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How Brushing my Teeth Inspired Daily Fitness

January 11, 2012

It took me a long while to learn a simple lesson about health and discipline, so I thought I’d save folks some time and try to explain it right here. I spent nearly a decade in that unfortunate “overweight” category, and I want to believe it wasn’t for lack of trying to escape. Although I got into decent shape during the summer before college, it went downhill after that. Spoiler alert: Daily fitness and the Simple Fitness Tracker came to the rescue!

The usual excuses were all there. Work. Stress. Travel. Temptation. “I don’t have time.” It wasn’t quite that simple, though. You see, I did have some good runs. A good week here; a good month there. I tried many ideas to turn it around, so long as no pills or procedures were involved. And you know what? They worked. For a while, I wrote down what I ate and got on a set eating regimen. In a different stretch, I hit the gym 2-3 times a week and really pushed myself. I even tried a personal trainer.

Before Simple Fitness Tracker

The problem with all of this was one word: consistency. To make a sport’s analogy, I kept building up a little lead but would inevitably get crushed in the second half. Despite the time, will, and effort I put into these ideas, I just couldn’t keep them going. I was learning, though – reading up on health and fitness, discussing it with friends and family, speaking with experts, and continuing to try new things.

Finally, persistence paid off as I learned the lesson that has since changed my life. It came from a simple question: how was it that I couldn’t keep fitness going long-term but managed to brush my teeth every single day almost my entire life? I made a mental connection between fitness, which was so elusive, and brushing, which was a regular presence in my life. What was so special about brushing?

I came up with three things: brushing is done daily, it’s fast, and it’s simple. Now, could I do the same with exercise? Well, I could do it daily, but that’s easier said than done, unless I could make the next two things happen. How do I make it fast and simple? I thought about exercises that I was most comfortable with and limited myself to three: walking, crunches, and pushups. I started with only one rule: do at least a minute of each exercise per day.

You know what? It’s really hard to say “I don’t have time” to that. The thing is, doing a minute just doesn’t feel enough, so I typically did more, but that low threshold helped me succeed in the place where I had previously failed: consistency. Over time, I moved from walking to running, and I kept increasing how much I did. Eventually, to allow for rest, recovery, and to avoid injury, I settled on a routine of 2-3 more intense days per week, while doing a lighter workout on all other days.

I’m an electrical engineer by background, so I’ve always been about finding ways technology can help me out. When I started this teeth brushing-based fitness, I kept track of my numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, and I found that it motivated me to put more and more days of exercise together. I used Google spreadsheets and made my tracking sheet public, and I was surprised to see regular downloads. I would check every week or so, and sure enough more and more downloads would appear, even though I never advertised it anywhere. This surprising interest and limitations of Excel led me to put my engineering skills to work and re-build the tracker as a web app: the Simple Fitness Tracker.

After Simple Fitness Tracker

Seven months after I first compared exercise to brushing my teeth, I found myself 50 pounds lighter and running half marathons. I had reached a point where exercise is how I relax and deal with stress, and that’s unbelievable. Beyond being proud of ~800 miles ran, 24,000 crunches, and 1,600 pushups, I was pleasantly surprised by how daily exercise re-defined my relationship with food. A great deal of eating happens when we’re not really hungry, but regular exercise reduces time for that kind of eating, because you can’t eat while exercising and you shouldn’t eat before exercising. On top of having less time to overeat, I also became more in-tune with my stomach, making it easier to know when I’m full and avoid overeating.

As a whole, I believe the greatest gift of this experience was the greater amount of discipline it instilled in my life. While I always worked hard, this added discipline to my leisure time, and that has been incredibly rewarding. That’s my story: brushing my teeth to simple fitness to greater discipline.

Any questions, thoughts, comments, and stories are  highly encouraged!

About the Author:
Yuriy lives in sunny California and is passionate about changing the world through technology. He is an engineer by background and a builder at heart, and he cares deeply about fitness and healthy living. He enjoys meeting new people and seeing new places as well as running, tennis, ping pong, reading and chess.


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