Earlier this year I wrote a brain-dump of everything I thought I knew about exercise, and it proved quite popular on Facebook. This has allowed me to get feedback and gradually improve it.

As far as I know, doing intense exercise regularly is one of the best things you can do to improve your physical and mental health, as well as work productivity. This advice is obviously good for anyone, but it bears regular reminders as people tend to fall in and out of the habit. There is also good evidence that "brief opportunistic interventions" - that is, just periodically reminding people that they should e.g. exercise, or stop smoking, or cut down on alcohol - work quite well. 

Feel free to leave comments on the document if you want me to edit it, or here.

Here's how I open: 

"Why bother?

If your life isn’t going so great, there are a few valuable questions to ask:

  • Do I do enough exercise to sweat heavily several times a week, and ideally every day? 
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I eating an OK diet?
  • Do I have friends/family I trust, and do I regularly spend time with them?
  • Am I surrounded by jerks, or do I hate my career/field of study?
  • Am I using drugs to self-medicate in a harmful way?
  • Do I have mental health issues I should talk about with my doctor?

Here we’ll just discuss the first.

Exercise is awesome for:

  • Living longer
  • Staying smart and healthy while you are alive
  • Making you more happy, or at least less depressed or anxious
  • Making you more attractive
  • Making people admire/respect you
  • Raising your self-efficacy and energy levels
  • Improving self control and focus
  • In some cases, improving your social life.
  • If you don’t care about these things, don’t exercise. For everyone else…

What exercises should I do?

  • Whichever exercise you will enjoy and keep doing frequently is the best.
  • The most important thing is just to exercise regularly - the details are secondary to that."

Keep reading...

12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:01 PM
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Beeminder got me exercising. I recommend it if you have a tendency to put things off.

Beeminder has helped other EAs, too.

I've had great experience combining Beeminder with Fitocracy, which is a very easy way to quantify and gamify exercise. Prior to that, I had trouble comparing eg. run to gym workout. It usually made me resort to only running, which is easy to quantify, even though I knew it was sub-optimal.

Just set up an account!

I strongly endorse what Rob said. Intense regular exercise is by far the best productivity and general well-being hack I've ever adopted. In my experience, once you get into it, it's the opposite of a chore.

Second-best hack (for focus): Pomodoro Technique (use Tadam as your timer (Mac only))

Third-best hack (for reducing stress): regular mindfulness meditation (about 10 minutes / day, use Headspace to learn the basics).

Does anyone have firm research on the relationship between exercise and cognitive performance? Specifically on this dimension, what's the optimal weekly exercise duration?

I've found climbing is a really good way to keep in shape, it combines strength, endurance/cardio and balance while still being interesting and challenging enough to be enjoyable. Pretty cheap too, especially if you go outside.

Thanks Rob, this is very useful. Even though there's a lot of overlaps and a lot of people might have read it, I'd also mention this great summary on LessWrong. Someone might find it helpful in combination with this article.

Thanks Robert, this is great!

Do you listen to any media while you're exercising? Music? Books on tape?

A combination of podcasts and music. This is easy to experiment with, to find what you like the most!