Thursday, September 6, 2012

The First 20 Minutes – Book Review

I just finished reading Gretchen Reynolds’ insightful book entitled The First 20 Minutes. It’s informative, interesting and readable.  My only criticism is the title, as the long subtitle – Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer – better describes what this book is all about.

Ms. Reynolds spends a lot of time on myth-busting, e.g. noting that “20 minutes of cardio at a time is enough to obtain the maximum health benefits" (the key work here is “health” versus “fitness”), stretching before a workout is counterproductive (it’s better to just start easy), and core strength is nice but not necessary (a six-pack looks great but actually has little bearing on performance).

In terms of the interaction between the brain and memory she notes that “Thomas Jefferson, who famously enjoyed farming and other vigorous types of sowing, once wrote, ‘A strong body makes the mind strong.’ He was half-right. A strong mind also makes the body strong. The connections between movement and thinking are intricate, additive, and multidirectional.”

She packs a lot more into a chapter entitled “How to Build a Better Brain,” which has subtitles like “”None of Us Wants to Lose our Minds” (about cognitive decline), “Fighting Back the Shadows” (about aging), and “Use Your Noggin” which explains what the aptly named brain protein, “noggin,” does.

Each chapter has a nice summary which gives direction on what to do based on the studies she just reviewed.   

Lastly, I like her ability to include some adroitly placed witticisms which livens up everything. For example, after noting that recent research reveals that chocolate milk is a superb recovery drink she writes that “You could, if you distrust the simplicity of Hershey’s syrup, invest in premixed, bottled protein-carbohydrate drinks or prepared sports protein shakes and powders instead. But, really, why?”

BTW, Ms. Reynolds writes the “Phys Ed” column for the New York Times.

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