Tagged Exercise

Exercise vs. Diet? What Children of the Amazon Can Teach Us About Weight Gain

A young girl carries harvested food, part of the traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle of the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador.
A young girl carries harvested food, part of the traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle of the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador.Credit…Samuel S. Urlacher, Ph.D.

Phys Ed

Exercise vs. Diet? What Children of the Amazon Can Teach Us About Weight Gain

What we eat may be more important than how much we move when it comes to fighting obesity.

A young girl carries harvested food, part of the traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle of the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador.Credit…Samuel S. Urlacher, Ph.D.

Gretchen Reynolds

  • Feb. 24, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

When children gain excess weight, the culprit is more likely to be eating too much than moving too little, according to a fascinating new study of children in Ecuador. The study compared the lifestyles, diets and body compositions of Amazonian children who live in rural, foraging communities with those of other Indigenous children living in nearby towns, and the results have implications for the rising rates of obesity in both children and adults worldwide.

The in-depth study found that the rural children, who run, play and forage for hours, are leaner and more active than their urban counterparts. But they do not burn more calories day-to-day, a surprising finding that implicates the urban children’s modernized diets in their weight gain. The findings also raise provocative questions about the interplay of physical activity and metabolism and why exercise helps so little with weight loss, not only in children but the rest of us, too.

The issue of childhood obesity is of pressing global interest, since the incidence keeps rising, including in communities where it once was uncommon. Researchers variously point to increasing childhood inactivity and junk food diets as drivers of youthful weight gain. But which of those concerns might be more important — inactivity or overeating — remains murky and matters, as obesity researchers point out, because we cannot effectively respond to a health crisis unless we know its causes.

That question drew the interest of Sam Urlacher, an assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who for some time has been working among and studying the Shuar people. An Indigenous population in Amazonian Ecuador, the traditional Shuar live primarily by foraging, hunting, fishing and subsistence farming. Their days are hardscrabble and physically demanding, their diets heavy on bananas, plantains and similar starches, and their bodies slight. The Shuar, especially the children, are rarely overweight. They also are not often malnourished.

But were their wiry frames a result mostly of their active lives, Dr. Urlacher wondered? As a postgraduate student, he had worked with Herman Pontzer, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, whose research focuses on how evolution may have shaped our metabolisms and vice versa.

In Dr. Pontzer’s pioneering research with the Hadza, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, he found that, although the tribespeople moved frequently during the day, hunting, digging, dragging, carrying and cooking, they burned about the same number of total calories daily as much-more-sedentary Westerners.

Dr. Pontzer concluded that, during evolution, we humans must have developed an innate, unconscious ability to reallocate our body’s energy usage. If we burn lots of calories with, for instance, physical activity, we burn fewer with some other biological system, such as reproduction or immune responses. The result is that our average, daily energy expenditure remains within a narrow band of total calories, helpful for avoiding starvation among active hunter-gatherers, but disheartening for those of us in the modern world who find that more exercise does not equate to much, if any, weight loss. (Dr. Pontzer’s highly readable new book on this topic, “Burn,” will be published on March 2. )

A young Shuar boy fills a water gourd in the river.
A young Shuar boy fills a water gourd in the river.Credit…Samuel S. Urlacher, Ph.D.

Dr. Pontzer’s work focuses primarily on Hadza adults, but Dr. Urlacher wondered if similar metabolic trade-offs might also exist in children, including among the traditional Shuar. So, for a 2019 study, he precisely measured energy expenditure in some of the young Shuar and compared the total number of calories they incinerated with existing data about the daily calories burned by relatively sedentary (and much heavier) children in the United States and Britain. And the totals matched. Although the young Shuar were far more active, they did not burn more calories, over all.

Young Shuar differ from most Western children in so many ways, though, including their genetics, that interpreting that study’s findings was challenging, Dr. Urlacher knew. But he also was aware of a more-comparable group of children only a longish canoe ride away, among Shuar families that had moved to a nearby market town. Their children regularly attended school and ate purchased foods but remained Shuar.

So, for the newest study, which was published in January in The Journal of Nutrition, he and his colleagues gained permission from Shuar families, both rural and relatively urban, to precisely measure the body compositions and energy expenditure of 77 of their children between the ages of 4 and 12, while also tracking their activities with accelerometers and gathering data about what they ate.

The urban Shuar children proved to be considerably heavier than their rural counterparts. About a third were overweight by World Health Organization criteria. None of the rural children were. The urban kids also generally were more sedentary. But all of the children, rural or urban, active or not, burned about the same number of calories every day.

What differed most were their diets. The children in the market town ate far more meat and dairy products than the rural children, along with new starches, like white rice, and highly processed foods, like candy. In general, they ate more and in a more-modern way than the rural children, and it was this diet, Dr. Urlacher and his colleagues conclude, that contributed most to their higher weight.

These findings should not romanticize the forager or hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Dr. Urlacher cautions. Rural, traditional Shuar children face frequent parasitic and other infections, as well as stunted growth, in large part because their bodies seem to shunt available calories to other vital functions and away from growing, Dr. Urlacher believes.

But the results do indicate that how much children eat influences their body weight more than how much they move, he says, an insight that should start to guide any efforts to confront childhood obesity.

“Exercise is still very important for children, for all sorts of reasons,” Dr. Urlacher says. “But keeping physical activity up may not be enough to deal with childhood obesity.”

What Was the Vertical Club?

One of The Vertical Club’s aerobics teachers leads a co-ed class in 1984.
One of The Vertical Club’s aerobics teachers leads a co-ed class in 1984.Credit…Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

The Way We Worked Out

As we listlessly hoist our home dumbbells, let’s take a deep breath and reflect on a lost epicenter of New York City fitness culture.

One of The Vertical Club’s aerobics teachers leads a co-ed class in 1984.Credit…Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

  • Feb. 24, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

One afternoon in 1987, while working as a trainer at a Jack LaLanne gym in Plainfield, N.J., Terri Walsh received an invitation to interview at the chain’s most exclusive club, a renovated parking garage on 61st Street where well-heeled Upper East Siders traded stiletto pumps for Reebok sneakers. When Ms. Walsh arrived, the Vertical Club throbbed with music spilling out from the aerobics studio on the second floor. Through a pair of glass doors below a brick archway, she “walked right into the heart of everything,” she said.

When the club’s training manager, Ralph Raiola, gave her the tour, she recognized celebrities working out with charismatic, hard-bodied trainers. The locker rooms were tawny wood, stocked with designer cosmetics and hotel soaps. There was a juice bar near the pool. Overwhelmed by the club’s extravagance, Ms. Walsh turned the job down. Two weeks later, she realized her mistake, called Mr. Raiola, returned and remained for four years.

As one of the club’s first female personal trainers, Ms. Walsh’s work uniform became two pairs of black tights, a belted thong leotard, leg warmers and sneakers. She joined a phalanx of bright young things recruited for their aspirational bodies and fitness expertise, educated within an inch of their lives to train some of the most demanding people on the planet: New York’s upper crust.

Former instructor Terri Walsh.Credit…Meri Wayne

During the mid-1980s, the Vertical maintained its razzle-dazzle reputation by staying ahead of fitness trends; some of its innovations helped lay the groundwork for spaces like Equinox, SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp that redrew the city’s landscape (and now, with the pandemic’s strictures against sweaty congregation, stand hanging in the balance).

Along with Sports Connection in Los Angeles and the East Bank Club in Chicago, the Vertical Club was one of the first health clubs in the United States where, as early as 1984, you could do aerobics, use a Nautilus machine, play tennis or squash, run around an indoor track, do yoga or tai chi, go swimming, get a massage, and work with a personal trainer under the same roof (the rock wall came later, in 1990). Mr. Raiola created an early one-on-one personal training program in New York; it became a dominant fitness trend of the ’90s, notably at the David Barton Gym.

The Vertical Club attracted celebrities (like Cher, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli and Arnold Schwarzenegger); executives (S.I. Newhouse, Edgar Bronfman Sr.); pro athletes (Keith Hernandez, Andre Agassi); musicians (David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who was trying to become “solid … as a rock,” presumably); and models (Fabio, Brooke Shields, a whole flotilla from the Ford agency). Tom DiNatale, the club’s dapper general manager, was there to greet them, wearing a designer suit and smelling divine. ‘’People come to see and be seen,’‘ he told The Times in 1984.

There was no V.I.P. area, so these familiar faces worked out with everybody else. “I don’t know why it became such a magnet for celebrities,” said Annie Niland, the club’s aerobics coordinator from 1985 to 1988, though, “for the most part, everyone was very cool about it.”

Billie Jean King, who coached Tim Mayotte on the fourth-floor tennis courts, remembers the club fondly. “They were ahead of their time,” she said. Garage doors rolled up around the perimeter of the courts, creating an open-air effect on balmy afternoons, several stories above the city. “It was a really solid fitness facility, but it was also a great place to hang out.”

The Vertical Club in 1984.
The Vertical Club in 1984.Credit…Geoffrey Biddle

Virtue and Vice

In the evenings, the Vertical catered to its night-crawler clientele, who exercised with the same intensity they brought to the Tunnel and the Palladium on the weekends. (“Jesus, don’t go there at five o’clock. It’s insane,” Mr. Hernandez told The Village Voice in 1987, adding an expletive.) Many were Studio 54 alumni who’d aged out of nightlife and found an outlet in fitness. Several nights a week, they bounced, twisted and gyrated to Donna Summer and Sylvester under the flashing neon of the Vertical’s aerobics studio, where instructors taught 100-odd people from a stage with a microphone, their bodies projected above on a giant screen. Michael Paoletta, a downtown D.J., supplied the mixtapes.

Monday was the big night. Around 5 p.m., ladies would line up at the coat check to shed their furs, revealing Day-Glo leotards and tights. Hair piled high, makeup piled on, unafraid of deflating or melting, they took a cue from High Voltage, a.k.a. Kathie Dolgin, the club’s so-called “exertainment director” in 1984, who favored sequined leg warmers and a lightning bolt across her chest. “I always wore glitter,” Ms. Dolgin said. “You could tell what equipment I worked out on, because you could follow the glitter.”

The ’80s were a “work hard, play hard decade,” said Shelly McKenzie, a fitness historian. In the ’70s, many Fortune 500 companies installed workplace gyms. As a result, gym goers were seen as “confident, capable, industrious people who really had their acts together,” she said. And don’t forget: “women are climbing the corporate ladder in the ’80s.”

Aside from those office gyms, New York fitness spaces were often considered “grimy” bodybuilding spots or cruising venues for gay men, stigmatized during the AIDS crisis. The Vertical Club, its name suggesting “the up and up,” brought in the light.

The Vertical Club in 1984.Credit…Geoffrey Biddle

The obvious glamour of the club tinctured virtue with vice, “bolstering that image that this was sexy, this was a singles club, this was where people went to meet each other,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, another fitness historian. “But at the same time they had to sanitize that image, because they wanted to attract this white-collar clientele.”

Big Fitness continues to walk that line today. “We see that with instructors who are very risqué in the language they use when talking to riders and students,” Ms. Petrzela said. Cheeky marketing language often foregrounds sex appeal. At Barry’s Bootcamp, the red lights evoke a red-light district. “On the other hand,” Ms. Petrzela said, “you’re engaging in this disciplined pursuit of health, which is the most culturally sanctioned thing we have.”

Case in point: In 2017, the infamous nightclub The Limelight reopened as Limelight Fitness.

Connecting and Disconnecting

Mornings and afternoons at the Vertical Club were prime time for networking. At one point, staff kept white slips of paper at reception for members to write down each other’s phone numbers. “A lot of business connections were made there,” said Julie Cirillo Milliron, the club’s director of fitness from 1988 to 1993, who taught downtown at Joy of Movement and Pineapple before she was recruited.

In 1984, it cost $1,150, according to The Times, and $4,000 for the tennis program; some people would save up all year for a membership to gain access. “You had a real cross-section of New York,” said Gay Talese, the author, from teachers and firefighters to lawyers and civil servants, with varying interests and education levels. “You met all kinds of people,” he said, who “were really paying attention to one another, and not diverting their attention to some little hand-held gadget.”

Because there were no smartphones or television, there was nowhere to look but in the mirrors surrounding the gauntlet of Cybex cardio machines, at oneself or someone else. “To be very blunt about it, it was kind of an elevated pickup joint of well-exercised people,” Mr. Talese said. (Ms. Niland met her husband there.) From the basement pool and juice bar, to the roof deck and restaurant, there were plenty of places to hang out.

Today, “many boutique studios will ask you to put your phone in your locker, or tell you to put it away, so in some ways I think they try to recreate that experience where you’re engaged and in the moment,” said Liz Plosser, the editor in chief of Women’s Health magazine, who has been aware of the Vertical for as long as she can remember. Pre-pandemic, she said, “many gyms and boutique studios became this gathering place for people to find community.” For some, “it’s supplanted going out to coffee with friends.” Last March, those spaces closed and fitness migrated online, united by the influence of “super-instructors” on platforms like Zoom, Instagram and Peloton.

Several Vertical Club staffers, like High Voltage, became their era’s equivalent of influencers, at least locally, because media and entertainment executives went to the club. (Plus, “no one wants to hang out for an hour with someone who’s boring,” Ms. Walsh said.) Personal trainers needed fitness expertise to work there, like martial arts backgrounds, powerlifting accolades or Columbia University physiology degrees.

In the late ’80s, aerobics instructors made $50 to $60 an hour, and trainers made more; at competing gyms, aerobics teachers made $12 an hour. Rents in the city were low — Ms. Walsh paid $417 for a studio apartment, less than $1,000 in today’s dollars — allowing personal training to become a real career. Some staffers went on to have successful careers in sports and fitness; the Vertical’s tennis pro Jill Smoller, who played with Ms. King, is now Serena Williams’s agent at WME.

The Vertical Club in 1984.Credit…Geoffrey Biddle

‘Not About Wellness’

In the early ’80s, “aerobics was such a new industry, it attracted dancers and people on the cusp of show business,” Ms. Niland said. “We were waiting for the next big dance job, and this served a purpose, so it was very show business-oriented. It was not about wellness the way it is now.” Groups of instructors competed in aerobics competitions at the Palladium nightclub. “All of our following came, and it was a really big deal,” she said.

At the club, Ms. Walsh was scouted for TV commercials and modeling jobs by Reebok, Nike and DKNY. She also walked a Donna Karan show in New York Fashion Week, because her muscle tone was en vogue. Ms. Cirillo Milliron appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and People. “I never paid for a meal,” she said. “Every time I went out, they were like, ‘oh that’s right, you’re from the Vertical Club.’” At Le Cirque, Sirio Maccioni, the owner, would take a table from the back room and put it in the front of the restaurant for her, “because the club was such an integral part of life on the Upper East Side.”

By her account, the members were “the most generous people in the world.” They routinely donated to charity drives (which some, like the designer Mary McFadden, helped organize), and offered their services to staff at a discounted rate. “A lot of them were doctors, psychiatrists and dentists, and we had kids working the front desk who didn’t have a lot of money,” Ms. Cirillo Milliron said. “Those doctors saw those kids for free because they were Vertical Club people.” Trainers traveled with their clients and spent time at their homes in the Hamptons.

However, staff often brushed off members’ advances, too. “I had a guy invite me to lunch and offer to set me up in an apartment and pay for me to go to school, if I would just ‘see’ him twice a week,” Ms. Walsh said, characterizing it as a “Me Too” experience. “I almost burst into tears. I just wanted to work.”

Teaching aerobics, “we were like little rock stars up on the stage,” Ms. Niland said. “It was all about how we looked, which for me brought the same neuroses that it would when you’re an actress.”

Ms. Petrzela has no doubt women were objectified at the Vertical, but notes that fitness was still radical at the time, since society was “only a few years past the dominant scientific theory saying if women exercise too rigorously, their uterus will stop functioning, or they’re ‘going to get muscles and look like men,’” she said. “It was a big deal for women to get together and move strenuously. It was a big deal for women and men to work out in mixed settings together.”

According to Ms. McKenzie, the ’80s gym became the third place, “where you get the ‘Cheers’ effect, where you walk in and you know people and you feel a sense of belonging, maybe you don’t know them particularly well, but it makes you feel grounded in your neighborhood or your city.” In the 2010s, that feeling was starting to disappear in cities because of ClassPass, the app allowing users to try out different gyms and studios.

Computerized exercise bikes were an innovation.Credit…Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

The Flattening of Fitness

After opening a few satellite clubs that diluted the brand, the Vertical Club lost momentum. In the early ’90s, flamboyant spandex fell out of style and the more low-key Barton gym gained traction. The celebrity cache caught up with the Vertical, too; bridge-and-tunnel folks would commute in hopes of seeing Sylvester Stallone on the StairMaster, so the names left.

Prices began to drop; in 1990, membership was $62 per month, plus a $750 initiation fee. In 1991, it became the first in New York to install Health Club Television, to members’ chagrin. And staff left — Ms. Walsh became the creative director of programming at the growing Crunch Fitness chain, which sold a message of inclusion and acceptance rather than exclusivity. (Now she teaches resistance training over Zoom from her studio in Costa Rica.)

The AIDS crisis had a significant impact. Many of the gay male instructors on staff died of the disease, Ms. Niland recalled. “It was devastating,” she said, because it happened slowly. “You would hear about one instructor being ill, and they didn’t know what it was, then it was another instructor, and by the mid-90s, the staff was decimated.”

In 1999, the club closed for good. (The original space is now an Equinox.)

Places like the Vertical are often forgotten because of scant paper trails. “There are very few places where you can go to see what was on the schedule in 1978 or who was teaching what; records are really hard to find about individual gyms,” Ms. McKenzie said. Plus, the celebrity presence discouraged photography. Very few images of the Vertical Club exist.

It’s hard to imagine a place like the Vertical operating now, in an era where mundane celebrity interactions are chronicled on anonymously run Instagram accounts. There are echoes in places like SoHo House and Dogpound, the downtown gym where Victoria’s Secret models are known to train.

When and if we finally return to gyms, digitally fatigued from months of lockdown, might they resemble the screenless scenes of yore? “Given how strong the desire is for fitness, and for that kind of connection that existed before the pandemic, I can imagine spaces that are more like social clubs, where the gym is one part of it but not even the primary part,” Ms. Petrzela said.

That was the Vertical Club, where the ego and psyche got as much of a workout as muscles and heart. “Yes, they were into fitness, but it was more about the vibe of being there,” Ms. Niland said.

By spending morning, noon and night between those walls, Mr. Talese said, “you really could escape whatever you wanted to escape.”

Weekly Health Quiz: Addictive Foods, Exercise and Heart Health

1 of 7

Certain foods may elicit “addictive-like” cravings, some research suggests, prompting us to overeat. All of the following foods were near the top of the list of “addictive” foods except:

French fries

Pizza

Ice cream

Bacon

2 of 7

A large analysis of more than 90,000 people found that to bolster heart health you need to complete at least how many minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week?

30 minutes

60 minutes

120 minutes

Almost any amount of exercise showed benefits for cardiovascular health

3 of 7

Which statement about asthma is not true?

Cold weather can trigger asthma attacks in some people

More adults suffer from asthma than children

People with asthma are suffering much higher rates of Covid than the general population

Both genetics and environment play a role in who gets asthma

4 of 7

The Covid vaccines currently available in the United States have not been approved for children younger than:

18 years

16 years

12 years

5 years

5 of 7

Which statement about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is true?

Symptoms include fever, rash, red eyes or gastrointestinal problems, which typically arise several weeks after infection with coronavirus

It is still rare, but cases are rising, and it has caused about 30 deaths in children in the United States

The median age of infected children is 9 years, but infants and older teenagers can also get it

All of the above

6 of 7

In otherwise healthy people, the main reason someone would experience neutropenia, or a dangerous drop in white blood cell levels, would be a:

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Viral illness

Medication side effect

Covid side effect

7 of 7

The most effective mask against coronavirus is the:

N95 mask

KN95 mask

KF94 mask

Cloth mask

How Much Exercise Do You Need for Better Heart Health?

Phys Ed

How Much Exercise Do You Need for Better Heart Health?

The more you do, the better, but even mild exercise like walking produces benefits for cardiovascular health, a large new study found.

Credit…Getty Images
Gretchen Reynolds

  • Feb. 17, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

If you want a healthy heart, the more you exercise, the better, according to an encouraging new study of the links between physical activity and cardiovascular disease. It finds that people who often exercise and stay active are much less likely to develop heart disease than people who rarely move, whether that exercise consists of a few minutes a day of jogging or multiple hours a week of walking.

The large-scale study, which relied on objective data about exercise from more than 90,000 adults, bolsters the growing evidence that any almost amount of physical activity seems to be good for cardiovascular health, with no apparent upper limit to the benefits.

For generations, of course, we have known that active people tend to have strong hearts. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jeremy Morris, a British epidemiologist, famously found that British bus conductors, who spent their days strolling aisles and climbing steps on the double-decker vehicles, were about half as likely to have a heart attack as the buses’ drivers, who sat all day.

Since then, countless epidemiological studies have uncovered similar links between physical activity and cardiovascular problems. In most, greater amounts of physical activity aligned closely with less risk of heart disease. In other words, people who moved a lot tended also to be people with sound hearts and arteries.

In some of those and other studies, though, there was a limit. As the amounts and intensities of people’s exercise rose, the benefits for their hearts plateaued or even plummeted. In a few studies, prolonged intense workouts over the course of years seemed to contribute to an increased risk for heart problems, suggesting that too much exercise may damage the heart. But those studies generally were small and focused on specific groups of people, such as male masters athletes.

Even the larger-scale, epidemiological studies of exercise and heart health, though, often relied on people’s memories and self-reports about their exercise habits, which are not always accurate.

So, some aspects of the relationship between physical activity and cardiovascular health have remained opaque. Can we work out too much for the sake of our hearts? Do men and women get the same cardiovascular-disease risk reductions from the same amounts of physical activity? How much do we actually move around during the day?

Those questions interested Dr. Terence Dwyer, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford in England, and his colleagues, who long had studied the interplay of lifestyle and disease risk. And they knew of a potential source of increased clarity about possible answers, in the U.K. Biobank.

The U.K. Biobank is an impressively large database of health and lifestyle information about more than 500,000 adult men and women in the United Kingdom. Beginning in 2006, these volunteers provided blood, urine and saliva samples for genetic and medical testing, answered lengthy questionnaires about their lives and completed full health and medical screenings. More than 100,000 of them also agreed to wear activity trackers for a week, to carefully measure how much they moved.

Dr. Dwyer and his colleagues now drew the records for more than 90,000 of the men and women who had worn the trackers, skipping anyone with a known history of heart disease when they joined the study. They divided them into four groups, depending on how many minutes, in total, they moved every week, and how much of this activity was moderate, such as walking, or relatively vigorous, like jogging, as verified by their trackers.

Finally, the researchers gathered data from hospitals and death records about who, among the 90,000 volunteers, developed heart disease in the years after joining the study, and began crosschecking their diagnoses against their activity habits.

To no one’s surprise, being active was protective against heart disease. People in the least-active group, who rarely walked around or formally exercised, were more than twice as likely to have heart disease now as the most-active men and women. Just moving from the least-active group to the not-quite-as-inactive group dropped the risk of heart disease by almost 30 percent, even when the researchers controlled for body composition, smoking, socioeconomic status and other factors.

The researchers also found no upper limit to the benefits. The men and women who moved the most, walking as much as 1,100 minutes a week, or more than two hours a day (a total that included both their actual exercise and everyday activities like grocery shopping or doing housework), while also often working out intensely for 50 minutes or more a week, showed no increased risk for heart problems. Instead, this group enjoyed the greatest risk reductions, with both men and women showing about equal benefits.

The results “provide even stronger evidence than has been available previously” that “physical activity, including vigorous physical activity, is important for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Dwyer says. The benefits were “about double what had been found with most self-report studies.”

This study is associational, though, showing that active people happen also to be people with healthy hearts. It does not prove that walks and other activities directly strengthen people’s hearts, only that the two are linked. Dr. Dwyer also points out that the number of people in the study who completed extremely high amounts of intense activity was small, so it remains conceivable that long-term, intense exercise might, at some point, stop being good for hearts. That possibility requires more scrutiny, he says.

But for most of us, he says, increasing our exercise “to much higher levels or more vigorous levels” should substantially reduce our chances, later, for heart disease

Running Is a Total Body Affair

Phys Ed

Running Is a Total Body Affair

We can thank our heads and shoulders — and not just our knees and toes — that we evolved to run as well as we do.

Credit…Edward Muybridge/Getty Images
Gretchen Reynolds

  • Feb. 10, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

We can thank early human evolution that many of us can enjoy running as much as we do. Watch anyone with a ponytail run, and you can see their hair repeatedly describe a figure-eight in the air, responding to the forces generated by the running. But their heads stay still, their eyes and gaze level.

If it weren’t for some unique evolutionary advances, our heads would do the same as that ponytail, flopping like a swim noodle when we run, according to a clever new study of how — and why — our upper bodies seem to work the way they do when we run, but not when we walk. The study, which involved treadmills, motion capture, hand weights and an eon’s worth of back story, finds that an unusual coordination between certain muscles in runners’ shoulders and arms helps to keep heads stable and runners upright.

The new findings may answer lingering questions about the role of our upper bodies in running and why we, unthinkingly, bend and swing our arms with each stride. They also add to the mounting evidence that, long ago, distance running began shaping human bodies and lives in ways that still reverberate today.

The possibility that we humans are born to run has inspired many studies, books, lectures and debates in recent years, including the journalist Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best seller, “Born to Run.” The idea is based on fossil research indicating that early humans evolved to have distinctive leg bones and other characteristics that would have aided distance running. The findings suggest that those of our ancestors who could run well dominated in the procuring-food and procreating sweepstakes, so that natural selection started favoring physical characteristics associated with running.

Much of this research came from the mind and laboratory of Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary anatomy at Harvard University and author of the new book “Exercised,” which delves into exercise and evolution. At first, most of his and other scientists’ work related to evolution and running centered on lower bodies, since legs play such an obvious part in how we get from one place to another.

But Dr. Lieberman also was interested in runners’ upper bodies and, especially, their heads. As a longtime marathon runner himself, he knew that a stable head is critical for successful running, but not necessarily a simple thing to achieve. Running is propulsive. You push off, rise and then brake forcefully against the ground with every stride, placing forces on your head that could make it flop uncontrollably, like that bobbing ponytail.

How we manage to keep our heads stable, however, has not been altogether clear. Like most cursorial species, or animals that run, including dogs and horses, we have a well-developed nuchal ligament, a tissue that connects the skull and neck. That is not the case in species that aren’t natural runners, like apes or swine.

When he was a young scientist, Dr. Lieberman recalled, he enticed pigs — who are inelegant runners — onto treadmills to study their biomechanics. Their heads jiggled like bobbleheads when they were forced to run, prompting Dr. Lieberman and his colleagues to conclude they lacked a nuchal ligament, a finding borne out by anatomical studies.

But we humans also have the challenge of being upright, on two legs. Presumably to balance ourselves while running, we began, at some point, to swing our arms. Dr. Lieberman guessed that the arm swing helped to stabilize our heads. But, if so, there would have to be coordination between the muscles in our forearms and shoulders, he thought, even though these muscles do not physically connect. They would need to fire together and with comparable force during running, if they were to be successful in stabilizing our heads.

He was uncertain about how to test that theory, though, until his colleague Andrew Yegian, a college fellow in the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, suggested weighting runners’ arms and heads. Add mass there, he said, watch how the muscles respond, and you would be able to tell if the arms and shoulders were working together to steady the head or not.

So, for the new study, which was published last month in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Dr. Lieberman, Dr. Yegian and their colleagues fitted 13 men and women with sensors on their upper bodies that track muscle activity and asked them to, first, walk and then run on a treadmill while the researchers filmed them with motion-capture technology. Then the scientists handed the volunteers light hand weights and asked them to run again. Finally, they strapped weighted masks to the volunteers’ faces and had them run once more, before comparing how everyone’s muscles had responded to each of these interventions.

It turned out that not much of interest happened while the study volunteers walked; the muscles in their forearms and shoulders showed no evidence of coordinated activity. But those same muscles snapped into synchronized action when the volunteers started to run; the muscles began firing at the same time and with about the same amount of force.

That synchrony grew during the weighted runs. When the volunteers carried weights and their forearm muscles fired with extra force to compensate, the muscles in their shoulders did the same. Similarly, when their weighted faces prompted the runners’ shoulder muscles to fire more forcefully, their arm muscles did likewise.

The study does not explain how these widely separate muscles communicate with one another, though. Nor can the findings pinpoint when, in our existence as a species, they may have started to work together in this way. It also does not prove that all of us are natural born runners; plenty of people do not enjoy the sport.

Still, the results do tell us more than we knew before about our bodies, Dr. Lieberman says, and underscore that running molded us as a species. “If we didn’t have to run” in our early days as humans, he says, “we wouldn’t have this system” of muscular interplay today.

Can Technology Help Us Eat Better?

Can Technology Help Us Eat Better?

A new crop of digital health companies is using blood glucose monitors to transform the way we eat.

Credit…Leann Johnson
Anahad O’Connor

  • Feb. 8, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

A new crop of digital health companies is offering consumers an unusual way to transform the way they eat, with the promise of improving metabolic health, boosting energy levels and achieving a personalized road map to better health. Their pitch: Find the foods that are best for you by seeing how they impact your blood sugar levels.

The companies, which include Levels, Nutrisense and January, provide their customers continuous glucose monitors — sleek, wearable devices that attach to your arm and measure your body’s glucose levels 24 hours a day, no skin pricks required. The devices transmit that data to your smartphone, allowing you to see in real time how your glucose levels are affected by your diet, sleep, exercise and stress levels.

The devices can show users in real time which of their favorite foods and snacks can make their blood sugar levels spike and crash, leaving them feeling tired and sluggish after meals. They can reveal how engaging in regular exercise, or simply going for a short walk after a big meal, helps to improve blood sugar control. And for some people, the devices can provide warning signs that they may be at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and other forms of metabolic disease.

Continuous glucose monitors were originally developed decades ago to help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar. For people with Type 1 diabetes, the devices, which require a doctor’s prescription, are considered the standard of care, freeing them from the burden of having to prick their fingers multiple times a day to check their blood sugar. But now digital health companies are using the devices to market programs that tap into the growing demand for personalized nutrition, a multibillion-dollar industry.

“We’ve had trackers for many other things like sleep, stress and fitness,” said Dr. Casey Means, a surgeon who co-founded Levels and serves as its chief medical officer. “But a continuous glucose monitor measures an internal biomarker like a tiny lab on our arms. This is the first time it’s been used for a mainstream population for the specific purpose of making lifestyle decisions.”

While most people know that eating sugary junk foods like cookies, cake and soda can wreak havoc on their blood sugar levels, studies show that people can have a wide range of responses to many foods. In one intriguing study from 2015, researchers in Israel followed 800 adults for a week, using continuous glucose monitors to track their glucose levels. They found that even when people ate identical foods — such as bread and butter or chocolate — some people had substantial blood sugar spikes while others did not. The researchers concluded that a variety of factors unique to every person, such as your weight, genetics, gut microbiome, lifestyle and insulin sensitivity, determine how you respond to different foods.

In general, health authorities consider a healthy fasting blood sugar level — measured after an overnight fast — to be below 100 milligrams per deciliter. It is normal for blood sugar to rise after meals. But in a 2018 study, researchers at Stanford found that when they had 57 adults wear continuous glucose monitors for two weeks, many people considered “healthy” by normal standards saw their blood sugar soar to diabetic levels on frequent occasions, a signal that they might be on the road to developing Type 2 diabetes. Other research shows that such large blood sugar swings are linked to heart disease and chronic inflammation, which is increasingly thought to underlie a wide range of age-related ailments, from heart disease, diabetes and cancer to arthritis, depression and dementia.

“The nice thing about using a C.G.M. is that it’s an early way of catching what’s going on, and it gives you a chance to change your behavior before you’re diabetic,” said Michael Snyder, a senior author of the 2018 study and a professor in genetics at Stanford.

Nationwide, about 88 million adults, or more than one in three Americans, have pre-diabetes, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes that causes chronically high blood sugar levels. But according to the federal government, more than 84 percent of people with the condition do not know that they have it.

Dr. Snyder’s research led him to co-found January. The company provides its customers with continuous glucose monitors and then uses artificial intelligence to help them make decisions about what to eat, including predictions about how they might react to different foods before they even eat them.

The programs, which are not covered by insurance, are not cheap. The starting price for Levels is $395, which includes a telemedicine consultation and two Abbott FreeStyle Libre glucose monitors that are programmed to run for 14 days each. Nutrisense offers its customers a variety of packages that range in price from $175 for a two-week program to $160 a month for an 18-month commitment. And January charges $288 for its “Season of Me” introductory program that includes two glucose monitors, a heart rate monitor, and access to the company’s app for three months.

But are they worth it?

To get a better sense, I signed up to use the Levels program for one month. As a health reporter who writes about nutrition, I try to follow a fairly healthy diet and exercise regimen with plenty of fresh foods and few junk foods or sugary snacks, so I wasn’t expecting to learn much from the program. But I kept an open mind.

To get started, I filled out a brief health questionnaire online. Then Levels shipped me two FreeStyle Libre glucose monitors, which were prescribed by a doctor affiliated with the company. As instructed, I attached the device — a small patch with a tiny sensor about the size of a human hair — to the back of my arm. The sensor measures “interstitial fluid” beneath the skin, which it uses to estimate blood sugar levels.

The monitor helped me identify foods that I had no idea were spiking my blood sugar, like protein bars and chickpea pasta. But through trial and error, it also helped me find alternatives. One day I ate a salad with grilled salmon and noticed that it caused my blood sugar to soar. I soon realized why: I had drenched my salad in balsamic vinegar, which, it turns out, contains a lot of sugar. The next day I repeated the meal but with red wine vinegar, which contains no sugar. The result? My continuous glucose monitor showed there was no blood sugar spike or crash.

Dr. Means said that people are often surprised to learn just how much sugar is hiding in their foods, especially in things like sauces, condiments and dressings. But not everyone is the same, and people learn tricks, such as pairing carbs with protein or fats — for example, by adding almond butter to oatmeal or an apple — to blunt the blood sugar response to certain foods.

The monitor also reinforced the value of exercise. I noticed on days when I went for a run, or even a 15-minute walk, that the physical activity helped to keep my blood sugar in a steady range after meals.

I reached out to Dr. Aaron Neinstein, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Neinstein prescribes continuous glucose monitors to most of his patients with diabetes and has used them himself to monitor his blood sugar and make changes to his diet. By wearing a C.G.M. he found, for example, that a particular type of soup that he regularly ate at his hospital cafeteria was causing a “surprisingly sustained elevation” in his blood sugar levels, leading him to cut back on it.

Dr. Neinstein said there was evidence from rigorous studies that wearing a C.G.M. benefits people with Type 1 diabetes, leading to improved blood sugar control. He predicted that by 2025 every person with any form of diabetes would be using a C.G.M. But he said he hoped there would be more research looking into whether they can improve health in people without diabetes before they become more widely adopted by the general public.

“Anecdotally, I have seen it have benefit in people without diabetes,” he said. “But I think it’s really important that it be rigorously tested. It’s an expense to people and to the health care system, so we really do need to have evidence of benefit.”

Dr. Neinstein said he encourages people who try programs like Levels to treat their glucose devices as part of a personal science experiment.

“There is so much unhealthy food all around us, and we’re in an epidemic of metabolic disease,” he said. “If people can use these devices to test different foods and get a little feedback on what are the behaviors that are making them less healthy, then that seems like a valuable thing to me.”

How to Exercise Outdoors in Cold Weather

Stay Healthy When Exercising Outdoors

Cold weather workouts do bring unique risks, but a little planning and preparation can help whether you’re going for a winter walk, trekking in snowshoes or sledding with the kids.

Credit…Pablo Amargo

  • Feb. 6, 2021, 11:40 p.m. ET

The shift to colder weather makes hibernating under a pile of blankets — perhaps while binge-watching favorite shows — quite tempting. But outdoor exercise is a great way to improve energy levels, boost the immune system, connect with nature and, during the coronavirus pandemic, safely socialize with people outside your bubble.

Indeed, the protracted health crisis is motivating many people to get off the couch and get out in the brisk air: Sales of outdoor winter sports equipment as a result have been spiking. From August through October, sales of backcountry ski gear and accessories grew 76 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to the NPD Group.

But an outdoor exercise routine during the winter does bring unique risks. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow, making it harder for the heart to pump blood and potentially straining the heart. This narrowing of blood vessels can also keep muscles from getting the oxygen they need to stay warm and flexible, which can lead to injury. Hypothermia, frostbite and falls on icy ground are also hazards of winter weather.

A little planning and preparation can mitigate the risk whether you’re going for a winter walk, trekking in snowshoes or sledding with the children. Here’s what you need to know to feel the burn and the “brrr.”

Before you head out

FUEL UP The body has two main types of adipose tissue or fat — white and brown. Unlike standard white fat, which stores calories, brown fat is packed with energy-creating mitochondria that produces heat and helps the body maintain its core temperature when it’s cold out. This is the type of fat hibernating animals use to stay warm.

“Essential fatty acids like omega-3s, DHA and EPA can help increase the amount of brown fat,” said Shawn Stevenson, the nutritionist and author of the book “Eat Smarter.” “You’ll find that in salmon, roe, egg yolks and algae or krill oil. There’s no need to go crazy, but two to three servings a week can help during the cold time of year.”

DRINK UP Cold temperatures cause physiological shifts that diminish the body’s thirst response and increase water loss through respiration — when you see your breath, water is leaving your body and evaporating — and urination (yes, you really do urinate more in the winter).

“Staying hydrated isn’t as intuitive as it is during the summer, when sweat is pouring off you,” said Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, a cross-country skier and two-time Olympian. “For me it starts first thing in the morning. For every cup of coffee I have, I have a cup of water. When I’m skiing, I have a drink belt with warm water and a Nuun electrolyte tablet in it.”

GEAR UP Dress dry, not just warm. Water moves heat away from the body, leaving you cold and increasing your risk for hypothermia (when your core body temperature falls below 95 degrees).

When you are heading out, start with a base layer made of merino wool, polypropylene or material that will wick away water and sweat. This includes glove liners, socks and hats, which can get wet with sweat and freeze. Next, add a slightly thicker layer made of fleece or light wool and top it off with something that breaks the wind. Sunglasses or goggles and a buff, neckwear that can be pulled up over the mouth and nose, help protect the face. There’s a wide variety of winter boot options so be sure to check the temperature rating and traction.

“I buy hand and toe warmers in bulk and keep them in my pockets,” said Dr. Katie Eichten, a cross-country skier and emergency physician at the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin. “I also put one against the back of my phone and put both in a middle-layer pocket so the battery lasts longer.”

If you’re heading into the mountains, your phone can be a particularly powerful tool. Dustin Dyer, an owner and director of Kent Mountain Adventure Center, suggests downloading a navigation app like Avenza Maps, Powder Project or Trailforks, that includes offline digital maps and uses your phone’s built-in GPS to locate you even when you’re out of range.

SAFETY FIRST Depending on your winter outdoor activity, you may want to consider specialized safety training.

Mr. Dyer, who guides backcountry skiers, snowboarders and ice climbers, recommends CPR training for everybody.

“If you’re going to be one hour from care, doing multiple days outside or really going off the grid, you should have Wilderness First Aid,” he said of the certification course. “And everyone who is going into the mountains in the winter needs some kind of avalanche training. For most people, avalanche awareness, which focuses on avoidance, is going to be adequate.”

While outside

WARM UP (AND COOL DOWN) When exercising in cold temperatures, your muscles are not as pliable and are at increased risk for injury and strain. The cold air also causes the upper airway to narrow making it harder to breathe. Breathing through the nose and covering the nose and mouth with a scarf or mask can warm the air before it reaches the lower airway. But both the muscles and the lungs need to warm up for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

Dr. Eichten, who has also completed over 10 Birkies, a 50-kilometer cross-country race formally known as the American Birkebeiner, suggests moving at a slower pace of whatever activity you are planning to do and then adding in some dynamic stretches like arm circles, lunges and hip circles.

“You also need to let your breathing slow down before you go back into the warm air,” Dr. Eicthen said. “Your lungs need to adjust to a normal breathing rate or you can induce a cough or spasm.”

KEEP UP It’s important to stay on top of your fuel, hydration and clothing while you’re out.

If you’re going to be active for more than 45 minutes, think about how you can fuel your body along the way. Dr. Eichten suggests a simple carbohydrate like a granola bar or an electrolyte drink.

You can also easily lose one to two liters of water while out, so bring water with you, be conscious of your activity level and take water breaks.

Be sure to adjust your clothing as necessary.

“You want to stay warm, but you don’t want to get too sweaty,” Ms. Hamilton said. “As the intensity ratchets up, I take off layers and then add them back on as I start to cool down.”

Back inside

CHANGE “Even if you don’t feel sweaty, the first thing you need to do is take off the layers that were next to your skin,” Dr. Eichten said. “You can get cold quickly. Your muscles will tighten because they’re trying to get warm.”

A warm shower helps soothe muscle fatigue while the steam opens up the airways.

STRETCH The cold weather and vasodilation of blood vessels causes more tightness in the muscles, which have to work harder than in milder weather. This can increase soreness and affect range of motion. Self-massage and stretching can encourage muscle recovery by improving blood flow and reducing inflammation.

ROLL OUT Jill Miller, the author of “The Roll Model,” uses two rubber massage balls to slowly roll out big muscle groups like the quadriceps as well as any areas that have been immobilized by boots or skates. This stimulates the tissue, increases circulation and adds to the feeling of warmth.

Weekly Health Quiz: Covid, Climate and Creativity

1 of 7

Austrian researchers reported that people who tended to be physically active performed higher on tests of:

Dependency

Collaboration

Creativity

Trust

2 of 7

IBM researchers reported that artificial intelligence analysis of writing samples could predict the onset of this neurologic illness years later:

Alzheimer’s disease

Parkinson’s disease

Multiple sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

3 of 7

Myxomas are rare and slow-growing tumors usually found in this organ:

Lung

Heart

Brain

Pancreas

4 of 7

A warming climate has been linked to an increased risk of this ailment:

Asthma

Dementia

Lyme disease

All of the above

5 of 7

Four of the five metropolitan areas with the highest rates of recent coronavirus cases are in this state:

California

Texas

Florida

New York

6 of 7

Which statement about people who have already had Covid is true?

They do not need to be vaccinated

They are more likely experience intense side effects after vaccination

They tend to generate low levels of antibodies after vaccination

All of the above

7 of 7

Some brands of baby foods sold in the United States were found to contain this toxic metal:

Arsenic

Lead

Cadmium

All of the above

Hot Yoga at Home? Consider the Bathroom

Hot Yoga at Home? Consider the Bathroom

Barred from studios, yogis are steaming up basements, pricey inflatable domes and even the loo.

Margaux Drake has taken to doing hot yoga in her bathroom during the pandemic.
Margaux Drake has taken to doing hot yoga in her bathroom during the pandemic.
Katherine Rosman

  • Feb. 3, 2021, 11:10 a.m. ET

After the pandemic left fitness studios and gyms around the country shuttered or operating at reduced capacity, Margaux Drake let her regular yoga practice go.

It wasn’t a lack of interest in classes offered on Instagram or Zoom. Ms. Drake, an entrepreneur in Grand Rapids, Mich., did plenty of high-intensity interval training classes online. But for her, yoga isn’t merely about stretching, twisting, strengthening and balancing on her head. It’s about doing all of those things in a room heated to 90 degrees or hotter.

“The experience of doing yoga in a hot room is powerful in a way that I’m not sure if people who haven’t tried it can completely grasp,” Ms. Drake said.

So last fall, in one of the more creative fitness hacks of quarantine, she became a bathroom yogi.

Three times a week, Ms. Drake wakes up, plugs a space heater into a bathroom outlet and turns the shower on full tilt for about 10 minutes. She then goes to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, shutting the bathroom door behind her to trap in the heat.

About an hour later, she returns to the bathroom dressed in leggings and a stretchy top. She lights a few candles, drizzles essential oils near the heater, unfurls her mat and pulls up an online yoga class.

“It’s not like the studio, but it’s as close as you can get,” she said. “I am just dripping by the end.”

Ms. Drake is one of many Americans devoted to hot yoga. They believe it makes the physical practice tougher and allows for deeper stretching.

Some are also enticed by the purging sweat that can result from doing a movement class in a room heated anywhere between 80 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Without the heat we don’t get the same sense of release, that cathartic moment that doesn’t exist with the heat element,” said Candace Sneed, an attorney and yoga teacher in Atlanta. She lives with her aging parents and her college-age daughter, and worries that going to a class in her city, where many studios are open, poses contagion risks.

Ms. Sneed has set up a yoga room in her basement, using a space heater to get her body and mind into the meditative state. “The heating bill is through the roof,” she said.

Diana West of Draper, Utah, is another heat-seeker whose initial exposure to the discipline nearly 20 years ago was in a hot yoga studio. “Right up there with having a baby without medication, the first hot class was up there as one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Ms. West said. “But instantly I was hooked and addicted.”

To recreate hot studio conditions, Ms. West lets the shower run to steam up her bathroom, fills her bathtub in order to bring a little humidity to the situation, plugs in a space heater (“Carefully!” she said. “That could end very badly.”) and rolls a towel under the door to keep the heat in. Then she takes an online class.

Her ability to create a new microclimate in the Utah desert has surprised her loved ones. “The first time I did it, my husband walked in and said, ‘It feels like Costa Rica in here,’” she said.

Ms. West only lets herself indulge in at-home hot yoga on occasion (three times since last March) because she worries about the waste of resources. “It is a lot of water,” she said, though she has conserved in other ways. “I haven’t showered in the last year nearly as much as I used to, so hopefully it balances out.”

In cities where some apartment bathrooms may not be big enough to fit a mat, yogis are still finding ways to break a sweat. Studio owners in New York, for instance, are getting creative with the city’s outdoor spaces to offer masked yoga sessions that allow for airflow and social distancing.

Britton Schey and her husband, Wade Helliwell, own Verayoga, a hot yoga studio with locations in TriBeCa and Brooklyn. On the roof of the TriBeCa location, Mr. Helliwell has built a tented outdoor studio, with nine individual platforms and an infrared heater above each space. The plan is to open when temperatures approach 50 degrees.

“We have people reaching out to us every single day asking when the roof will open for hot yoga,” Ms. Schey said, “and we are like, ‘Guys, it’s 25 degrees out.’”

Some studio owners have begun offering classes in outdoor dining spaces, with mats spaced to allow for social distancing.
Some studio owners have begun offering classes in outdoor dining spaces, with mats spaced to allow for social distancing.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Tricia Donegan is an owner of Fierce Grace, a hot studio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that has been around since 2004. (Until 2017 the studio was known as Bikram Yoga Lower East Side.) To comply with the city’s mandates, the studio is offering private instruction as well as smaller group sessions in which 14 students at a time (as opposed to the usual 60) do their own practice in the hot room with eight feet between each mat.

But Ms. Donegan’s yoga ethos has always been about making the practice accessible to all (including to Lady Gaga, whom Ms. Donegan first taught yoga when she was still known as Stefani Germanotta). She has been offering weekend outdoor hot classes even when the temperature is below freezing.

“I want to bring this tool to everyone during a time when people really need healing,” Ms. Donegan said. “The heat is a part of it.”

Tricia Donegan, center, during a class at Baby Brasa.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Last month, 20 yogis gathered outside Baby Brasa, a Peruvian eatery in Greenwich Village. Like other city restaurants, Baby Brasa constructed a patio on the street (in this case, Seventh Avenue) with pretty greenery and heaters hanging from the roof to accommodate outdoor dining. But before brunch, the patio became a temporary hot yoga studio.

For an hour, Ms. Donegan blasted the music and called out her poses through a mask. “I want nothing more than a sweaty yoga class and this is a pretty great alternative,” said Monty Stilson, 63, who attended the class.

Fiona Mason and Marios Mantzoukis were on mats a careful distance apart. At their apartment, they said, they take Fierce Grace classes online, but on weekends, they dress in layers and lay their mats under the restaurant’s lamps. “It’s outdoors in January and somehow you still can really feel the heat,” Mr. Mantzoukis said.

The pandemic has been a boon for the couple behind the Hot Yoga Dome, an inflatable tent-like structure that looks like a bouncy house for adults to play inside of. Gillian Sky Walker, a self-proclaimed “hot yoga junkie” (and a “Star Wars” fan who changed her middle name to Sky), first saw the product as a way to help entrepreneurs open hot yoga studios as economically as possible.

In September 2018, Ms. Walker and her husband, Alex McDermott, whose business is based in Los Angeles, began to sell the dome, which could be warmed with space heaters, to yoga teachers and studio owners. It cost $4,995 (as opposed to the tens of thousands it can cost to build out a hot yoga studio, Ms. Walker said) and accommodates 12-15 mats.

The author in a borrowed Hot Yoga Dome.Credit…Joseph Ehrlich
Temperatures can climb into the nineties in the author’s dome.

In 2019, Ms. Walker thought it might be smart to offer an at-home version of the dome, not to replace studios but to give hot yoga addicts an alternative when life and family made it hard to get to class. The smaller versions of the Hot Yoga Dome first become available for purchase, ranging in price from $850 to $1,500, in November 2019.

You know what happened next.

“Never in a million years would I have imagined this,” she said. “We had steady growth, but then the pandemic hit and now we are in serious business. It has been crazy.”

Jenn Totman of Leavenworth, Wash., bought a Hot Yoga Dome in December. Ms. Totman, and her husband, Jim Totman, are avid skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers and hikers, and rely on hot yoga to keep their muscles limber. The couple first tried to create hot yoga conditions by putting a bunch of space heaters in Mr. Totman’s home office. “The heat started messing with his computers,” she said.

Then they considered building a yurt outside their home that they could heat, but they learned it would be prohibitively expensive. They found out about the Hot Yoga Dome. “All our ski vacations got canceled so we said, ‘Merry Christmas to us,’” Ms. Totman said.

They have put the dome out on their deck and heat it with four space heaters. (Ms. Totman puts a glass of water in front of one of the heaters to create humidity.) They now use the dome about five times a week, for yoga, Pilates or to relax inside of, like a sauna. “We’re able to get it to 101 to 104 degrees even when it’s 35 degrees outside,” Ms. Totman said.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style town in the mountains, and its residents lean very hard into Christmas. As a result, the Totmans’ outdoor deck has many electric outlets for their prodigious holiday lights display. That makes their Hot Yoga Dome even easier to use.

Power sources are essential, I’ve learned, to keeping the Hot Yoga Dome hot. Ms. Walker agreed to lend me a dome for this article. (I covered the shipping costs and bought two of the $25 ceramic heaters she recommended.)

I watched her instructional YouTube video, which made setting up the dome really simple. The biggest issue I have faced in three weeks of testing the dome is figuring out how to keep the power strips I have plugged the heaters into from shutting off automatically, presumably overwhelmed by the fan that inflates the structure, during my yoga practice.

If I remember to inflate the dome and turn on the heaters on to the lowest heat for at least 30 minutes before practicing, and I wind some extension cords through the house, the circuits don’t short and the temperature in the dome (in my very cold house) gets to about 90 degrees. I wouldn’t mind practicing in an even hotter space, but it’s plenty warm to work up a good shvitz.

Can Exercise Make You More Creative?

Phys Ed

Can Exercise Make You More Creative?

To spur innovation and ideas, try taking a walk.

Credit…Getty Images
Gretchen Reynolds

  • Feb. 3, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

If you often exercise, there’s a good chance you also tend to be more creative, according to an interesting new study of the links between physical activity and imagination. It finds that active people come up with more and better ideas during tests of their inventiveness than people who are relatively sedentary, and suggests that if we wish to be more innovative, we might also want to be movers and shakers.

Science already offers plenty of evidence that physical activity influences how we think. Many studies in people and animals show that our brains change in response to physical activity, in part because during exercise we marinate our brains with extra blood, oxygen and nutrients. In rodent studies, animals that regularly exercise produce far more new brain cells than their sedentary counterparts and perform better on thinking tests, even if they are elderly. In people, too, exercise tends to sharpen our abilities to reason and remember and buoys our moods.

But creativity is one of the most abstract of thinking skills and difficult to quantify, and its relationship with exercise has not been clear. A few past studies have found intriguing relationships between moving and originality. In one notable 2012 experiment, for instance, researchers asked some of their volunteers to move their arms loosely and fluidly through space, tracing the lines of a looping, curvy line-drawing the scientists had shown them, while another group arm-aped a straighter, more angular drawing. After each session, the researchers urged the volunteers to dream up novel, unexpected uses for an ordinary newspaper and found that those who had moved fluidly, almost as if they were dancing, came up with more original ideas than those whose movements had been rigid, straight and formalized.

Another, more conventional 2014 study of exercise and creativity likewise found that moving can spur innovation. In the main part of that multipart experiment, volunteers sat at a desk in a lackluster office space, trying to imagine new ways to use a button and otherwise engage their imaginations. They then completed a slightly different test of their creativity while walking on a treadmill in the same uninspiring room. Almost all of the participants spun out ideas that were more numerous and ingenious while walking than sitting.

But those and most other past studies of movement and creativity looked into the short-term effects of physical activity under tightly controlled conditions in labs or similar settings. They did not examine the potential linkages, if any, between everyday activities, like going for a walk, and the workings of our imaginations, or how being active could possibly affect creativity in the first place.

So, for the new study, which was published in Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Graz in Austria decided to track the normal activities of a group of average adults and also measure their creativity, to see whether and how the two might align.

The scientists wondered, too, about happiness. Some past research had speculated that good moods might be the intermediary linking activity and creativity. According to that idea, moving makes people happier, and their good cheer in turn makes them more creative; in that scenario, moving does not directly affect creative thinking.

To learn more, the researchers gathered 79 healthy adults, gave them activity trackers for five days and then asked them to visit the lab and let their imaginations soar, conceiving new uses for car tires and umbrellas and finishing partial drawings. The researchers then rated their output on its originality and other measures. The volunteers also completed standard questionnaires about their moods.

Finally, the scientists crosschecked the data, using a complex form of statistical analysis that incorporates findings from related, earlier research (to give the results more statistical heft) and weighs how much of a role a potential mediator plays. In this case, the researchers wondered, did being happy relate closely both to how much people moved and their creativity, meaning it linked the two?

The answer, the researchers concluded, was no. The most active of the volunteers proved to be also the most creative, especially if they often walked or otherwise exercised moderately. Active people also tended to be happy people, although their moods were highest if they engaged in relatively vigorous activities, like jogging or playing sports, rather than moderate ones.

But the correlations between activity, creativity and moods were slight. People could walk often and be quite creative but not especially happy, suggesting that it was not improved moods that most influenced creativity. It was moving.

The findings point to “an association between creativity and physical activity in everyday life,” says Christian Rominger, a professor of psychology at the University of Graz and the study’s lead author.

The study was associational, though, meaning it looked at a brief moment in people’s lives. It did not involve a randomized experiment and cannot tell us if being more active directly causes us to be more creative, only that activity and creativity are linked. It also does not explain how exercise and other activities might shape creativity, if not by raising moods, or show whether a brisk walk now helps us better finish a newspaper column or some other creative venture later. But the results do intimate that active imaginations start with active lives.

Weekly Health Quiz: Exercise, French Fries and Covid

1 of 7

A new study of men at risk for diabetes found that compared to those who worked out in the morning, those who worked out at this time of day showed greater metabolic benefits and loss of belly fat:

Midday

Afternoon

Evening

Time of day had no impact on exercise results

2 of 7

A diet high in fried foods is tied to an increased risk of this cardiovascular ailment:

Heart disease

Heart failure

Stroke

All of the above

3 of 7

Masks can protect against the spread of the coronavirus. The gold-standard in masks, which should be reserved for medical personnel, is the:

KN95 mask

KF94 mask

N95 mask

Surgical mask

4 of 7

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States now exceeds:

1 million

5 million

25 million

100 million

5 of 7

About how many Americans have died from Covid?

100,000

200,000

425,000

1 million

6 of 7

This state has vaccinated more than 9 percent of its residents against Covid, among the highest percentage of any state:

Washington

Delaware

West Virginia

New York

7 of 7

Women who had already had a pregnancy loss were more likely to have a successful pregnancy if they took a low dose of this common drug daily:

Aspirin

Acetaminophen

Ibuprofen

Diphenhydramine

The Best Time of Day to Exercise

Phys Ed

The Best Time of Day to Exercise

Men at risk for diabetes had greater blood sugar control and lost more belly fat when they exercised in the afternoon than in the morning.

Credit…Getty Images
Gretchen Reynolds

  • Jan. 27, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Is it better for our bodies to work out at certain times of day?

A useful new study of exercise timing and metabolic health suggests that, at least for some people, the answer is a qualified yes. The study, which looked at men at high risk for Type 2 diabetes, found that those who completed afternoon workouts upped their metabolic health far more than those who performed the same exercise earlier in the day. The results add to growing evidence that when we exercise may alter how we benefit from that exercise.

Scientists have known for some time that the chronology of our days influences the quality of our health. Studies in both animals and people indicate that every tissue in our bodies contains a kind of molecular clock that chimes, in part, in response to biological messages related to our daily exposure to light, food and sleep.

These cellular clocks then help to calibrate when our cells divide, fuel up, express genes and otherwise go about their normal biological work. Tuned by our lifestyles, these clocks create multiple circadian rhythms inside of us that prompt our bodies’ temperatures, hormone levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, muscular strength and other biological systems to dip and crest throughout the day.

Circadian science also shows that disrupting normal, 24-hour circadian patterns can impair our health. People working overnight shifts, for instance, whose sleep habits are upended, tend to be at high risk for metabolic problems such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The same is true for people who eat late at night, outside usual dinner hours. More encouraging research suggests, though, that manipulating the timing of sleep and meals can improve metabolic health.

But much of this research focused on when we eat or go to bed. Whether, and how, exercise timing might influence metabolic health has been less clear, and the results of past experiments have not always agreed. Some suggest that morning workouts, for instance, amplify fat burning and weight loss.

But those experiments often manipulated the timing of breakfast and other meals, as well as exercise, making it difficult to tease out the particular, circadian effects of workouts. They also typically involved healthy volunteers, without metabolic problems.

A much-discussed 2019 study, on the other hand, found that men with Type 2 diabetes who completed a few minutes of high-intensity interval sessions in the afternoon substantially improved their blood-sugar control after two weeks. If they did the same, intense workouts in the morning, however, their blood-sugar levels actually spiked in an unhealthy fashion.

Patrick Schrauwen, a professor of nutrition and movement sciences at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, read that 2019 study with interest. He and his colleagues had been studying moderate exercise in people with Type 2 diabetes, but in their research, they had not considered the possible role of timing. Now, seeing the varying impacts of the intense workouts, he wondered if the timing of moderate workouts might likewise affect how the workouts changed people’s metabolisms.

Fortuitously, he and his colleagues had a ready-made source of data, in their own prior experiment. Several years earlier, they had asked adult men at high risk for Type 2 diabetes to ride stationary bicycles at the lab three times a week for 12 weeks, while the researchers tracked their metabolic health. The scientists also, incidentally, had noted when the riders showed up for their workouts.

Now, Dr. Schrauwen and his colleagues pulled data for the 12 men who consistently had worked out between 8 and 10 a.m. and compared them with another 20 who always exercised between 3 and 6 p.m. They found that the benefits of afternoon workouts decisively trumped those of morning exercise.

After 12 weeks, the men who had pedaled in the afternoon displayed significantly better average insulin sensitivity than the morning exercisers, resulting in a greater ability to control blood sugar. They also had dropped somewhat more fat from around their middles than the morning riders, even though everyone’s exercise routines had been identical.

“I believe that doing exercise is better than not doing exercise, irrespective of timing,” Dr. Schrauwen says. “However, this study does suggest that afternoon exercise may be more beneficial” for people with disrupted metabolisms than the same exercise done earlier.

The study, in Physiological Reports, involved only men, though. Women’s metabolisms might respond differently.

The researchers also did not delve into why the later workouts might affect metabolism differently than earlier ones. But Dr. Schrauwen says he believes moderate afternoon exercise may have an impact on the foods we consume later in the evening and “help to faster metabolize people’s last meals” before they go to sleep. This effect could leave our bodies in a fasted state overnight, which may better synchronize body clocks and metabolisms and fine-tune health.

He and his colleagues hope to explore the underlying molecular effects in future studies, as well as whether the timing of lunch and dinner alters those results. The team also hopes to look into whether evening workouts might amplify the benefits of afternoon exertion, or perhaps undercut them, by worsening sleep.

Ultimately, Dr. Schrauwen says, the particular, most effective exercise regimen for each of us will align “with our daily routines” and exercise inclinations. Because exercise is good for us at any time of day — but only if we opt to keep doing it.

There’s No Easy Fix for Children’s Weight Gain

The Checkup

There’s No Easy Fix for Children’s Weight Gain

Experts advise families to avoid blaming themselves and to look for opportunities to congratulate children for healthy behaviors and good decisions.

Credit…Simone Noronha

  • Jan. 25, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Even when we’re not in the middle of a terrible pandemic, there are a great many tensions around what to say and do at pediatric visits when a child’s weight is increasing too quickly.

There’s the issue of self-image and fat stigma; some people remember forever the moment when a doctor first called their weight a problem, ripping the child out of the happy innocence of feeling comfortable in his or her body.

The pandemic has raised worries about children’s weight gain, perhaps exacerbated by the absence of school, not to mention sports and other activities that used to give structure to the day and mark off some no-eating zones. Economic hardships and curtailed grocery shopping may be limiting some families’ ability to make healthy food choices.

“Parents should allow themselves some grace,” said Dr. Eliana Perrin, professor of pediatrics and director of the Duke Center for Childhood Obesity Research. “Families are having a tough time, kids are having a tough time, there’s increased food insecurity, people have lost their jobs, kids may have lost school meals.”

Dr. Sandy Hassink, a pediatrician who devoted her career to taking care of children with obesity and now works with the American Academy of Pediatrics at the Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight, and who worked on the academy’s interim guidance on obesity, said, “Even in pre-Covid times, I noticed as a clinician that nutrition and activity tend to go out the window in a time of stress.”

[Click here for the recent A.A.P. statement on healthy nutrition and physical activity during the pandemic, and here for its statement on obesity management during the pandemic.]

There are so many factors that have made it more difficult for families to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the pandemic, Dr. Hassink said, from increased sedentary time and screen time to the increased snacking and dysregulated sleep which sometimes come with being at home. Families may have less access to fresh food, she said, and then, of course, there’s stress eating.

Pediatricians often find themselves struggling to find the right balance in what to say to a family in these situations. Somehow, in those fraught moments in the exam room, real or virtual, you have to find words to acknowledge the complexity of the problem but also, most pediatricians feel, to recognize that parents do have some power and some agency, and to offer them hope and encouragement for making at least small adjustments to help the family establish healthier patterns.

Dr. Perrin and her colleagues at Duke pediatrics collected a set of suggestions for families, but before they got to the specifics of dietary change, increased activity, screen time and sleep, they started with a category they called “Survival,” advising families to pay attention to “mind, heart, body, spirit,” to avoid blaming themselves, to look for opportunities to congratulate their children for healthy behaviors and good decisions.

“Forget what ‘needs’ to get done for physical activity goals and ‘perfect’ meal goals,” Dr. Perrin wrote. “Do their best to eat at home and just ‘show up’ every day in terms of physical activity.” Specific suggestions around food include involving children in the cooking, and using the government MyPlate site to plan healthy meals on a budget. For physical activity, find some way to get moving, even a little, every day.

“As always, try to focus on behaviors, not weight,” Dr. Perrin wrote. “What’s important is making sure families are eating as well as they can — whole grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables, drinking water — rather than a ton of fast foods or sugar-sweetened beverages, and making sure they are staying active.”

Among the harshest lessons of this terrible pandemic year has been how health disparities play out across the life course, as we’ve watched higher death and disease rates in Black and brown communities. There are many issues to tackle here in terms of health equity, but for children growing up in at-risk populations, childhood obesity is yet another serious health disparity, linked to some of the underlying conditions that put people at higher risk for severe Covid-19 disease.

These disparities require complex systemic fixes — from access to healthy food, to safe places for outdoor activity, to improved mental health services, to other supports that can reduce stress on families. Instead, parents and children often encounter blame and stigma.

“Obesity itself as a disease presents a risk for more severe Covid infection,” Dr. Hassink said. “If I substituted the word asthma for obesity, people would not be blaming people for having asthma, they would be saying, let’s make sure your environment doesn’t have allergens, let’s make sure you get the right meds, the right medical care, but not blaming the child.”

Dr. Michelle White, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke, is a health services researcher who studies what might be protective for families at high risk of obesity, looking at environmental and family factors, including the ways that neighborhoods can contribute to obesity risks — or solutions. “Some families reporting significant impact by Covid-19 are still able to demonstrate resilience to stress and behaviors such as physical activity and healthy diet,” she said. “I think we have a lot to learn from these families.”

Dr. White said it was important not to view pandemic weight gain as a product only of diet and exercise behaviors. “The social context and the physical context of our families is so incredibly important in terms of their risk of weight gain,” she said.

My colleague Dr. Mary Jo Messito, who directs the pediatric weight management program at N.Y.U. School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, said, “My patients are suffering terribly.” They face many barriers to exercise because of fears of being exposed to Covid, she said, and also food insecurity and a very high level of stress. “So many people don’t meet their goals because they have unaddressed mental health needs,” Dr. Messito said, pointing to the need for more mental health resources for low-income communities.

“I work to try to give people resources where they are,” she said, offering handouts and information about healthy food for people on limited budgets, but acknowledging, “it’s not going to compete with fast food for calories for dollar.” She recommends in-home exercise programs or talks about how to mask up and go outside safely, and she talks about avoiding sugary drinks.

Dr. Elsie Taveras, a professor of nutrition in the department of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the challenge ahead will be to find ways to “go beyond surface counseling,” to help families find ways to turn this around, perhaps looking for help from experts in mental and behavioral health. Doctors will need to think about the dual burden of weight gain combined with the social risks brought on by the pandemic.

“If a patient with obesity comes in for a visit and I also know the family is living in a motel or they’re food insecure,” she said, “I need to adapt my plan to circumstances rather than say, ‘increase fruits and vegetables.’”

Pandemic weight gain is a problem for adults as well as children, Dr. Taveras said. “We’re home more, have more access to our beds, our refrigerators, our screens, we are experiencing extreme stress and uncertainty, and food and rest are things people turn to for comfort.”

“It’s important for people to have self-compassion here,” Dr. Hassink said. And it’s overwhelming to tackle all of this at once. “Maybe we should be helping people pick one thing they think they could change to make it healthier, strategize about how they might make progress on one thing.”

A parent might try to keep healthier food in the house, thereby eliminating all the individual decisions that have to be made “when your child starts to grab for that unhealthy snack.”

Maybe start by setting a time for a particular meal, she said. Maybe make a deal with a child to stand up and walk around the house for five minutes for every so much screen time.

“Take it one thing at a time that you might want to change, get help from your pediatrician about what resources might be available in your community for food and physical activity, and don’t beat yourself up,” Dr. Hassink said. “Take one small step and then be encouraged to take the next step.”

The Standing 7-Minute Workout

The Standing 7-Minute Workout

A gentler version of a popular workout keeps you moving while keeping your body off the floor.

All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes for this workout from the fitness trainer Chris Jordan.
All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes for this workout from the fitness trainer Chris Jordan.Credit…Chris Jordan
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 22, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Nearly eight years ago, the fitness trainer Chris Jordan published a simple sequence of 12 exercises in a medical journal.

It was notable because it combined aerobic and resistance training into a single bout of exercise that lasted just seven minutes. “As body weight provides the only form of resistance, the program can be done anywhere,” wrote Mr. Jordan, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Leeds Metropolitan University (now known as Leeds Beckett University) and has provided fitness advice to both the British Army and the United States Air Force.

After The New York Times Magazine wrote about the research, under the headline “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” the exercise routine became nothing less than a global phenomenon. Dozens of exercise videos and apps followed.

The original seven-minute workout was based on a training program that Mr. Jordan had developed while working as a civilian fitness program consultant for U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in Europe. Later, while training executives at what is now the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., he fine-tuned the exercises into what he called a “hotel room workout” for the busy executives who complained they didn’t have the time or equipment to exercise while traveling.

Mr. Jordan, who is the director of exercise physiology at the institute, said he has never made money on the workout and insisted that the Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout app be free of charge. “Many people cannot afford to buy a dumbbell or go to a gym,” Mr. Jordan said. “As time goes by, I’ve felt a greater desire and passion around making exercise as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.”

Mr. Jordan created several variations to the workout, so it could be useful to both “my triathlete elder brother and my 82-year-old mother.” But as popular as the workout became, a number of people, particularly those who are overweight, older or have knee and hip problems, found it too difficult to complete. Among the biggest obstacles for some people were five exercises that require getting on the floor — push-ups, planks, abdominal crunches, side planks and a tricky push-up with rotation.

To make the workout accessible to more people, Mr. Jordan recently created the Standing 7-Minute Workout, suited to bodies of any age, size or fitness level. Like the original workout, the standing workout includes exercises for cardio fitness, the lower body, the upper body and the core muscles — in that order. Each exercise lasts just 30 seconds with just five seconds of rest in between. (You can find a video of the workout at nytimes.com/well.) To get the most out of the workout, do each exercise at a relatively high intensity — about a 7 or 8 or on a scale of 1 to 10. But go at your own pace, and stop if you hurt. Always see a doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) March in place: The goal is to get your heart rate up. Raise your knees and pump your arms. Pick up the pace if you can.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Chair-assist squat: Stand with your back to the chair. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Now squat by bending your knees and lowering yourself toward the chair and back up. (Don’t sit down!) Keep your arms outstretched to counterbalance you. If you can’t go into a deep squat, just go halfway. (The chair is there for safety in case you lose your balance.)

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Wall push-up: Place your hands against the wall and walk your feet back so you’re leaning at a comfortable angle. Keep your body straight from head to heel, and lower yourself toward the wall and push up against it. If it’s too hard, scoot your feet closer to the wall. If it’s too easy, move your feet farther from the wall.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Standing bicycle crunch: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind your head, elbows out. Lift your right knee and twist to meet it with your left elbow. Now do the opposite — touching your right elbow to your raised knee on the left. As you twist your upper body, crunch the abs. If you can’t touch your knee with your opposite elbow just get as close as you can, bringing the upper body toward the lower body.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Stand and box. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Now raise your fists and punch and jab the air like a boxer. The goal here is to get your heart rate up. Punch a bit faster and add a squat if you’d like to make it harder.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Chair-assist split squat: Stand next to the chair with one leg forward and one leg back. Drop the back leg to the ground and use the chair for balance if you need it. Keep the front knee behind your toes. Switch legs after 15 seconds.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Chair-assist push-up: Place hands on the chair and walk your feet back so your body is at a 45-degree angle and straight head to heel. Bend your arms and lower yourself as close to the chair as you can. Push back up to the starting position. If it’s too hard, go back to the wall push-up.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Wall plank: Place your forearms against the wall to take the pressure off your wrists. Walk your feet back to a comfortable angle. Keep your body straight from head to heel, hold the position and feel your abs work. To make it harder, scoot your feet back further from the wall.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Stepping jacks: This is a jumping jack in slow motion — without the jump! Start from a standing position with your arms at your sides. Step to the left and lift both of your arms over your head to touch. Return to starting position. Now repeat, stepping to the right. If it’s too easy, pick up the pace or try a regular jumping jack.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Wall sit: Place your back flat against the wall and slide down into a sitting position with your knees directly above your ankles. Fold your arms. If it’s too difficult, just slide up a little bit. If it’s too easy, lower yourself. You should feel the muscles in your upper legs working hard.

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Wall push-up: Repeat the wall push-up, or if you prefer, you can repeat the chair push-up. You should feel the arms, shoulders and chest working hard as you push away and lower yourself back toward the wall. Keep breathing!

(5 sec.) Rest.

Credit…Chris Jordan

(30 sec.) Standing side crunch: Places your hands behind your head. Now lean to the right, raising your right knee to touch your right elbow. Now lean to the left and repeat, stretching to bring your left elbow to your raised left knee. You’ll feel this exercise in your side abdominal muscles.

Weekly Health Quiz: Covid Variants, Moderate Exercise and Coffee

1 of 7

A new variant of coronavirus, first identified in Britain, is spreading through the United States. Which statement about the new variant is not true?

The new variant is much more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus

The new variant is much more deadly than earlier forms of the virus

The new variant is expected to be the dominant form of the virus in the United States by March

Scientists believe current vaccines will be effective against the new variant

2 of 7

A new study compared high-intensity interval training with moderate workouts in sedentary, overweight men. Men who did moderate workouts showed this benefit:

They shed more body fat

They showed greater improvements in blood pressure

They were better able to metabolize fats in the diet

All of the above

3 of 7

Robotic-assisted surgery has shown the most gains in replacement of this joint:

Hip

Shoulder

Knee

Elbow

4 of 7

The United States reached a grim milestone in Covid-related deaths, which now exceed:

100,000

200,000

400,000

1 million

5 of 7

Men and women with pain and stiffness from knee arthritis showed the most improvements when they wore shoes that were:

Flat-soled and flexible

Stable, supportive and well-cushioned

Tightly laced with a low, broad heel

The type of footwear had little impact on symptoms of arthritis

6 of 7

Just one alcoholic drink a day was tied to an increased risk of this heart disorder:

Atrial fibrillation

Heart failure

Heart attack

High blood pressure

7 of 7

Men who drank coffee were at lower risk of this condition:

Erectile dysfunction

Prostate cancer

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Dementia

Weekly Health Quiz: Exercise, Body Temperature and a Covid Vaccine Mystery

1 of 7

An 11-minute program of calisthenics and rest, done three times a week for six weeeks, had this effect on out-of-shape young men and women:

It increased their fitness levels

It improved their endurance by 7 percent

It increased their leg power slightly

All of the above

2 of 7

Which statement about body temperatures is not true?

Worldwide, average body temperatures seem to be decreasing

Body temperatures tend to rise during and after exercise

Older people tend to have lower body temperatures than younger people

Body temperature tends to be higher in the morning than in the evening

3 of 7

Health authorities are investigating the death of a 56-year-old doctor in Florida who developed this blood clotting disorder days after receiving the Covid vaccine:

Hemophilia

Pernicious anemia

Acute immune thrombocytopenia

Myelodysplastic syndrome

4 of 7

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, sometimes called mad cow disease, is thought to be caused by this type of infectious organism:

Bacteria

Virus

Fungus

Prion

5 of 7

Which statement about throat cancers is not true?

Most throat cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV

Having oral sex at a young age increases the risk of developing throat cancer

HPV-associated throat cancers are more common in women than men

HPV-associated throat cancers are more common in whites than in African-Americans

6 of 7

Being overweight during pregnancy was tied to this fertility issue, Danish researchers report:

Mothers who are overweight during their first pregnancy are at increased risk of fertility problems during subsequent pregnancies

Daughters born to overweight mothers were at increased risk of having fertility problems

Sons born to overweight mothers were at increased risk of being infertile

All of the above

7 of 7

Diets rich in this vitamin were tied to a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease:

Vitamin A

B vitamins

Vitamins C and E

Vitamin D

An 11-Minute Body-Weight Workout With Proven Fitness Benefits

Phys Ed

An 11-Minute Body-Weight Workout With Proven Fitness Benefits

Five minutes of burpees, jump squats and other calisthenics, alternating with rest, improved aerobic endurance in out-of-shape men and women.

Credit…Getty Images
Gretchen Reynolds

  • Jan. 13, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Five minutes of burpees, jump squats and other calisthenics significantly improve aerobic endurance, according to one of the first randomized, controlled trials to test the effects of brief body-weight workouts. The study’s findings are predictable but reassuring, at a time when many of us are relying on short exercise sessions in our homes to gain or retain our fitness. They provide scientific assurance that these simple workouts will work, physiologically, and our burpees will not be in vain.

Last year, when the pandemic curtailed traditional gym hours and left many people hesitant to exercise outside on crowded sidewalks or paths, quite a few of us moved our workouts indoors, into our living rooms or basements, altering how we exercise. Some of us purchased stationary bicycles and started intense spin classes or turned to online personal trainers and yoga classes. But many of us started practicing some version of a body-weight routine, using calisthenics and other simple strength-training exercises that rely on our body weight to provide resistance.

Body-weight training has been a staple of exercise since almost time immemorial, of course. Usually organized as multiple, familiar calisthenics performed one after another, this type of exercise has gone by various names, from Swedish Exercises a century ago to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Five Basic Exercises (5BX) program in the 1960s, to today’s Scientific 7-Minute Workout and its variations.

In general, one of the hallmarks of these programs is that you perform the exercises consecutively but not continuously; that is, you complete multiple repetitions of one exercise, pause and recover, then move on to the next. This approach makes the workouts a form of interval training, with bursts of intense exertion followed by brief periods of rest.

Traditional interval training has plenty of scientific backing, with piles of research showing that a few minutes — or even seconds — of strenuous intervals, repeated several times, can raise aerobic fitness substantially. But the exercise in these studies usually has involved stationary cycling or running.

Few experiments have examined the effects of brief body-weight workouts on endurance and strength, and those few had drawbacks. Most focused on people who already were fit, and almost none met the scientific gold standard of being randomized and including an inactive control group. Consequently, our faith in the benefits of short body-weight training may have been understandable, but evidence was lacking.

So, for the new study, which was published this month in the International Journal of Exercise Science, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., decided to develop and test a basic body-weight routine. They modeled their version on the well-known 5BX program, which once had been used to train members of the Canadian military in remote posts. But the researchers swapped out elements from the original, which had included exercises like old-fashioned situps that are not considered particularly good for the back or effective in building endurance.

They wound up with a program that alternated one minute of calisthenics, including modified burpees (omitting the push-ups that some enthusiasts tack onto the move) and running in place, with a minute of walking, also in place. The routine required no equipment, little space and a grand total of 11 minutes, including a minute for warming up and cooling down.

They then recruited 20 healthy but out-of-shape young men and women, measured their current fitness, leg power and handgrip strength and randomly assigned half to start practicing the new program three times a week, while the others continued with their normal lives, as a control.

The exercisers were asked to “challenge” themselves during the calisthenics, completing as many of each exercise as they could in a minute, before walking in place, and then moving to the next exercise.

After six weeks, all of the volunteers returned to the lab for follow-up testing. And, to no one’s surprise, the exercisers were more fit, having upped their endurance by about 7 percent, on average. Their leg power also had grown slightly. The control group’s fitness and strength remained unchanged.

“It was good to see our expectations confirmed,” says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, who oversaw the new study and, with various collaborators, has published influential studies of intense interval training in the past.

“It seemed obvious” that this kind of training should be effective, he says. But “we now have evidence” that brief, basic body-weight training “can make a meaningful difference” in fitness, he says.

The study was small and quite short-term, though, and looked at the effects only among healthy young people who are capable of performing burpees and jump squats. “Some people may need to substitute” some of the exercises, Dr. Gibala says, especially anyone who has problems with joint pain or balance. (See the Standing 7-Minute Workout for examples of appropriate replacements, in that case.)

But whatever mix of calisthenics you settle on, “the key is to push yourself a bit” during each one-minute interval, he says.

Here is the full 11-minute workout used in the study, with video links of each exercise by Linda Archila, a researcher who led the experiment while a student at McMaster University.

  • 1 minute of easy jumping jacks, to warm up

  • 1 minute of modified burpees (without push-ups)

  • 1 minute of walking in place

  • 1 minute of high-knee running in place

  • 1 minute of walking in place

  • 1 minute of split squat jumps (starting and ending in the lunge position, while alternating which leg lands forward)

  • 1 minute of walking in place

  • 1 minute of high-knee running in place

  • 1 minute of walking in place

  • 1 minute of squat jumps

  • 1 minute of walking in place, to cool down

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Well Challenge Day 7

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Removing obstacles makes it more likely you’ll achieve a new health goal. The 7-Day Well Challenge will show you how.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Whether your goal for the new year is to lose weight, start exercising or focus on self-care, ask yourself: How can I make this easier?

In the scientific study of habit formation, the thing that makes it harder for you to achieve your goal is called friction. Reducing friction means removing an obstacle or coming up with a strategy that makes a task easier to do. And if you figure out how to make a goal easier, you’re more likely to succeed.

Friction typically comes in three forms — distance, time and effort. For instance, living far from the gym or a favorite walking trail makes it less likely that you’ll go. (One study found that people who lived 5.1 miles from the gym went only once a month, but those who lived within 3.7 miles went five times a month or more.) Time constraints can also get in the way of new healthy habits. If you don’t have much free time, it’s harder to start meditating or working out. And if something requires a lot of effort — like healthful cooking in a disorganized kitchen — you’re less likely to do it.

Sometimes adding friction to your life helps you achieve a goal. In one study, slowing down elevator doors by 26 seconds prompted more people to take the stairs. Removing vending machines from schools makes it harder for teens to snack on junk food or drink sugary soda.

“The friction you set up or remove in the environment is going to have an effect long after you’ve gotten discouraged and are less excited about the new behavior,” said Wendy Wood, a research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” “That’s why friction is so powerful. It persists.”

Pandemic life has altered many of our routines — so friction that used to be there may have disappeared, and new challenges may have added new friction. For instance, some people no longer commute to work, giving them more time to do other things. While online schooling has made life tough on many parents, families also may have fewer extracurricular obligations, making it easier to have dinner at home. To identify the friction that may be stopping you from achieving your goals, take a moment to think about the time, distance and effort the goal requires.

“Ask yourself, ‘What would make it easier for me to do this?’” said Dr. Wood. “You want to reduce the effort. The thing about friction is we often don’t focus on it when we’re changing our behavior. We focus on ourselves and keeping ourselves motivated and exerting willpower. But you have to recognize that you’re also going to be influenced by the things going on around you.”

For today’s final Well Challenge, try to make a new habit a little easier with these friction-busting ideas.

Day 7

Make Your Life Easier

Everybody has different goals for better health. Here are several different ways you can create a new health habit with less effort. Choose one or several to try or come up with your own easy health resolution.

Sleep in your workout clothes. If you’re trying to start a morning exercise routine, make it easy to get dressed for a morning run or workout. Sleep in some or all of your workout clothes. Put your shoes and socks by the bed. It’s one less obstacle to slow you down in the morning.

Put hand weights by your desk. Keep light hand weights nearby and do some reps while you’re on a conference call.

Hang hooks by your door. Whether you’re always losing your keys or forgetting your mask, creating a station of hooks or shelves by the door for masks, keys or any other essentials you need when you leave the house will help you make mask-wearing a habit.

Put extra masks in your coat pockets. I bought a pack of disposable masks and always have a half-dozen stuffed in the pockets of my coats. You never know when you might drop a mask on the ground, decide you want to double mask or offer a mask to someone in need. Over the summer my daughter rode a bike to meet me for an outdoor dinner and her mask blew away. She knew I’d have a replacement handy.

Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth is a way to practice balance. (Change legs after a minute of brushing.) Or use tooth-brushing time to practice mindfulness. You can find a tooth-brushing meditation here. When you add a new habit (like meditation or a balance exercise) to an old habit (like brushing your teeth) it’s called “stacking.” Stacking your habits makes them easier to remember.

Buy kitchen tongs. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to cook, toss a salad or serve noodles with the right set of tongs. In general, having the right gadgets for your kitchen is a way to make cooking easier, and easy is good. Read “These Are the Only Kitchen Tools You’ll Need,” from Julia Moskin, or check out Wirecutter’s advice for the best kitchen tools.

Organize your refrigerator. Often the tipping point in a kitchen is the refrigerator. When your fridge is a mess, it’s hard to know what you have available to cook, what food might spoil soon and what you need from the store. Wirecutter has the best fridge organization advice from Marguerite Preston, a former pastry chef, who knows how professional chefs organize a kitchen. “In restaurants, organization is important not only because it helps cooks move quickly and smoothly, but also because wasted food is wasted money,” she writes. “The same is true at home. You may not see the effects of a chaotic fridge in a bad Yelp review or a balance sheet, but they will show in the time it takes to cook dinner and the stress involved.”

Watch the jellyfish. One of the best mindfulness tips I came across this year was from Cord Jefferson, the television writer who thanked his therapist on national television when he won an Emmy. Mr. Jefferson told me he struggled with traditional meditation, but he enjoys watching the feed from a web camera showing the jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bookmark the jelly-cam on your phone or laptop browser and get lost in the jellyfish for a short mindfulness break during your workday.

Do the Standing 7-Minute Workout. All you need is a wall and a chair nearby for balance. You don’t even have to change your clothes. Our new workout video is a friction-busting workout for anyone who avoids exercise because it’s hard to get up from the floor after a push-up, plank or situps.

Complete a 1-minute task. One of my favorite health tips for dealing with stress is the one-minute rule. It comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” a book about forming new habits. This simple advice helps you decide what to tackle on a long to-do list. Just do the one-minute tasks first. Hang up a coat. Read some emails. Clear and wipe the kitchen counter. Tidy a book shelf. Whenever you take on a one-minute task, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment and quick boost of happiness.

Do a five-finger meditation. This is an easy way to calm yourself, no matter where you are. (I tried it in a dentist chair, and it worked for me!) Start by holding your hand in front of you, fingers spread. Using your index finger on the other hand, start tracing the outline of your hand. Trace up your pinkie, and down. Trace up your ring finger and down. As you do this, breathe in as you trace up, and out as you trace down. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down. You can find more tips for beating stress in my story, “Peak Anxiety? Here Are 10 Ways to Calm Down.”

Create a Sunday basket. I learned this tip from Lisa Woodruff, author of “The Paper Solution.” She suggests dumping your bills, receipts and various papers into a basket. (She sells a product for this, but I just use a regular basket.) Once a week, sort your actionable papers (those that need attention) from your archive papers (those that can be filed.) The Sunday basket approach (she claims it will add five extra hours to your week) is part of a larger system proposed by Ms. Woodruff that uses three-ring binders rather than a filing cabinet. (She suggests five binders for financial information, medical needs, household reference, school items and daily operations.) For me, the Sunday basket is enough, but if you feel chronically overwhelmed by paper, you can learn more on the Organize365.com website.

Buy partially prepared food. Buying chopped up food and meal kits costs more, but it does save time. “I always used to avoid buying cut fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, but I found I actually use them sooner, so in the end it kind of pays off,” said Dr. Wood.

Keep a tip jar. Tipping in person (rather than by credit card) is an easy way to add a gratitude practice to a delivery day. Pandemic life has meant a lot more deliveries to my door, but I never had cash, so I usually just added the tip to the card. I decided to create the tip jar and make an effort to tip in cash. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would get so much more enjoyment out of tipping in person. (I always wash my hands first, wear a mask at the door and keep it brief.)

Put a notebook and pen by your bed. Keeping pen and paper by your bedside allows you to do a nightly stress-dump of all the things on your mind that might otherwise keep you up at night. You get a head start on tomorrow by creating a to-do list. And you can end your day with a simple gratitude practice — writing down three things for which you are grateful.

Create a device charging station outside your bedroom. The blue light in your screen has the same effect on your brain as sunlight, which means it wakes you up just when you want to be drifting off. If you’re trying to cut back on screens at bedtime, add some friction by setting up a charging station in your work area, the kitchen — anywhere but your bedroom. “If it’s in the bedroom, it’s easier to use,” said Dr. Wood. “That’s part of the temptation of always staying online. Keep devices out of the bedroom.”

To Create a Healthy Habit, Find an Accountability Buddy

Well Challenge Day 6

To Create a Healthy Habit, Find an Accountability Buddy

Whether it’s a person or an app that sends us reminders, we make better choices when we’re being watched (even by ourselves.)

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 8, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

If you want to make positive changes in your life, try building on a lesson many of us learned in 2020: Hold yourself accountable.

The notion of accountability — to yourself and to others — has been an important part of pandemic living. To avoid spreading the virus, we’ve needed to be accountable for wearing a mask, limiting our contacts and keeping our distance.

But accountability can also help you achieve your health goals. Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” a book about forming healthy habits, says that accountability is an important tool for making and breaking habits.

Accountability works best when it comes from the outside. You can create accountability by checking in with a friend every day to talk about healthful eating. You’re more likely to exercise if you’ve made a plan to walk with a friend or scheduled a workout with a personal trainer. You can create public accountability by declaring your intention on social media.

If you prefer to stay accountable only to yourself, you can create accountability by using an app that sends you daily reminders or by wearing a Fitbit or smart watch to track your exercise habits. You can even hold yourself accountable through a daily journal entry.

“We do better when someone’s watching,” Ms. Rubin said. “Even when we’re the ones doing the watching!”

A 2018 North Carolina State University study of 704 people enrolled in a 15-week online weight-loss program found that participants with buddies lost more weight and waist inches than those who took the course without buddy support.

So for today’s Well challenge, think about a health goal you want to achieve and focus on how you can hold yourself accountable. I’ve included a few suggestions for how to do it. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get the 7-Day Well Challenge in your inbox.

Day 6

Create an Accountability Plan

What is your goal for 2021? Do you want to improve your eating habits, lose weight or exercise more? Or maybe you just want to finish that screenplay you’ve been working on? You’re more likely to succeed if you get some help.

Find an accountability buddy. Choose a friend who wants to achieve a similar goal and make a plan. Accountability might mean meeting each other once or twice a week for a walking date. Or it could be a daily text check-in to see how you’re doing on a diet or a Zoom call to work on a decluttering project together.

“Some people are very accountable to themselves, but not most people,” said Dr. Tim Church, a well-known exercise and obesity expert and chief medical officer for Naturally Slim, an app-based behavioral health program in Dallas. “In my years of working with thousands of people, there’s one thing that drives accountability more than anything else: If you want to keep people doing a behavior, get a buddy.”

While the presence of an accountability buddy adds some gentle peer pressure, the key is to focus on the behavior, not success or failure. For instance, if a person is trying to lose weight, don’t focus on the scale. Instead, check in and remind them to log what they ate, encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables and remind them of the benefits of a regular weigh-in (but you don’t need to ask them the result). If they’re beating themselves up for eating two desserts, talk about what might have triggered an emotional eating binge.

“An accountability partner is there to support you, to problem-solve and to celebrate even the small victories,” Dr. Church said. “Judgment is the quickest way to destroy all that. People are so hard on themselves. You don’t need to be hard on them.”

Use an app. An app is a great way to add accountability to your day. Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm will send daily reminders and track your progress. The weight-loss app Noom asks you to check in for a few minutes each day, complete mini-health courses and track what you’ve eaten. The Fitbit app counts your steps, will sync with your smart scale and vibrates to remind you to get up and move.

Set reminders. Once you set a health goal, hold yourself accountable by creating calendar reminders to help you achieve it. Schedule walk breaks or daily or weekly check-ins with your accountability buddy.

Declare it on social media. Telling your friends on social media that you’re cutting back on packaged foods, or sending a tweet every time you finish a class on your exercise bike creates virtual accountability. Commit to posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or another platform every time you complete a goal, or share your feelings on days you’re struggling. When you declare your goals on social media, you’re likely to find a like-minded friend who will want to join your journey and offer words of support.

Weekly Health Quiz: Coconut Oil, Coronavirus and Exercise Goals

1 of 7

Which statement about coconut oil is not true?

A tablespoon of coconut oil contains more calories than a tablespoon of butter

Coconut oil is primarily an unsaturated fat, similar to the fats in avocado

Coconut oil raises blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol

Coconut oil raises levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol

2 of 7

People who walked about 5,000 steps a day were most likely to stick with a ramped-up exercise routine when they set an exercise target of about:

5,500 steps

7,500 steps

10,000 steps

15,000 steps

3 of 7

This state became the fifth to surpass a million coronavirus cases, after California, Texas, Florida and New York:

Illinois

Pennsylvania

Ohio

Georgia

4 of 7

Total Covid-related deaths have been highest in this state, with more than 38,000:

California

New York

Texas

Florida

5 of 7

A difference in blood pressure readings taken from the right and left arms may signal an increased risk of:

Heart attack

Stroke

Early death

All of the above

6 of 7

Women who have used oral contraceptives may be at lower risk of this form of cancer:

Thyroid cancer

Breast cancer

Ovarian or endometrial cancer

Cervical cancer

7 of 7

Julius Schachter, a microbiologist, died in December from Covid-19. He is perhaps best known for his reserach into this eye disease caused by the Chlamydia bacterium:

Keratitis

Blepharitis

Trachoma

Stye

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Well Challenge Day 3

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Social bubbles have helped us cope with the restrictions of Covid-19. For today’s Well Challenge, look to your pandemic pod to inspire and motivate you toward a healthier and happier life.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Is your pandemic bubble a keeper?

Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the power of a trusted friend group may be the most lasting. This summer, nearly half of Americans said they had formed a “pod” or social “bubble” — a select group of friends to help them cope with pandemic life.

It took a pandemic to teach us what many cultures have known all along — that friendship pods can give us healthier, happier lives. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the habits of people who live in “blue zones,” which are areas around the world where people live far longer than the average. He has consistently found that cultures with long life expectancies value strong social ties. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, people form a kind of social network during childhood called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime. Members of each moai also appear to influence one another’s lifelong health behaviors.

Mr. Buettner has worked in several cities to try to replicate the moai effect. In Naples, Fla., for instance, he found 110 people who wanted to improve their eating habits, and he started by grouping them by neighborhood. (“If they live too far apart, they don’t hang out,” he said.) Then he asked questions about shared interests and values, like whether a person watched Fox News or CNN, whether they liked beach vacations or hiking, attended church or liked country music. People with shared interests who lived close to each other formed “moais” of five or six people, and then planned five pot luck dinners together.

After 10 weeks of planning healthy meals together, everyone reported eating more plant-based foods, Mr. Buettner said. And 67 percent said they had made more friends, 17 percent had lost weight, 6 percent had lowered their blood pressure, 6 percent reported lower blood sugar and 4 percent reported lower cholesterol.

Moais can form around activities like walking or bird watching, healthy eating habits or hobbies, like photography. The key is to find like-minded people with shared values and goals. And once the groups form, the members tend to support one another in other ways. When one member of a walking moai in Southern California was diagnosed with cancer, other members of the group stepped in to help with meals and caregiving.

While pandemic life has stalled many of our social plans, we’ve also learned a lot about friendships, who we can depend on and even who matters less than we thought. Even if you didn’t form a social bubble, the new year is a good time to reflect on the friendships that counted the most during a difficult year.

“It’s not only the importance of social connections, but also leaning into anything we’ve learned about the relationships that matter,” said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.” “What were the relationships that lasted during Covid is a really interesting thing to pay attention to. I’ll remember who kept texting when I wasn’t always texting back.”

Mr. Buettner noted that when it comes to forming healthy social groups, we sometimes have to re-evaluate friends who might be a lot of fun, but aren’t really making our life better.

“I used to have a group of friends who had a lot of unhealthy behaviors,” said Mr. Buettner, whose latest book is “The Blue Zones Kitchen.”

“They felt good to be around, but they weren’t good for me. I think it’s important to curate your pod. I’m not saying dump your old friends. I’m saying you want to be aware of the people who are additive to your life, who are going to give you the most good years going forward, and who aren’t going to infect you with their bad habits.”

To learn how to turn your pandemic pod (or any group of friends) into a health-oriented bubble, try today’s Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get the 7-Day Well Challenge in your inbox.

Day 3

Form a Health Bubble

The Challenge: Try to turn your pandemic pod into a lasting social group focused on shared values and better health. Add or subtract members as needed.

Take a compatibility quiz: Health bubbles are most successful when people have similar attitudes, values and goals. You probably already know if you and your pandemic podmates like the same movies, vacation spots and social media sites. Now focus on key questions around health and lifestyle choices. In the past month, how often did each person take part in rigorous activity? How often was someone sad or depressed? Does anyone in the group smoke? How many vegetables do they eat? Do they eat sweets or junk food? How much alcohol do they drink? You can take the full quiz online here.

Curate or strengthen your pod: Is yours a pandemic pod of convenience or shared values? The answers to the compatibility quiz will tell you if you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can help you achieve better health. If someone in the group is too negative or has lifestyle habits that bring you down, talk to them about their goals. If they want to make changes, support them. You may need to curate your pod or bring in new people who want to focus on healthy living.

Create a health goal: Start talking to your pod mates about long-term health goals. Do you want to exercise more? Try scheduling daily or weekly walk dates. Are you interested in cutting back on sugar or eating more plant-based foods? Make plans with your pod to share recipes and cook the same meals. Take Zoom cooking classes together, or do a Zoom exercise class of the 7-Minute Standing Workout. If you have Fitbits or smart watches, sync them so you can share step counts. Even if you can’t meet in person during pandemic restrictions, you can start supporting each other’s health goals now and build on them when we can all spend time together again.

“When you make a good friend, that could be a lifelong adventure,” Mr. Buettner said. “For those of us in middle age, having the right friends around us whose idea of something fun is physical activity, whose idea of eating healthy is plant-based, who care about you on a bad day, who can have a meaningful conversation — that beats any pill or supplement any day. It’s the best intervention you can invest in because it’s long lasting and has a measurable impact on your health and well-being.”

For an Exercise ‘Snack,’ Try the New Standing 7-Minute Workout

For an Exercise ‘Snack,’ Try the New Standing 7-Minute Workout

During pandemic lockdowns, many of us learned the importance of short home workouts. Take the 7-Day Well Challenge for a new exercise video and more ways to keep moving in 2021.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 4, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Make 2021 the year of the exercise snack.

Just as you might grab a handful of chips or nuts to break the monotony of your day, an exercise “snack” is a short burst of movement you can enjoy at home or in the office or outdoors. It can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. You can do it while talking on the phone or just because you want to take an hourly break from sitting in your chair. You don’t even have to change your clothes.

A number of scientific studies show that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. A recent study concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.

“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” said Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose lab has conducted several studies of exercise snacking. “Let’s get people out of the mind-set that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.”

For many of us, the exercise snack has already become a part of pandemic life, even if we haven’t been aware of it. Studies have shown that pandemic restrictions have slowed many people down. Average daily steps declined by about 5.5 percent during the first 10 days of a nation’s pandemic lockdowns and by about 27 percent by the end of the first month, according to data from more than 450,000 users of a smartphone step-counting app.

But to compensate, many people found ways to keep moving in their homes. An April study by Yelp, the local search and reviewing site, found that interest in fitness equipment had risen by 500 percent between March and April in the United States. Workout bands, kettle bells and exercise bikes sold out in stores and online, and exercisers found workout apps and videos to help them keep moving while stuck at home. Some people took short walks to make up for losing the morning commute. Others did jumping jacks or wall push-ups to break up hours of sitting at the laptop.

Several studies show that these small bursts of exercise can have a big impact on health. One recent study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, recruited 11 overweight men and women who were asked to sit for nine hours a day in cozy recliners, where they worked or watched television. They were all served three meals while sitting in their chairs. One day the participants never left the chair except to go to the bathroom. On another day, they left the chair just once an hour to race up three flights of stairs, which took about 20 seconds. Among the overweight participants, adding a 20-second burst of stair climbing to an otherwise sedentary day led to improvements in insulin sensitivity, a sign of metabolic health.

“We’re better able to process nutrients if we break up our sitting with these short bursts of exercise once every hour,” said Jonathan Little, associate professor in the school of health and exercise sciences at the University of British Columbia. “I don’t think it replaces regular exercise, but we think you can get some bang for your buck with a small amount of these exercise bursts. Working from home could make these exercise snacks a lot easier. If you have an exercise bike, you theoretically don’t need to change into exercise gear — in a 20-second burst, you’re not going to sweat.”

The study built on similar research at McMaster University that showed exercise snacks can lead to meaningful improvements in fitness. In that study, a dozen exercisers raced up three flights of stairs just three times a day for three days a week. After six weeks of these 20-second snacks of exercise, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.

Dr. Gibala said the lesson from the research is that with a little effort, we can stay active anywhere under almost any circumstances — no matter how busy we are. The key to getting the benefit of brief exercise is to pick up the pace.

“You need to push it a little bit,” said Dr. Gibala. “Get out of your comfort zone. If your normal exercise is walking around the block, pick it up a little bit. As you go about your day, as you’re playing with grandchildren, as you’re walking to the bus; the key is to encourage people to do it in a vigorous manner, and that may lead to some real health benefits.”

To learn how to add exercise snacks into your day, try the second day of our 7-Day Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get each day’s challenge in your inbox.

Day 2

Try an Exercise Snack

This week, try one or more of these exercise challenges to add short bursts of exercise throughout your day.

Add exercise to your phone call: A work or social call is a great time to add some activity to your day — and the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have to know about it. Just get up and start walking around your home as you talk. If you have hand weights, do some arm exercises. Do a yoga pose or a wall sit while you chat.

Add music to your movement break: Every hour or few hours, turn on a favorite song, and dance or do jumping jacks or another physical activity. If you’ve got children or another adult at home, ask them to join you. Adding music to a walk or just taking a short dance break will enhance the restorative benefits of exercise, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.

“Moving to music is one of the best ways to increase positive emotions and to connect with other people,” said Dr. McGonigal. “Think about something like a movement break to music if you need more energy, or if you need a big emotional reset.”

Do the 7-Minute Standing Workout: Take a 7-minute break during your day to try our new standing workout video. All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes. The workout was designed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and creator of the original scientific 7-minute workout. The standing workout was designed for newcomers to exercise, older people, pregnant women or anyone with an ache or injury that keeps them from easily getting down on the floor or back up. But anyone can take advantage of the benefits of this exercise snack.

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Video by Ruru Kuo, Rob Dozier, Jaspal Riyait and Tara Parker-Pope. Workout created and performed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.