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 Move more, eat better:  these goals top any weight watcher’s goal list.  In fact, they top anyone’s health improvement list, no matter their size or weight.   While lifestyle advice churns out wherever we look, it seems, some new books offer fresh insights and help that don’t require dropping whole food groups or changing your personality.

If regular exercise eludes you, for instance, Gretchen Reynolds’ new book The First 20 Minutes:  The Myth-Busting Science That Shows How We Can Walk Farther, Run Faster, and Live Longer may have you thinking differently about the importance of movement.   Reynolds, who writes on exercise science for The New York Times, looks at why, how, and how much exercise helps.  What she uncovers may surprise you.  Some of this will certainly interest those whose routines flag because weight stays stuck.   Or because the routines themselves seem daunting. 

The most recent science, in fact, suggests that exercise helps weight in a less direct manner than we typically think.  One of its most important roles, for example, may be as a “gateway” behavior to other health habit changes.  Further, different benefits accrue for exercise routines of different types and different durations, including those 20-minute ones of the title.  And any movement at all, anything but sitting , in other words, burns calories and boosts health.

How do you get yourself to move more, even if you target the small change?  Diet and exercise habits notoriously challenge people in their change efforts.   Last year, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, renewed attention to willpower building.  Excerpts from their, and others’, work continue to appear in women’s and health-oriented magazines.  This focus on “the self-control muscle” can aid our efforts tremendously.  But Miriam Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman’s The Social Network Diet renews attention, instead, to the ways our social environment—from close relationships on out—help us.  Self-control needn’t always be completely self-generated, in other words.

The research on social support and weight loss probes the family meal (eating with your kids correlates with better weight) to phone coaching (you’re likely to lose more and keep more off with this) to friendship networks (hang out with better eaters, and your weight will improve, too).   Nelson and Ackerman bring all these widespread studies together under their spotlight.  Together a clear picture emerges.   Whether close or distant, in the background or in our face, our relationships and social contacts affect our health and weight.  Their book focuses on how they can influence them positively.

 If you fall in the challenged category when it comes to exercise or diet improvements, you may indeed need to strengthen self-control muscles.  You may find motivation in heartening new information, such as in Reynolds’ new book.  However, it may be that help from a personal or professional other will spell the big difference for you.  In any case, health advice often assumes you’re on your own.  In fact, your relationships always operate to help or hinder you, and checking in on them makes a lot of sense.

Notes/Related Reading
Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, The Penguin Press, 2011
The Social Network Diet, by Miriam Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman, Fast Pencil Premiere, 2011
The First 20 Minutes:  The Myth-Busting Science  That Shows How We Can Walk Farther, Run Faster, and Live Longer, by Gretchen Reynolds,  Hudson Street, 2012 (out later this month)
Eat Sanely:  Get Off the Diet Roller Coaster for Good, by Terese Weinstein Katz, workbook and ebook edition. see these related entries:  “If Self-Control is a Muscle, Why Can’t I Exercise It?” (9/9/11); “Diet Buddies:  When Two Is Best” (10/15/10); “Eating Sanely Means Moving, Too” (7/28/10); “Stand Up to Keep Weight Down” (6/4/10); “Change One Small Thing” (3/5/10) More facts and statistics on the social environment and weight loss.