I had a pair of well worn New Balance shoes (pictured  in my banner photo), some old school baggy sweat pants, t-shirts, a pair of cheap jersey gloves,  and a hoodie sweat shirt when the weather was cool.  I wore my regular winter coat when it was cold.  That was it.   I would usually walk at night and take the dogs with me. By the way, I have found dogs to be the most willing, and reliable, walking companions.

I just walked, without measuring anything, and without listening to headphones, and without even a cell phone.   I have no idea how far I walked, how many steps it took, or how long I was out there.  There was something pure, elemental, and Zen-like about the whole experience.  A kind of innocence if  you will.  I was unencumbered.  However, to begin making progress, or at least progress I could measure, I needed some kind of metric.  The first one I came up with was the intriguingly simple idea that walking 10,000 steps a day should be my goal. Where did this idea come from?  It certainly did not originate with me.  In fact it has been around for awhile. The idea of walking 10,000 steps originated in Japan. The website http://www.livescience reports that:

The origins of the 10,000-steps recommendation aren’t exactly scientific. Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed under the name “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter,” said Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

The National Institute of Health (NIH)  has weighed in on this fitness practice, and provides some more background:

A value of 10000 steps/day is gaining popularity with the media and in practice and can be traced to Japanese walking clubs and a business slogan 30+ years ago. 10000 steps/day appears to be a reasonable estimate of daily activity for apparently healthy adults and studies are emerging documenting the health benefits of attaining similar levels. How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.(2004)


That was from ten years ago, and the 10,000 step goal has become a fixture in the fitness world.  It has become institutionalized if you will.   You can follow the link to the NIH site to read their short report that goes onto provide some rather sensible guidelines that still make sense today:

  1. <5000 steps/day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index.
  2. 5000-7499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered ‘low active.
  3. 7500-9999 likely includes some volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) and might be considered ‘somewhat active.
  4. >or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as
  5. >12500 steps/day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’.

How far is 10,000 steps?  It varies according to the person, but the number I found most prevalent when I looked it up on the web was that it is about 5 miles for the “average” person, and for most people that is at least an hour of walking.  Unfortunately, most of us fall far short of that number.  The New York Times reported in 2010 that:

Americans, on average, took 5,117 steps a day, far short of the averages in western Australia (9,695 steps), Switzerland (9,650 steps) and Japan (7,168 steps). The findings were published in the October issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The Pedometer Test:  Americans Take Fewer Steps, by Tark Parker-Pope

A friend of mine who was using 10,000 as a goal at the same time I became interested in it was working as a physical therapist in a hospital.  It was not a sedentary job. At work she was constantly on her feet and walking the corridors of the hospital, and  assuredly walking more than the average person.  Yet, she told me that she needed to walk a mile or two after she got off work to meet the goal.  How could that be? Our lifestyle, how we have arranged our physical space, and the way we operate within it has to be at least partially responsible.  Regardless, I think there is universal agreement that in this modern world we need to be more active. Counting our steps turns out to be a reasonable metric, and a goal of 10,000 steps a reasonable goal.  Walking is also accessible for most people, and for many people who could not otherwise exercise.  I know it was for me. It is also for all practical purposes free.  It does not require a gym, and I walked for over a year with whatever I could scrounge from my existing wardrobe.  That is what running ugly is all about.

In my next two posts I will review two relatively inexpensive methods of keeping track of how far you walk, that are also reasonably reliable, and easy to use.  One tethers to a smart phone and sells for around $25.  The other is a pedometer that you wear like a wrist watch that does not require a cell phone, and has some other helpful features for about the same price, and it is the one I will be talking about in my next post.  I purchased that pedometer for my  father who is 79 years of age, and I am giving it to him tomorrow.

Galloway’s 5K and 10K Running – A Review

Jeff Galloway promotes the run-walk-run method of training, and he has written about it extensively in other books. Jeff Galloway competed in the 1972 Olympics in the 10,000 meters, and has been a runner for over fifty years. As an authoritative figure in the running and fitness world he is somebody you want to listen to.*  In this book Jeff Galloway applies the run-walk-run method specifically to training for a 5k and 10k run.  It is an intriguing idea that taking walking breaks systematically throughout your run can decrease recovery time between runs, decrease injuries,  and actually improve average time over a given distance.

5k/10 Running by Jeff Galloway
5k/10 Running by Jeff Galloway

So far I have only experimented with the Galloway method, but it is something I plan on implementing this spring. The one barrier to me has been psychological.  Having been conditioned to see walking as cheating or showing weakness, walking in a race, or a training run, doesn’t feel right.   Back when I was running a 5k at the 12 minute per mile, or slower, pace I would regularly be passed by people who took turns alternating between walking and running. I would pass them while they walked and then they would fly by me when they ran. I hated them.  I was delighted that not all of them beat me. At the time I was vaguely familiar with Galloway’s theory, and wondered if there was something to it. It was that interest that eventually brought me to read this book several years later.  However several years later, this past season, when I was running between 8 and 9 minutes per mile nobody using run-walk-run method finished ahead of me.  I am not sure why. Maybe there is a sweet spot for this method with diminishing returns as your speed improves, or it  could be this method is counterproductive for the competitive runner.  Or, just as  likely, it could be that as runners improve their speed over distance they are more reluctant to slow down. I know I am. I also suppose there is a very slight chance that this method might not have the benefits of sustained running, but I seriously doubt that.

At the start of this review I noted that he has written other books.  Well, he has written a lot of them, and there is a lot of overlap in their content, but also something for just about everyone. This just happened to be the first book of his I have had the pleasure to read.  Before buying this book, or any of his other books, I would recommend looking at his titles and finding those that appeal the most to you.  For example, he has a book for women, for walkers, and even for people who are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  He also has a specific book on the run-walk-run method.

The final word? I think this is an outstanding book for beginning runners who want to compete in a 5k or a 10k for the first time, and helpful to those who want to improve their times at those distances. It provides structure, and a plan, from an experienced coach. Personally, I am interested in the run-walk-run approach that Jeff Galloway advocates, particularly as I get older, if it will make me more durable, and allows me to run longer.  I am more interested in running for my own pleasure,  to keep the weight off, and stay fit.  I compete for fun.  I do recommend this book, but also recommend checking his other titles to see if there is something that might be a better fit for your particular situation. In addition to his books, Jeff Galloway’s  web site, www.jeffgalloway.com, is worth visiting.

I would also like to see research comparing this and other training philosophies. What works, and under what circumstances?  From time to time future posts will be dealing with what I call data driven fitness, powered by best practices.  That is, using data to track fitness, and being guided by empirical evidence as to what works and what doesn’t. There is a lot of good research out there we should all be aware of.


*I am not alone in that opinion. Joe Henderson, a former columnist and editor for Runners World, and best selling running author himself,  is another person I have the utmost respect for (he also knew my late friend the legendary distance runner Arne Richards), and he thinks very highly of Jeff.  Not only as a coach, and runner, but especially as  a person.  See Going Far:  Reflecting on the years when running grew up, and a writing career took off,  pages 117-120.