Reading for Health: Using Your Book-Addiction to Stay in Shape

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

While reading fiction is always a welcome escape, I regard reading about health and fitness the way I do staying current on national and international news, as an important responsibility.

After all, we are thinking, reasoning beings, and as such, should take advantage of our brain-power at every opportunity to harness the power of information to live longer, better lives.

Not that I’m exactly a my-body-is-my-temple-type, but I am a realist, and as such, my attitude could be summarized as follows: I have to live in this body, and no one else is going to take care of it for me.  So I read about what to eat, and how to move, and the things I must do to keep my sometimes cranky and creaky human machine running and walking about.

At first, I devoured articles about antioxidants, super foods and the dangers of artificial sweetener and trans fats, afterwards swiftly and willfully forgetting about them whenever I had a yen for a delicious bag of crunchy cheese-flavored trans fats and a diet coke. I sprinted through books on yoga poses, Pilates stretches, and body-weight exercises, briefly trying them out, and moving on.

In the end, I decided that use it or lose it isn’t merely apt when applied to abilities, but should also be applied to information. It was all fine and good to read about health and fitness, but what about action?

Eating for Health: Cooking with Books

The articles and books I read about healthy eating and cooking have transformed the way we eat in my household, from serving sizes, to what kind of oil I sauté vegetables in (extra virgin olive), to what products I am willing to buy canned, frozen or pre-made. Even if I don’t follow guidelines or recipes exactly, the new, healthy ideas I get from books and articles keep our diet varied, and our bodies sustained; my reading keeps me motivated.

No, I will not call for a pizza, or shove frozen lasagna in the oven, my books would never forgive me and my body will thank me, someday.

Tips I’ve absorbed about how to eat, also come to mind at mealtime. From Marc David’s “The Slow Down Diet,” I know to take ten slow, deep breaths before sitting down to eat in a relaxed state, even if I’m stressed and working a deadline. A myriad of experts (and my parents) have advised me to chew slowly and carefully, concentrating on the food, and the sensation of eating.  I find mom and dad, and, these writers of books and articles are onto something: when you don’t rush through mealtimes, but try to enjoy them in good spirits and good company, you actually eat less and feel full sooner. Not to mention the added plus of time to discuss whatever you’re reading.

Exercising with Books: Burning Calories and Turning Pages

While an initial fascination with the new exercises I read about will usually keep me performing them until I either a) master the movement or b) give up in frustration, an even better way to use books for physical fitness, is to bribe myself. An hour on a treadmill sounds like torture, but an hour on a stationary bike reading on my kindle or listening to a book on tape is a luxury that does double duty: mental and physical fitness become one.

Another way I try to use reading to lure me into increased activity is by eschewing chairs and fidgeting. Instead of reading the numerous blogs and newspapers I follow online curled up in an easy chair, I scan them standing up.  Per the author of “The Diet Detective’s Calorie Bargain,” Charles, Stuart Platkin, standing up burns as many as 50 more calories per hour, encourages pacing and moving your weight from one foot to the other and improves a person’s over all posture

Besides, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, too much sitting has been linked to a number of serious health problems even in people that work out regularly. Which means, if you sit all day at work, coming home and slumping onto the sofa with your favorite tome is out. Save your body (it’s where your mind lives) and read that book on foot, or pacing back and forth.

If you mostly read on your computer, note that you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune to try out a standing desk. Anyone can build a standing desk by increasing the height of their desk with books, bricks, or risers, or they can do what I do, placing my laptop on a tall stack of books on top of the dining room table. When I’m feeling especially energetic, or I know I won’t have time for a regular workout, I might march in place, do belly-dance shimmies, or hold yoga poses —whatever I can manage while still focusing on the screen.

Another option, although it’s not something I’ve tried, would be enjoying your favorite book or skimming technical texts for work on one of those large yoga balls–bouncing, and even sitting still help people to burn more calories and engage their core muscles.

Fitness aficionados talk about being addicted to exercise. Me, on the other hand, I’m a just another book junkie, leveraging my vice to stay healthy and fit.

Do you use your need to read to motivate you to live a better life?

Do you read and work out?

Have you ever used your need to know what happens next in the novel your reading to get your butt to the gym, where you’ve given yourself permission to consume books as long as you can keep your feet turning the pedals?

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by comedy_nose.

7 comments

  1. Deanna Zachrich

    Great article!
    I’ve found that audiobooks have helped me keep my exercise schedule while keeping my reading addiction well fed.
    Thanks for the book suggestions too!

    1. Chris

      Deanna, thanks so much for reading. Books are a much better motivator than television for me, as far as exercise goes. I haven’t gotten into audiobooks as much. Where do you get yours and what do you use to listen to them? My kindle has a read aloud function, but the voice leaves a lot to be desired….

  2. Christina Hamlett

    Listening to an audio book definitely reduces the tedium of walking on a treadmill. It’s also more enjoyable than watching whatever shows are playing on the widescreen TV in the exercise room at our complex – invariably, it’s either a cooking program or a talk show where angry guests are hurling insults and furniture at one another.

    1. Chris

      Thanks for reading, Christina. I prefer books to television for exercising as well. I find on a stationary bike I can read a book or my kindle, but on a treadmill, an audio is about all I can manage without falling off. Of course, I’m still trying to figure out the best way kind of audio, since I’m much newer to audio books.

  3. Amarie Fox

    Although I can’t say I have ever read while working out – since I run outside and running down the street with a book in hand would be dangerous and ridiculous! (aha!) – I do occasionally make a promise to myself that if I run for an hour, I can then sit for an hour and enjoy a novel. However, I do have a friend who loves listening to audio books while running on the treadmill. I know she gets them through audible.com. They are an affiliate of Amazon and there is a link on Amazon that you can try two free audio books when you first sign up. It is worth a try?

    Great talking points and great article. I really, really enjoyed it.

    1. Chris

      First of all, thanks so much for reading and commenting! Bribing myself with leisure reading after outdoor exercise may be another way to get it (the exercise) done. I will have to look into Audible.com. If you ask me, almost all things reading-related are worth a try.

  4. Anjali

    Great article. Such a refreshingly different take from the “stop reading and go out and exercise” thinking. You can exercise while reading!

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