Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A day in the life

A few months a ago this video was making the rounds, and still is for all I know. In case the link ever dies, it was uploaded by Dr. Mike Evans; the title is "23 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health". To summarize, he advises at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to maintain basic health. No surprise here, as people have been saying as much for years. Mike Evans' contribution is perhaps better illustrating the point. That said, if you literally need someone to draw you a diagram as to why sitting for 24 hours a days is bad for you, you may be past hope. Personally I thought the video was being sarcastic. Judging from people's reaction on Facebook, apparently not.

Curiously, physical experts used to advocate one hour minimum of activity for everyone. Then it was one hour for kids and 30 minutes for adults. Now it's closer to 30 minutes across the board. Who said science wasn't negotiable? The same thing has happened to sleep science; because kids sleep less than they should, any research saying kids need more sleep gets a suspicious look.

How does an athlete spend 24 hours in a day? I also wanted to break down a theoretical day for myself that balances work and sport. I thought it would be fun to do the math, see how much time I spend doing various things, as surprisingly few exercise/running manuals dare to assume you balance work and sport evenly; either you squeeze in work where you can, or exercise between the cracks. To emphasize, what I constructed is not a specific (week)day so much as an 'idealized' -but also realistic- one. Weekends are slightly different, but the running is still there and work is replaced by other chores like buying basics needs, spending time with family and/or friends, finances, cleaning, etc. To compare myself, I included the Statistics Canada surveyed national averages in brackets (for men aged 25-34). Here goes:

Sleep: I spent some years in my teens undersleeping. Not terribly so, but always cutting close to the line. I went skiing on weekends, so I'd wake up at 7 am for our 8 am practice. Usually went to bed around 11. Weekdays were about the same, maybe even wake at 6:30 for a 7 am run practice. Basically slept eight hours on the dot, but experts say that's the minimum for teens. So I did ok, but could have been better. Then in university the total slipped down to probably seven. These days I've been experimenting (my schedule has been flexible ever since having submitted my thesis) and I discovered 8.5 hours is just about perfect. Since I added that extra bit of sleep I feel constantly alert and no longer feel the need for afternoon naps. Total: 8.5 hours (national average = 8.3 hours, surprisingly).

Exercise: In high school, autumn, it was three running practices a week and (roller) skiing on weekends. I dabbled in biathlon and XC skiing for the winter, track running in spring, and a lot of casual stuff in the summer. I probably averaged no more than five days of exercise a week, but I also walked to school every day and liked to bike around. Easily met the minimum activity level, but nothing very intense. Jump ahead to this past summer, I built up to as much as two hours a day of pure running, maybe three hours of everything combined (keep in mind changing of clothes, showering, and stretching). And things need spacing; having tried to follow a three hour was after a two hour run, I know that's not a good idea. Any sustained period of exercise needs a break right after (maybe even a nap), so I'll say that counting everything, and assuming a 90 minute bout of exercise, running takes up, on average, two hours of my day. More than that becomes a problem, and a paltry hour feels too little. If working out means going to the gym, I may spend less time in the gym but more time commuting there, so the same numbers seem to work out. Total: 2.0 hours (national average = only 30 minutes, but 1.95 hours on days which people do exercise).

Work: It's debatable how productive anyone is for beyond six hours, but sadly most jobs ask we show up somewhere from 9-5. Count in to that total the changing in and out work clothes (whether it be dressing up or dressing down) plus the commute to work. I walk to work these days, 30 minutes each way, and so I'd say about nine hours might be what is normal (though it's less right now; I'm bracing for when I start my new full-time job). Also can't forget to subtract the 30-60 minutes you get for lunch. Total: 8.0 (work) - 1.0 (lunch) + 1.0 (commute) + 0.5 (clothes) = 8.5 hours (national men's average = 8.7 hours. So close).

Food: Since I live on a modest budget I cook my own food. I often cringe when I see how much some people spend on takeout or bought lunches. Do you know how much it costs the average person per day to make their own food? About six dollars. Crazy but true; adding up my grocery bills I spend about $6.50 per diem, about two dollars a meal. Try it yourself. The trade-off is, of course, the extra time spent making food. But I like making food and enjoy it more than 99% of food court fare. Also buying food still means going to the food court, waiting in line, eating the food, etc, so you save less time than you think. Making food is time well spent, as you then have an idea of what you really like and it gives you a better sense of control (psychologically speaking). Here's my time tally: about 30 min for making/eating breakfast, 60 minutes for lunch break, and 90 minutes on dinner and all dinner-related activities (Don't forget cleaning dishes and the actual buying of food from store). Perhaps add 30 minutes on snacks and coffee breaks (?). I won't; you can snack and do other things too. Overall it's hard to cheat these numbers; even doing takeout means waiting for -and thinking about- food. All of these tallies assume a sustainable lifestyle, so your student years of eating cafeteria food while spending more than you earn don't count.
Total: 3 hours (national average = 1.7 hours (40 min cooking/cleaning + 60 min eating), but I included my entire lunch hour. And more active people spend more time on their food.

Taking a tally of what we have so far:
24 hours (in a day) - 8.5 (sleep) - 2.0 (exercise) - 8.5 (work) - 3.0 (food) = 2 hours of free time remaining.
Two hours of 'free' time: that's enough time to read a few book chapters or just enough to watch a movie. Still, it's cutting things close. Comparing my times with the average population, all areas compare well enough except for exercise, as expected. The bright side is that I have to admit there ought to be enough time in a day for doing all the things I enjoy. I can, and will, re-arrange some of these totals, but there's the starting point. And do I want to sleep less, spend less time with food, or exercise less than desired?

If we ever think we don't have enough time for things, the culprit is probably working too much (or inefficiency). You can't blame yourself for eating three proper meals a day, sleeping enough, or exercising (which is healthy both mentally and physically). It's sad to find out from the Stats Can survey I quoted that 2/3rds of young people cut sleep to find more time in their day; implicitly their lack of exercise could be for the same reason.

Funny thing about exercise (in contrast with work): the better you are at it, the longer it takes. So what's 'efficient' in that context? Those extra hours are also important; we ought to assume free time is necessary for thinking and to retain a certain level of education. Stimulate the mind reading, doing some creative writing, watching films or news, or whatever. All I will take from this is that working more than eight hours seems like a fool's errand since those extra hours eat into other important activities. Exercise more, work less. Should be a motto somewhere. I have made it a vow not to work far more hours than what's deemed average if the trade-off is happiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment