Health & Wellness: Spend Less Time on Fitness in Order to Improve Fitness (and Everything Else)

What if you could become more fit, a better businessperson, and an all-around more developed human being by spending less time on exercise and nutrition? To most people this sounds like an impossible proposition. However, growth and expansion occur in all kinds of industries and domains without the initiating person ever gaining more than the already-fixed 168 hours in his or her personal week. More time in a week never comes. We all have near-and-dear examples of increased effectiveness, productivity and improvement; and we never acquired more time in our weeks during those successes. Allocation of effort, focus and influence made all the difference; and we know it was never the gaining of more time. The secrets, of course, lie in how exactly to reallocate that effort, focus and influence. The good news is that experts have already shared the secrets.

In Warren Buffett’s biography, The Snowball, the author, Alice Schroeder, introduces us to a barrage of win-win scenarios. That is, in many cases a gain did not require a sacrifice. Buffett’s mentor, Ben Graham, had a formula for investing that guarded against loss of any kind. He would scour the landscape looking for companies whose tangible assets were worth more than the company’s stock valuation, generally because they were failing. Then Graham would buy as much of that company as he possibly could. Buffett followed suit. It sounds like a quick way to throw away ones time, effort and capital. But the fact of the matter is that it was a very forward-looking form of leverage. If, by luck or by his influence as a controlling shareholder, the company could do an about-face, it was a win: stock price went up beyond what he paid for it. If, by already-set-in-motion trajectory, the company failed, still it was a win: he sold the assets for more than he paid to obtain the stock.

Later in the biography, Schroeder describes other techniques of win-win in the stock market, namely arbitrage. Using options/futures on the opposing bet from ones stock or commodity wager, it’s possible to come out on top no matter what the volatility of markets does.

Biological and physiological systems are no different. There are ways to place bets on both sides of the wager and come out on top no matter what. Then, like Warren Buffett’s snowball of wealth, your own snowball of health and fitness give increasingly greater leverage and investment capital for every successive endeavor. It’s a fact. It’s science. As people become more fit, they become smarter, their brains function better, and they become more efficient. A single bout of moderate intensity exercise equates to a demonstrable IQ increase in immediately-following testing. Better problem solving and accelerated learning equate to improved business acumen. They equate to improved everything.

Dr. John J. Ratey, MD’s book, Spark, makes a cogent and conclusive argument for the brain benefits of exercise. His citation of the Naperville school district and apropos neuroscience research is exhaustive. However, the reader is still left with the very real and palpable first-step: spending more time on health and fitness. But again, what if you don’t have to spend any more time on fitness? In fact, what if you could spend less time on it? What if you NEED to spend less time on it to become more effective?

The easiest illustration for the layperson to consider is the comparison of elite-level sprinters versus elite-level distance runners. On average, mere seconds of effort produce better physiques than hours of running. Various exercise science programs at universities around the world have long been studying this ostensible paradox of efficiency versus duration. MacMaster University in particular has been catching headlines for years for their work on the lasting positive physical benefits from very short duration bouts of exercise. And in this past year, Martin J. Gibala, the lead researcher at MacMaster University, released his paradigm-disrupting book, The One Minute Workout.

Even outside of overt activity, there are dozens of analogous arbitrage-like wagers one can make. Just examine two of them. One is to spend even less time and effort on dietary planning and decisions. Another one “earns” minutes of exercise without anything but slight alteration to water drinking habits. You can win whether you spend more or less time on either one of these.

First, consider food timing. Without getting into the debate, the reader need only reference the longest-lived and healthiest individuals on earth detailed in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones or NASA scientist Paul Jaminet’s research on supercentenarians. What dietary practice do all of these super long-lived and ultra healthy individuals and communities share in common? They fast at some point somewhat regularly. It could be 12-20 hours daily. It could be 28-40 days yearly. It could be supported or modified. But they do it. Though at first this idea is anathema to the average American, think about it. It requires less time and planning. There are no decisions to make of one “good food” versus another “bad food.” Brad Pilon’s bestseller, Eat. Stop. Eat. described a fairly accessible way to try this. And one of the most revered medical researchers of all time, George F. Cahill, spent decades at Harvard demonstrating the many benefits of controlled fasting.

Even less time than Gibala’s 60 second workouts is the act of drinking water. We do it already. So there is zero additional time cost for this one. What’s the trick? Make it cold, real cold. Dr. Jack Kruse, MD has spent years running the numbers on something called cold thermogenesis. Essentially, we lose fat by strategic exposure to cold temperatures. The energy it takes your body to heat several ounces of 50 degree drinking water is equal to minutes of exercise. Without spending a single second at the gym, people can drink 64-128 ounces (depending on body mass and goals) of chilled drinking water and net the same outcome as if they’d performed 15-45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. It is simple physics and math. The colder the water and the greater the volume, the more white fat you have to burn to process it. And this isn’t even getting into the residual benefits, hormonally and otherwise, which will extend beyond any given day you do this.

Now, the takeaway isn’t that you should mimic Naperville and get smarter. The takeaway isn’t that you should follow Gibala’s 60 second sprint guidelines and get fitter. The takeaway isn’t that you should starve or freeze your pounds off. The takeaway is this: you don’t need more time. It’s all about right effort, not longer effort. You don’t need to sacrifice precious work productivity to improve your health. You don’t need to sacrifice sacred family time to become more fit. Quit thinking about it as pushing a boulder up a hill. Start with something small at the top of a hill; And let it snowball!

This post was written by Chamber Member Jonathan Watters