benjamin alexander smith

Fitter, Happier, More Productive

There are plenty of articles online that tell us that working out makes us better entrepreneurs, makes us more successful, keeps us awake, and so on. Exercise is regularly billed as being an excellent way to improve your general alertness, productivity and lifestyle while getting fitter and adding years to your life in the process. No surprises there, then.

Well, I recently decided that it was time to start listening to this wealth of medical advice. I’ve been overweight since my sixth-form college years (around 17-18, for the non-British readers). I haven’t been a full-on fatty, but I’ve been larger than I’d like to be. A BMI between 20-25 is considered normal, 25-30 is considered overweight, and 30+ is considered obese. I moved gently but consistently from a BMI of around 24 in 2005 to a BMI of 31 in 2009.

I’ll say that again. By 2009, I was technically considered obese.

I’d like to stress here that realistically I was by no means obese, but I was certainly overweight and–more importantly–I was unhappy with my body shape. I was unfit, easily caught out of breath and flabbier than I was happy with. Several times over the course of my degree I’d attempted to break this cycle through exercise, and I repeatedly failed.

In 2009 I figured out there are two secrets to success for me.

  1. Eat smaller portions. You’ll be full anyway, and you’ll consume signficantly fewer calories.

  2. Find a way to integrate exercise into your daily routine in such a way that it does not detract from your free time.

I used those methods with vigour, and by 2010 I was down to a BMI of 27.5. Not technically a “normal” mass, but outwardly I appeared healthy enough, I’d reduced by waist size significantly from 38 inches to 34 inches, and I felt better about myself. I kept a balance for the next 18 months, didn’t change much in terms of weight, and aside from the loss of some muscle mass I’d built up I remained in pretty good shape.

Fast forward to Spring 2011. I’m bitten by an overwhelming urge to lower my current BMI of 28 and finally hit that “normal weight” to which I’d always aspired. I had moved house to a new location around 5km from my place of work, yet despite cycling to work every day and eating sensibly I didn’t really seem to be able to lose any weight. But moving house really opened up a new door for me: the realistic prospect of “run commuting”.

Now, I’m no runner. Between 2005 and 2011 I probably ran less than 100 km - and that includes a summer during which I ran on a treadmill almost daily! So why was I so keen to run to work? Well, running has a quintessential property which seems to be missing from cycling: it feels like hard work.

You know what? It is. I threw myself in at the deep end and just decided I’d run to work - and if I couldn’t manage it, I’d have to damn-well walk. So I did. And I ran further than expected. I had to stop regularly to walk, but it felt really good. I ached, but I felt as if my body was energized all day. It might be my imagination, but I thought I could feel the increased metabolism.

It was great. So the next week I did it again - this time using RunKeeper and the accompanying Android app to track my pace, location and distance. And the next week, I did it again. Twice.

It’s now just over a month since I started run commuting, and in that time I’ve run over 55 km. This morning I ran over 5km on the road without stopping for the first time in my life, and I did it in 27 minutes and 38 seconds - a personal best. Every time I run I feel great about myself, and every time I run I’m driven to go further and faster than I did before. I now plan to start running three times a week, with a minimum distance to cover of 15 km per week (ideally over 20 km).

What are the results? Aside from the immediate boosts following the activity, I really do feel better overall. I have more energy. I feel more productive. My mind is more active. I need less coffee. My muscles feel stronger, my lungs strain less, my body feels less flabby and I’m gradually losing weight - now sporting a BMI of around 27 (and falling).

Run commuting has been an unmitigated success, and I would recommend it to anyone who lives less than 4 miles from work. Just try it, take walking breaks as often as you need to, and soon enough you’ll be running the whole distance non-stop. It won’t be long before you’re fitter, happier and more productive.