Exercise Using Data

18 April 2014

There are many choices when looking at nutrition, exercise and medicine. Most people in the US and Europe suffer, pay, and die from chronic ‘lifestyle diseases.’

One of the best ways to be healthy is to be moderately active. That’s not news, and it raises a confusing question:

Why do many people suffer from preventable diseases when there are many ways to avoid them?

I suspect having so many choices is a challenge on its own. It’s easy to pick between 3-5 options; it’s impossibly hard to pick from thousands. Being healthy is a data problem.

Data can make it easy to decide what to do right now to be active.


People will often start a new sport and then stop. Why?

Researchers asked this question, and found several reasons:

3 of these reasons are external (time, price, weather), and the other two are mental (fun, embarrassment).

Finding exercises that work for each person isn’t a marathon, it’s a maze.


People avoid expensive exercise. After all, the median US income is ~$51,000 per household; it’s only logical to worry about money.

However, “expensive exercise” is a matter of perspective. Exercise is far cheaper than $6,000/year for heart disease, or $11,700 for diabetes.


Exercise takes time, and there are no shortcuts. You can’t fit 30 minutes of exercise into 5 minutes.

There are ways to integrate exercise into a busy schedule. People often exercise immediately before or after their work day. Some sports require no prep or travel time. Others can be done during small breaks.

“Time wasted on exercise” is again a matter of perspective. The time isn’t wasted, it’s traded. What do we trade this time for?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Active people live longer, sleep better, have a better quality of life, better brain function, and suffer less from depression.

That’s a great for less than 4 hours/week. Even better, many quick exercises are also inexpensive.


The best sports are the ones suited for each time and place. Nobody likes to run when it’s snowing outside. There are also many, many ways to be active indoors.

Know Thyself

Humans avoid behavior that isn’t rewarding or seems disappointing. Our largest hurdles are often between our ears. A common mental barrier is social. We each react differently to social situations:

It’s important to know this, because it’s important to develop exercise as a habit. After all, we each have a finite amount of willpower each day.

The Power of Language

We think and feel in narratives, in stories. I use this to manipulate myself into exercising.

I don’t use sports terms when exercising because I was the slow kid in gym class, and don’t enjoy remembering embarrassing moments. I think of exercise as leveling up.

I love to cycle because I see it as ground-effect flight. I enjoy snorkeling by imagining it is neutral-buoyancy meditation. I enjoy laser tag as a way to be active and invent creative tactics.

After all, what kind of exercise we do is far less important than just being active.

Go Forth, and Be Healthy