The easy answer to “How much exercise should I get?”

People ask me this a lot. “I know I’m supposed to exercise, but… how much?” And what they’re really asking is “How little can I get away with?” Here is the simplest possible answer:

Get SOME exercise. Any is better than none. Exercise is good for you, the way vegetables and sleep are good for you. It’s possible to

The US government has some guidelines you might find useful, but let me make it simpler than that:

Twenty minutes to an hour a day, 5 or 6 days a week.

If you get twenty minutes to an hour of exercise each day, 5 or 6 days a week, you’ll feel better, look better, sleep better, and think better. Done.

What should you do during this time? Do stuff that uses the largest muscles in your body – your legs, butt, and abdomen – and uses them fairly CONTINUOUSLY. Walking, jogging, cycling, climbing, squats and lunges and leg presses are all awesome.

How hard should you work? You can measure your effort with your breathing: you should be able to talk in broken sentences, and you shouldn’t be able to sing. If you can sing, you’re going pretty gently. If you can’t string two words together, you’re going very, very hard indeed and should maybe slow down some.

Me, I use “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” to gauge my effort. While I’m running with my dog, I say to my self, “Whose woods these are (pant) I think I know (pant). His house is in (pant) the village though (pant pant).”

The most general possible rule of thumb is that the harder you are working, the less time you have to spend. Walk for an hour, jog for half an hour. Take a gentle bike ride around town for an hour, take a spin class for half an hour. See?

And take a day off each week. Your body needs time to repair and strengthen in response to the challenges you give it. The harder you work out, the more you need the rest.

Now, none of this addresses questions about training for a particular sport or event, coping with illness or injury, beginning a fitness routine when you’re at a very low level of fitness to start with, or how to increase fitness when you’re already pretty fit. Nor does it address any of the reasons why you should or should not exercise.

why do people snore when they’re drunk?

Here’s a question I got asked recently:

How come my roommate snores when she goes to bed after she’s been drinking, when she never snores otherwise?”

So, we know that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant – which has nothing to do with mood and everything to do with slowing things down in your brain and spine.

The more you drink, the more things get slowed down, starting with your pre-frontal cortex, where decision-making, judgment, and reasoning happen, and moving backward and deeper into your brain. Eventually the parts of your brain that make your muscle work get affected.

Which is where snoring comes in.

Snoring due to drinking happens when alcohol affects the parts of your brain that keep your mouth, nose, and throat muscles open. Everyone’s reaction to alcohol is different, so exactly how much alcohol it takes to do this will vary from individual to individual, but there will be a point for most people when the muscles of the mouth, nose and throat are sufficiently relaxed that some part of the required anatomy lacks sufficient muscle tone to allow in noiselessly.

Solution?

Well, alas, the only way to prevent this from happening is do drink less or else stay awake until you’re sober enough not to snore. Sorry.

Solution for the roommate? Earplugs.

The easy answer to “what should I eat?”

The easy answer to “what should I eat?” (which I get asked a lot) is actually very, very simple and very, very strongly evidence based. It’s this:

Eat as much as you like of things that look basically the same on your plate as they did when they were alive. And eat as little as you like of anything with sugar.

The more steps something that has gone through between when it was alive and when it got to your plate, the more likely it is that good, nutritious stuff has been taken out of it and scary, unhealthful stuff has been put it.

Like, take a chicken breast. A baked chicken breast looks essentially the same as it did the day it was carved from the chicken carcass.

And compare that to a chicken nugget. From which part of a chicken comes the “nugget”? You see what I’m saying?

Or how about wheat? Shredded wheat. That looks pretty much like it did when it was a growing plant, right? It’s been through some processing, but still. Compare that with a slice of bread. Flour has been through LIKE WOAH processing. Anything with flour counts as highly processed, and you’ll be healthier if you eat less of that and more of the stuff that looks like it did when it was growing.

Brown rice is less processed than white rice, but white rice is less processed than rice pudding. See how it works?

All fruits and vegetables. Eggs. Unprocessed meat. Beans. Water. It’s hard to overdo it on these things – technically it’s possible, but you really have to be trying.

Sugar is the exception. Even “unrefined” cane sugar causes a giant insulin spike, which in turn causes a cascade of biochemical things to happen that, well, you don’t want to happen. Less sugar is better.

It happens that there’s often an overlap between things with sugar and things that are highly processed – baked goods, candy, breakfast cereal, etc. Those are DEFINITELY things to eat less of.

Beyond these rules, it’s all feelings and politics, which are very complicated and seriously impact how easy or difficult it is to follow these two easy rules. Food is social and emotional and political and it’s not just about nourishing your BODY, it’s about nourishing your SPIRIT. The basic rules don’t address food culture or the food system or the environment or body image or any of the rest of it.

And the rules don’t address all the next questions, like, “Why is it so hard to eat that way?” and “What if I LOVE sugar?” or “What if I don’t have access to food that grew that way?” or “What if I don’t eat animal products?”

But that’s all another post.

If you just want to know what to eat, that’s what to eat. Food that looks the way it grew, and less sugar. Done.