Why You Need More Fun in Your Life, According to Science

Why You Need More Fun in Your Life, According to Science
—George Bernard Shaw
Most of us want to have fun, it just seems like it is not as easy as it used to be. The reasons are many: guilt (because others aren’t having fun), perceived inappropriateness (because others around us cannot have fun) or lack of time (because our commitment to others won’t let us have fun). Yet, science gives an encouraging nod that we need to make time for fun and should perhaps prioritize it.

Since the term “fun” can be ambiguous and is often used in different contexts, let us first look at the standard definition of the word. Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines fun as: amusement, especially lively or playful. Staying true to the definition we generally connect the word fun to things that are entertaining and enjoyable to do. Fun is also sometimes used interchangeably with play — although there is a distinction as fun is argue that play is a state of mind; a certain attitude we can incorporate into any and every activity (Brown, 2009).

It is important to keep in mind that what is fun for you, might not be fun for somebody else. Therefore, fun can be difficult to investigate using standardized scientific methods. As such, scientific conclusions about the benefits of fun come from subjective observations and less rigorous studies. Nonetheless, there are enough studies that indirectly link to the concept of fun and play that a case can be made that we all need fun.

Here are five reasons science suggests you should have fun:

  1. Fun improves your relationships, both at work and in life

Research shows that when we have fun with others, these experiences have a positive effect on building trust and developing communication. Having fun gives us an opportunity to connect and be creative. When we laugh together, this sends an external non-verbal message that says: “We are alike, we share values” (Everett, 2011).  It can also make us look more vulnerable, but at the same time approachable and friendly, which can help build connections and bonds. Drs. John and Julie Gottmann, relationship experts from the Seattle’s Gottman Research Institute, have been studying happy and unhappy couples (and their patterns of behavior) in a systematic way. They found that couples who are happy know how to have fun together. It appears that when we have the ability to create and partake in acts of humor and affection, our conflict resolution skills improve as well.

Studies show that fun activities at work can improve our relationships with co-workers. These strong bonds developed with our colleagues have been linked to improved performance and productivity (Kansal, Puja, & Maheshwari, 2012).

  1. Fun makes us smarter

According to science, one way to improve our memory and concentration is to have fun. Partially, this has to do with the stress reduction that happens when we engage in something we enjoy. However, the benefits of fun activities seem to stretch further than that. The British Cohort Study — a study that has been following 17,000 people born in 1970 — found that reading for fun improves our language skills, and more surprisingly our proficiency in math as well. It appears that fun activities that introduce us to new ideas and concepts foster self-directed learning. The rewards we gain from these experiences might expand beyond the obvious benefits. Scientists are now also exploring if reading for fun can also protect us against cognitive decline as we age.

  1. Fun reduces stress

You probably do not need science to inherently know this already: engaging in enjoyable activities can be an especially powerful antidote to stress. It has been recognized in several studies that spontaneous laughter has a stress-buffering effect that helps us better cope with stress. According to one study, individuals who laughed less had more negative emotions when compared to those who laughed more. In contrast, those who laughed more showed fewer negative feelings even when stressful situations increased (Kuiper & Martin, 1998). Interestingly, this same study found that there is no correlation between having a good sense of humor and displaying stronger or more intense emotions. As such, therapeutic laughter programs are now being developed and evaluated, and are sometimes offered as treatments for depression, stress and anxiety (Kim et al., 2015). It appears that there is some truth to the adage, “laughter is the best medicine.”

  1. Finding fun in physical activity balances your hormone levels

It has been well-established that high stress levels negatively influence our hormones and neurotransmitters (especially cortisol and noradrenalin). Stress also affects our endocrine, metabolic and immune functions. Hormones can have an amazing effect on our mood — this is true for both genders (Koelsch et al., 2016). Certain hormones, such as cortisol, insulin, testosterone and estrogen, can be particularly influential and cause havoc when we have an imbalance. One way to naturally balance hormones is to engage in pleasurable physical activity (e.g. Abbenhardt et al., 2013). In other words, adaptation is not reliant on intense physical activity but rather consistent recreational exercise. When it comes to exercise, find what fun means to you and bake it in to your routine.

  1. Fun can make you more energetic and youthful

Stress is draining — it can suck the life out of us, making us tired and cranky. When we effectively reduce our stress levels, this can often provide us with a new boost of vitality. Having fun and playing have traditionally been connected with children and the early years of our development. However, many philosophers and psychologists emphasize the importance of play as we get older. Plato professed that life must be lived as play, and George Bernard Shaw famously said: We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

Fun at Work

Having fun at work might be just as important as having fun in your personal life. Everett (2011) concludes that since we will spend more than 90,000 hours of our lives at work, we might as well have fun there. Some of the benefits of playing on the job include:

Higher recruitment and retention rates. Organizations that nourish creativity and playfulness in employees have less difficulty recruiting and retaining good staff, and it is an encouraging trend that more modern organizations are balancing work and play than in prior decades (Everett, 2011). For example, here in the Bay Area Google is known for having a fun workplace and is also a very desirable company to work for. Sponsoring fun activities has also been recognized as a measure to prevent burnout (Meyer, 1999).

– Increased job satisfaction. Employees must feel satisfied to be productive. There are many factors that contribute to job satisfaction, which logically also correlates to overall life satisfaction. When we can laugh and have fun at work, we can also build better relationships and help create connections with our workmates. Doing fun things together creates a joint history with our fellow employees. When we have fun together we tend to relate to and identify with our coworkers better. Some authors believe that “teams that play together, stay together,” so it is important to create organizational culture that supports that (Berg, 2001).

Increased customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is generally closely linked with employee satisfaction. Workers who have something to smile about are usually better equipped to make customers smile than their melancholy counterparts. Fun seems to be contagious — as shown by studies looking at work environments. For example, when a fun work philosophy was adopted at Sprint, this resulted in their call center agents handling 30 percent more calls, and customers expressing an increased level of satisfaction with their services (Karl & Peluchette, 2006).

Everett (2011) also points out that fun should not be made mandatory. It ceases to be fun then, and can actually contribute to feelings of stress among employees. It is important to consider that people’s perceptions of fun (and what fun means to them) may vary and that they do not necessarily want to have fun in a certain way, at a certain time.

[FUN FACT]: Did you know that according to a study from 1998, adults only laugh on average 17 times a day (Kuiper, & Martin, 1998)?  If you have a good joke, leave it in the comments so we can help push up this average.


Sources & further reading:

Abbenhardt, C., McTiernan, A., Alfano, C., Wener, M., Campbell, K., Duggan, C., & … Ulrich, C. (2013). Effects of individual and combined dietary weight loss and exercise interventions in postmenopausal women on adiponectin and leptin levels. Journal of Internal Medicine, 274(2), 163-175.

Berg, D. H. (2001). The Power of a Playful Spirit at Work. Journal for Quality & Participation, 24(2), 57-62.

Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Avery.

Everett, A. (2011). Benefits and challenges of fun in the workplace. Library Leadership and Management, 25(1), 1-10.

Kansal, M., Puja, & Maheshwari, G. (2012). Incorporation of fun and enjoyment in work: Builds the way for success and generation of long term benefits. ZENITH International Journal of Business Economics & Management Research, (12), 98-113.

Karl, K., & Peluchette, J. (2006). How does workplace fun impact employee perceptions of customer service quality?. Journal Of Leadership & Organizational Studies, (2), 2-11.

Kim, S., Kim, Y., Kim, H., Lee, S., & Yu, S. (2012). The Effect of Laughter Therapy on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Patients with Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy (CP). Quality Of Life Research, 20, 84.

Koelsch, S., Boehlig, A., Hohenadel, M., Nitsche, I., Bauer, K. & Sack, U. (2016). The impact of acute stress on hormones and cytokines, and how their recovery is affected by music-evoked positive mood. Scientific Reports, 6doi:10.1038/srep23008

Kuiper, N., & Martin, R. (1998). Laughter and stress in daily life: Relation to positive and negative affect. Motivation and Emotion, 22(2), 133-153.

Meyer, H. (2000). Fun for everyone. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 28(2), 45-48.

Fitness and Health App Downloads Are On the Rise

If you have been following my stuff or just know tech you are already aware mobile app usage in skyrocketing. Health related apps make up a significant portion of this growth and are becoming more and more popular among Smartphone users in both developed and developing economies. For example, fifty-two percent of all adults with a Smartphone now use mobile health apps more than they had in previous years. Wakefield Research released these statistics on mobile health apps after conducting a survey involving one thousand adults in the United States. Citrix commissioned this survey. Here are more highlights about mobile health apps:

Increase in Popularity of Fitness Apps

It seems as though staying fit is a key concern of the average Smartphone user. Fitness apps are generating a greater network load than other kinds of mobile health apps. This higher generation of network load stems from the fact that fitness apps involve periodic updates in reference to the status of the user as well as continuous tracking of activity. For instance, even a casual jogger that logs 12 miles a week (four 30 minute sessions) is creating an immense amount of data. The increase in popularity of wearable fitness devices is likely to increase the network load already occupied by fitness apps. These wearable devices include brands such as FitBit, Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, Pebble and Nike+. 

Traffic Data from ByteMobile

Citrix, the firm that commissioned the survey, also revealed mobile traffic data from the subscribers of ByteMobile. This data clearly shows that apps for weight loss and fitness were the most popular apps downloaded by ByteMobile subscribers. More specifically, statistics showed that users of fitness apps accounted for more than fifty percent of all ByteMobile subscribers. This is an increase of over eleven percent from the previous year. Apps on pregnancy and fertility were also popular

The Top Ten Mobile Health Apps

Top 10 Health Apps 2014

The study also included a list of the top ten most popular health apps (based on a  compilation of the overall number of network-connected subscribers each app had). Runtastic was the number one health app with more than twenty-five percent of all ByteMobile subscribers have this app on their Smartphone. MyFitnessPal came in second place closely followed by RunKeeper. More than thirty percent of all subscribers to ByteMobile used either MyFitnessPal or RunKeeper. Weight Watchers was the fourth most popular mobile health app, followed by Nike+ and then MapMyRun. Pregnancy and Period Diary came in at seventh and eighth place respectively. Lose It! was in ninth place and finally, Baby Bump was the tenth most popular mobile health app according to this particular study.

The Role of Fitness in Medicine in 2014 and Beyond…

When experts try to elucidate the increase in global obesity the explanation is usually marred because they use a reductionist approach to explain the phenomena. Obesity has been blamed on the transition from strenuous work to the more heuristic work of our current information age. Other researchers have pointed to modern urban design and advances in transportation that decrease the need for physical activity. Sometimes nutrition is the culprit ranging from increases in dining plate circumference, as well as increases in portion size, to the strides made in food science that have created energy-rich, ready to eat products that make over-indulging easy and inexpensive.  In reality, we are likely where we are today because these events (and others) converged around the same time probably in the early 1970s creating a powerful force that would not be recognized as harmful until decades later. However, I’m optimistic that a convergence of a different kind is upon us today that will help correct this current trajectory and get us back on track. These convergent forces should open up new opportunities for health clubs as health care continues to be steered towards prevention and away from treatment.

One trend is the increasing acceptance that exercise is potentially as effective as many drugs used to control diseases. Our industry has anecdotally known this for years but recent empirical findings from the Stanford University School of Medicine, London School of Economics, and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School have brought these facts to the forefront.  Advances in wearable technology that effortlessly track activity and other health metrics continue to improve and become more ubiquitous. Peripheral hardware to accomplish these tasks is quickly beginning to be consolidated and replaced by sensor-loaded smartphones and (soon) smartwatches, which will lead to even wider adoption. In parallel the Affordable Care Act is motivating physicians with monetary incentives to deliver positive patient outcomes, in contrast to previously being rewarded for treatment volume. However, this paradigm shift in the way doctors are compensated has yet to affect their patient load. Therefore, primary care physicians are increasingly going to look to allied health professionals to aid with the continuum of treatment strategies outside office visits. This is not simply conjuncture, it’s supported by the strides that the American College of Sports Medicine have made through ‘Exercise is Medicine’ and Kaiser Permanente adding exercise as a one of their ‘Vital Signs’.  As this trend collides with the deluge of data made available from the advancement and adoption of consumer health technology, electronic medical records (EMRs) will be populated with more data from exercise and activity modalities than medical visits. This will likely expand the scope of practice of many traditional health club roles as the concept of care is shifted from doctors to the empowering the individual. It will be more patient-led in contrast to provider-led, and it will start at the health club instead of the doctor’s office. As health clubs embrace this new role and evolve from the equipment rental business to becoming more of a partner in the well-being of their members the potential for increased opportunity is substantial and imminent.

This is the extended version of an article written for Club Business International, Fourteen in 2014. An original version of the Fourteen in 2014 article is available here.

The Role of Medical Fitness Centers in the Era of Health Care Reform

In this new era of health care reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), medical fitness centers must evolve their approach to keep up with the transformational change currently taking place. Hospitals therefore have an extraordinary opportunity to position themselves as facilitators of prevention rather than operating in the previous operational paradigm of disease-care. In these changing times it is clear that medical fitness centers will play a much broader role in the operating models of medical organizations. Americans are coming around to the notion that it is necessary that they actively participate in their own care. Clinicians are realizing that their role is changing as well – from one of ‘expert’ to one of ‘facilitator’.

Health care reform is requiring institutions to shift patient-care models to an upstream approach. In the paradigm preceding the PPACA, medical centers waited downstream for illness to progress to the point that high-cost acute care was necessary. This was supported by reimbursement programs that incentivized this type of methodology. However, as the PPACA gets rolled out and employer-sponsored health benefit plans become more prevalent prevention and self-management will rise to the top as key initiatives for any progressive medical organization[1]. What is the primary conduit for preventive medical care and patient self-management? Medical fitness centers. Care will soon start with the individual instead of the doctor. It will be patient-led instead of provider-led, and it will start in the home or the fitness center instead of the doctor’s office.

Another opportunity for medical fitness centers is an increased effort from coverage payers and providers to influence patient behavior (ex. WellPoint’s Health. Join In. and WellPower initiatives). Through incentives and education payers and employers are working together more than ever before to encourage and influence employees to increase their activity and adopt healthy habits[2]. A reasonable measure of a healthy habit is the consistent use of a fitness facility and this measure – club usage data – is already being used by some organizations as a success metric. The PPACA has also widened the available spectrum of incentives employers can use to reward healthy behavior, such as more attractive insurance premiums, lower deductibles, and other desirable rewards.[3]

Summary: It is clear that the growing trend of patient self-management supported by the PPACA will continue to have a positive impact on medical fitness centers as shared decision-making becomes the norm in health care. Furthermore, hospitals are being pressured to move away from economic models that favor volume and expensive services to models that offer patient value and positive outcomes. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for medical fitness centers to position their offerings as establishing the patient relationship, the relationship that historically was created between the patient and physician at a patient’s time of need. Through better positioning within the wellness continuum, and new economic incentives afforded by health care reform, medical fitness centers not only now have a seat at the table regarding patient care, they will likely play a much bigger role in the relationship a hospital has with their respective patients.

[1] Rosenbaum, Sara. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: implications for public health policy and practice.” Public Health Reports 126.1 (2011): 130.

[2] Oppenheimer, Karen Pak, and Carol Medlin. “Governors’ Healthy America Initiative.” (2006)

[3] Harrison, Krista, and Anderson, Gerard, “Employee Wellness Incentives.” (2010)

Nutrition Tips for Swimmers

With an ever increasing population of running and cycling enthusiasts, good advice for swimmers is getting harder to come by. Luckily, the same carbo-loading scenarios that are appropriate for other distance sports are suitable for distance swimmers too.

Swim Nutrition

The Basics: Endurance athletes need to increase their access to available fuel. During event training the prevailing wisdom is that an endurance swimmer should get about ~60 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates with an increase to ~85 percent three weeks prior to race day. If this protocol is followed, an athlete can expect to increase muscle glycogen stores by ~35 percent, which will allow you to swim longer before fatigue sets in.

Another good practice is to make sure to eat a pre-swim meal. This will protect you against low blood sugar by restocking your liver with one hundred grams of carbohydrates. By eating a pre-swim meal you maintain your blood sugar levels which will help improve your energy prior to your swim start.

Avoid complex and fibrous carbohydrates. This might seem counter intuitive but the last thing you want to think about on a long swim is clearing your bowels (you can read about my Ironman New Zealand race here, if you need a real world example). Instead include ~25 grams of protein and/or ~ 20grams of fat along with ~125 grams of carbohydrates two hours before the swim. This will help control your hunger and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

After one hour of moderate-to-intense swimming, blood sugars will result in fatigue and increase your risk of shivering and hypothermia – all of which can have a profound negative impact on performance. In an Ironman you will need to tough it out, but longer swimming distances of 10K and beyond generally take the trained swimmer two or more hours to complete. As such, feed zones are generally provided where coaches and support crews can help mediate calorie and fluid intake off of a floating pontoon, dock, pier, or anchored boat (for swims longer than 25K a team and escort boat are usually provided).

It is estimated that swimmers racing at moderate to high intensity will expend ~.065 calories per pound per minute, or on average 500 to 700 calories per hour. You will not be able to replace all of these calories during the race, but if possible take in approximately 150 to 200 calories via carbohydrate liquids or gels along with small amounts of protein and fat, as well as some solid food if the race is extremely long.

In cases where aid stations are few and far between, or escort boats are not allowed, athletes may need to stuff gels into their suits (allowing two per hour in case a feeding is missed or one is lost during swimming). The gel packs should be prepared pre-swim by cutting a small incision to allow for easier access during the race. An alternative is to place several gels into a four-ounce gel flask, diluted down with water to allow for ease of exit, and stuff the flask into the suit or a pocket in the suit.

Sweat rates for swimmers average around 125 milliliters (four ounces) per kilometer swum; which means that during a 10K event, about 40 ounces of fluid (including a total of 500-1000 milligrams of electrolytes, specifically sodium) is generally needed.

Special Note: As is with all endurance training, it is vital that you practice with any aids you plan to use on race day, as well as what you will do on race day, which can be broken down as follows:

1. Seek & Spot: Swimmers spot their coaches at the feeding station
2. Reach & Roll: Swimmers grab cups or bottles from coach/feeding stick and roll onto their backs to initiate feeding.
3. Gulp & Go: Swimmers swallow their nutrition quickly and continue swimming within two to three strokes.
4. Toss & Turn: Swimmers toss their cups/bottles and sight before turning over to continue swimming.

This post was adapted by an old article from Kim Mueller, a Registered Dietitian & Exercise Physiologist who owns Fuel Factor Nutrition ( Karen has helped many athletes nutritionally prepare for swims, including English Channel swimmers.

Interval Training

One of my favorite types of training is interval training. Interval training is when you mix high intensity work with low intensity work. This method is hardly a secret technique anymore but is often overlooked as another great tool for the toolbox.

During high intensity effort, our bodies use energy stored in our muscles. During these short bursts of activity lactic acid is produced. This lactic acid in turn creates a burning sensation in our muscles letting our bodies know we are reaching failure. During this period our muscles are also getting starved of oxygen. When we switch to low intensity tasks our heart and lungs work together to recover oxygen and remove excess lactic acid from our muscles. Our bodies adapt from the stress of the intense interval portion by building new capillaries and in turn improving oxygen delivery. This improves our muscle’s tolerance to the upsurge of lactate and also strengthens our cardiovascular system resulting in improved performance.

In the study Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Dr. Jason Talanian found that after just two weeks of interval training, 75% of participants doubled their endurance before getting exhausted. Further, that bursts of high intensity exercise not only improve cardiovascular fitness but also the body’s ability to burn fat faster. The amount of fat burned in an hour of continuous moderate cycling increased by 36% and cardiovascular fitness increased by 13%. Although this study was conducted with women the study provides precedent to suggest that aerobic and mitochondrial enzyme adaptation in well-trained individuals would be similar across both sexes.

Further studies such as Mark Rakobowchuk’s Sprint interval and traditional endurance training induce similar improvements in peripheral arterial stiffness and flow-mediated dilation in healthy humans suggest that short bursts of high intensity sprints can improve the function and structure of our blood vessels, in particular arteries that deliver blood to our muscles and heart. The research compared individuals who completed interval training using 30-second “all-out” sprints three days a week to a group who completed between 40 and 60 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling five days a week. The results showed that six weeks of intense sprint interval exercise training improved the structure and function of arteries in a comparable manner to that of extended endurance training, making interval training a “time-efficient strategy to elicit improvements in peripheral vascular structure”.

For runners with limited time to train (like myself), interval training isn’t just an economical way to increase your aerobic threshold …but running speed as well. Intuitively, we can train at higher speeds for shorter distances so interval training gives us the opportunity to test speeds outside of our comfort zone. However, because we are training in and out of anaerobic and aerobic conditions, one should also approach this type of training with caution and make sure that they are in a condition to put this type of stress on their body. Serious interval training is not for anyone that remotely thinks they might have biological system deficiencies …but in healthy individuals it can be a great way to maximize results in a minimum amount of time.

Christopher McDougall | Barefoot Running

Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run gave his opinion about how people’s desire to run might have evolved at a recent TED conference. Although Christopher McDougall covered a variety of topics on running during his TED presentation (including a heartwarming story about the marathoner Derartu Tulu, who was ready to retire from professional running, but instead beat Paula Radcliffe in the 2009 New York Marathon), it is his argument that people don’t benefit from running shoes that has caused a lot of buzz in the running community lately. McDougall argues that the natural human foot structure is already fit to run without protection because its design has been perfected through years of evolution.

Christopher McDougall’s position is backed up by recent research out of Harvard. In a study published in Nature, Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners, evidence indicated running barefoot might have lower shock/impact on our overall leg structure. In the study, barefoot runners experienced shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their human body weight. The impact was two to three times more for runners who wore shoes. The main difference was observed on foot landing. Shod runners landed on the heel of their foot while barefoot runners landed flatfooted or on the ball of their foot. Running barefoot, scientists suggest in the study, causes more bend in the foot’s spring and calls for more foot and calf muscle participation which causes less shock on the rest of the body making for more comfortable running strides.

What is your opinion about running without shoes? Let us know in the comments section below.

The Volumetrics Diet

Most of the popular diets today rely somewhat on portion control. However, one diet offers an alternative. The diet method is called Volumetrics and the premise is to encourage people to eat foods that are naturally low in calories due to high water content. Fresh produce, whole grains, good fats and low-fat dairy are all available food choices on the Volumetrics diet.

The benefit of Volumetrics is that one can potentially lose weight without decreasing their food portions. This can help eliminate the feeling of hunger that accompanies certain types of diets. The premise is that a full stomach will limit feelings of hunger and make the regimen feel less like a diet than other alternatives potentially leading to adherence.

Accordingly the primary focus of this diet is changing one’s food choices as opposed to meal reduction. For example, calorie dense foods like butter, cookies, oil and candy are to be substituted with foods that have fewer calories by mass and volume. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still indulge in old favorites. For instance, macaroni and cheese can be made healthier by replacing the usual ingredients with whole-wheat pasta, no-fat milk, low-fat cheese and margarine. Food preparation is also optimized in this dietary plan through boiling and grilling as opposed to any type of cooking that requires oil.

Because the body stays hydrated during the Volumetrics diet it probably won’t appeal to those looking to shed quick pounds through the diuretic effect of low carbohydrate diets. Don’t expect to lose more than two pounds a week on this diet. It is not a quick fix. Like any diet your results will depend on obedience to the plan and maintaining an exercise regimen. However it might be just what you are looking for if you are opposed to reducing portion size but are willing to make different food choices.

A great cookbook on the subject is available from the best-selling author and nutrition professor Dr. Barbara Rolls entitled The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories (if Volumetrics is not your thing you can see more healthy cookbooks by clicking here). If you have had any luck (good or bad) with Volumetrics please let me know in the comments section below.

When should I replace my running shoes?

When should I replace my running shoes? Finding the right running shoe is an iterative process and there is no one perfect running shoe suitable for everyone. The perfect fit has to do with the shape of your foot, your running style and the terrain you run on. In fact, there are runners who don’t seem to need shoes at all. Many endurance sport injuries are purportedly caused by using worn out shoes, and there are many factors which help a runner determine whether it is time for a change of shoes.

When should I replace my running shoes?

One important factor is mileage – one school of thought is to replace running shoes every 250 miles, where others recommend changing shoes after running 300-500 miles. So how should a runner gauge his mileage? This is where your training log comes in. Documenting your effort is the best gauge on getting a true sense of what is right for you.

Time is another factor – a generally accepted duration is 6 months. This has been calculated by assuming a regular weekly schedule of 3 to 5 mile runs / 4 days a week. A runner who follows that schedule would change shoes around the 300-500 mileage mark. Logically, a runner who runs more miles would find it necessary to replace his/her shoe earlier than the general 6-month rule.

Other important factors include weight and running style. Clydesdale/Athena runners (like myself) might find themselves changing shoes more often as carrying extra weight can break down shoes faster. Lightweight runners who are heavy footed or use unique running techniques will also burn through shoes quicker.

How can you tell if your shoes are showing signs of wear? Place your shoes at eyesight level and look at the back of your shoes. If the soles look worn out and appear uneven, there could be some damage to the midsole. The midsole is one of the more important parts of the shoe. However, finding a defect is not easy. If you feel tightness, fatigue, aches and pains while running, then it can be an indication of midsole damage. Try twisting your shoe, if it twists easily then it might have a damaged insole. Similarly you can check the other parts of the shoe — wear can affect the cushioning, back heel, arch point or the toe box of the shoe as well.

Knowing the condition of your shoes is important because neglecting their condition may lead to injury. A tip for longer shoe life, try rotating shoes during a training week. Not only will it reduce mileage on each pair, it is a great way to test different brands to determine which shoe is giving you the best performance.

Finding the right running shoe is not an exact science, it depends on the various factors I have mentioned above (plus more). You are the best person to determine what works. Log your training and keep notes about how you feel, plus how your shoes feel, and you will quickly be able to answer the question, “When should I replace my running shoes?” for yourself.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Digestion is the way us humans process food into energy. When our digestive system is functioning optimally, it is the biological fueling system that keeps us active and engaged. Probiotics (basically ingestible bacteria) are a well known element in helping most of us improve upon this system. When ingested in the proper proportion, probiotics can be quite beneficial for a healthy individual.

Some of the purported benefits of probiotic intake include:

  • Management of lactose intolerance
  • Prevention of diarrhea
  • Reduced risk of colon cancer
  • Lowering of (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Improved immune system function

However, it is important to note that some of these potential benefits are being reported from preliminary research. The theory behind taking probiotics is to balance good and bad bacteria (also referred to as pathogens) in the gut. However, there is some proof that probiotics can be harmful for certain populations. For instance, in the study Probiotic prophylaxis in predicted severe acute pancreatitis, a correlation between the consumption of probiotics (in people with an existing illness) and mortality was shown. Because of this study and others like it, please consider your own health before considering probiotics.

If you think probiotics might be right for you consider taking prebiotics as well. Prebotics are indigestible carbohydrates that usually encourage the growth of probiotics in the body. Prebiotics can be found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables such as oats, wheat, garlic, bananas, asparagus, tomatoes and onions, and they can also be obtained from grains and legumes. Because of probiotics’ ability to live inside the body and prebiotics’ ability to encourage the growth of probiotics, both have gained popularity in the field of health and wellness.