The Oura Ring (Part 1)

Inspect what you expect. Tracking our health and fitness is important for a number of reasons. We can find what works and doesn’t work with our body dealing with sleep and nutrition. We can get a heads up for time periods when we may experience heightened stress. The reasons could probably make a book in and of itself. My personal experience with self-quantification has led me to the Oura Ring. The Oura ring is a normal sized ring used to track various metrics. I plan to talk about the benefits and usefulness of the ring throughout multiple posts, so be on the lookout.

What is the Oura Ring?

The Oura Ring is a self-quantification device. What that means is that the Oura Ring will give you detailed data on what your bodily state is at any given moment. In the paragraphs below, we will discuss the specific metrics you can get from the Oura Ring, and in later posts, we will take a deep dive into those metrics and see what the numbers can tell us.

Design and Specifications:

  • Sleek design coming in a number of colors.
  • The size of a normal ring.
  • Easy charging station and data syncing.
  • Airplane mode available for low EMF use.

I have included some pictures below for scale.

What does the Oura Ring track?

Now this is where the Oura Ring shines. I have used a Fitbit in the past, and the continuous heart rate data (in my opinion) allows for a more accurate calorie count, but the Oura gives much superior data in terms of recovery and sleep.

The Oura Ring uses a very user-friendly interface to display:

  • Resting Heart Rate
  • Heart Rate Variability
  • Body Temperature
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Total Sleep Time
  • Time in Bed
  • Sleep Stages (time spent in each stage)
    • Deep Sleep
    • Light Sleep
    • REM Sleep
  • Walking Equivalency
  • Steps
  • Total Burn (Calories)
  • Daily Movement
    • Low, Medium, and High intensity time tracked

All of these metrics are broken into three screens: Readiness, Sleep, and Activity.

As you can see, the Oura Ring gives so much valuable data and insight into how well our body is functioning. As I stated earlier, in future posts we will look at how to use this data to make meaningful predictions about our health and well-being.

How to Track Workouts

Tracking workouts is one of the keys to success in fitness. Every person seeking fitness should be doing cardio exercise and weight training. Although there are many methods to track fitness, they always boil down to a few essentials.

Tracking Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts usually center around two variables. Duration and intensity. I am of the mind that most (80%+) cardio should be done at a talking pace (you can talk but NOT sing). This usually correlates to brisk walking (like you are late to class) or a slow jog. Since intensity is controlled for in this case, tracking cardio could be as simple as counting the minutes you are exercising. Of course, you can do more in depth tracking with a heart rate monitor and data collection device such as a Garmin or Strava. For the more intense 20% or less of workouts, they will likely take the form more similar to a weight training protocol where you count sets and reps.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many health care professionals), low to moderate intensity cardio is the foundation of fitness. A minimum of three thirty minute cardio sessions seems to be enough to maintain good cardiovascular function. I do cardio four days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. This usually consists of brisk walking around the neighborhood and/or nearby parks.

Weight Training Workouts

Weight training is slightly more complex than cardio because there are many variables that you can change in a program. The most important variables seem to be total volume, relative intensity and rest periods. Changes in any one of these areas can have BIG effects. For weight training, I believe one must be a little more meticulous in tracking.

In a properly designed program, a person would have a moderate amount of volume (say 12-20 sets made of three to six exercises), moderate intensity (60-80% 1 rep max), and moderate rest between sets (30 seconds to 3 minutes). Most training programs fall within these three criteria. Keeping track of all that requires that you (at minimum) track exercise selection, weight, sets, reps, and rest period. I have found that a simple note on my iPhone does this well enough. I do however use the Strong App to track my workouts. The resulting ease of use and subsequent data makes tracking workouts much easier.

Now, the obvious sequel to this is how to use this data to achieve manageable progressive overload and get bigger, faster, and stronger over time. We’ll look into that in another post. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

How Long Does it take to Lose Fitness?

This is a question that I have searched the internet for many times and have never found a satisfactory answer. In my experience, losses to fitness come very quickly, but different aspects lose ground faster than others. I will say that these observations are based on my personal experiences, but I have also found other anecdotal data that confirms my thoughts. Sorry to the cold, hard science folks.

Muscle and Strength Loss

In my experience, muscle loss is the slowest process among the fitness indicators. With a sufficient caloric intake, I have been able to go up to two or three months and not visibly lose any muscle. Of course, this is not advisable, as other markers of fitness will quickly decline. Muscle seems to be very resilient. If your body has gone to great lengths creating it, it seems to go to great lengths to keep it. Building muscle is a very long and hard process. Now, I’m not sure why anyone would ever need to spend two months outside of the gym (I was taking time to focus on cardio), so that week long trip at a hotel with no gym is not likely to be devastating for your muscle mass.

Strength on the other hand is a measure of your muscle’s efficiency. Powerlifters know that in the week before a meet, you taper (or drop intensity) of your workouts. Obviously this is to allow your muscles to super compensate and get their strongest right before the big lift. When I am doing dedicated strength training, I find that strength levels fall off within about three to four weeks. Once again, you are hopefully still training in some capacity so that when you get back to strength training you come back with an increased work capacity.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance, or work capacity (when talking about lifting), is exactly what it sounds like. How much work your muscles can do in a given period of time with a given amount of rest. Work capacity losses in my estimation are very fast. Holding glycogen levels equal, a lack of training work capacity (usually high volume training), can cause fitness losses within a week and a half to two weeks. I find that if I stop training with high volume for two weeks, my first sessions back at it are very tiring, and recovery takes two to three times as long as it normally does.

Muscular endurance training (high volume) also seems to be the most sensitive to over-training. When we increase the amount of lifting (work) we do, we are increasing the amount of stress we place on our bodies. Bigger and stronger people doubly so. Dramatic volume increases, more than maybe three sets per body part per week, seem to be very stressful on my body. Work capacity needs to be gently increased over time, interspersed every four to five weeks with a deload.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardio fitness definitely declines the fastest after a lack of training. Cardio fitness is the slowest to build, but also has the highest capacity for improvement, especially as we age. My experience has been that levels of cardio fitness begin to fall off within three to five days of no training. Of course, if you are lifting weights, you are doing a kind of cardio, but not one that would give you the same benefits as low intensity steady state cardio. Having a high level of cardio fitness necessitates that you train with higher frequency and duration. Just ask a Tour de France rider how many hours they spend on the bike each week. Most health and fitness organizations recommend three days of cardiovascular exercise each week. I imagine this is because the compounded benefits of cardio can quickly dissipate if frequency is not high enough. On the other hand, lifting can be done as infrequently as once every other week (read the book Body by Science) and still post impressive benefits.

No matter which type of fitness you are trying to preserve, the most important thing is consistency. Hopefully my experiences have shed some insight on how long it takes to lose fitness. Thanks for reading!

How to Keep your Life in Balance

One of the big lessons I have learned as I get older is that life is many shades of grey (maybe not 50 haha). There are very few hard and fast rules, but rather principles that should guide us a we flexibly navigate life. Not surprisingly, these principles hold true in most areas of life. It reminds me of the oft-quoted Bible verses about there being a time for everything. People who live one dimensionally and by very strict rules will inevitably have trouble in life. Someone who is always agreeable will miss opportunities to stand up for themselves. Likewise, people who are aggressive will miss out on benefits nature only rewards to the gentle. It’s not that being agreeable is “good” and being aggressive is “bad”, it is that there is a time to be each one, and more likely a good response is somewhere on a spectrum rather than an extreme.

These principles show up in most areas of our lives. A good teacher is a warm demander. A seeming paradox! They are emotionally warm, but have high expectations. Likewise a good parent loves their child unconditionally but also disciplines them. Any balanced approach to our lives requires that we navigate seeming opposites. Let’s take a look at a few areas this applies to in our lives.

Health and Fitness

A healthy person with a good relationship with food knows there is a time to be very disciplined in eating, and a time to enjoy eating. If we can keep our ratio balanced (say 80% healthy food, 20% fun food) our fitness and health will benefit. If we skew too much toward healthy food, we can become orthorexic, and if we skew too much toward fun food we become fat. So we see again, fun foods aren’t “bad”, they just need to be balanced by healthy eating. Many dieters also know that eating tasty high calorie food when dieting can help reset your metabolism and set the stage for more fat loss.

Similarly, any sensible exercise program has the majority (maybe 80%) of training as base training. For lifting, this would be multiple sets of 5-12 reps. For cardio, this would be talking pace, or long slow distance cardio. If we dabble too much in intense exercise (HIIT, very heavy lifting >85% 1RM, sprinting, etc.) we can quickly become overtrained. Interestingly, we can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Money

A few years ago I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache. After reading about the FIRE movement, I became very interested in ways to become more frugal. When dealing with money, our default stance should be toward frugality. But we have to remember that the whole point of becoming financially independent is freedom. And sometimes that freedom comes with a literal price tag. We are frugal so we can enjoy our vacations with family and the occasional nice dinner. If we err on the side of spending frivolously, we go broke. If we skew too intensely toward frugality, we miss opportunities to have interesting experiences and enrich our lives. My wife and I cook most of our meals at home to save money, but we also enjoy (every couple weeks or so) delicious fancy dinners. Once again, if we keep this in balance (daily frugal habits with the occasional splurge) we get the best of both worlds.

Work and Play

Lastly, we see that work and play must also be balanced. Hopefully, we are on the path to financial independence. But in the meantime, we must balance our work as a necessity, with play as leisure. Most people don’t love their jobs. And that’s okay. We don’t go because we love it, we go because they send us a check every two weeks. If you do like your job, consider yourself lucky.

Because of advances in technology, most people are always on the clock. Emails flood our inbox at any and every hour of the day. Unless we make a conscious decision to set boundaries between work and play, we can easily get out of balance. My wife and I were recently taking a walk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. When I looked at my phone, I had over 10 emails and messages (none of them urgent) that I had received during that one hour walk. Apparently no one else was outside enjoying the weather! I try to make a habit of “unplugging” as often as possible. Think about it, there were emergencies before cell phones, so if something is urgent, people will find you.

Hopefully you have gotten some useful insights into ways to keep your life in balance. Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Safety and Routines

Routines are important because they provide us with safety. When we are safe, our bodies can recover from and appropriately respond to stress. As a teacher, one of the big things veteran teachers will stress to younger teachers is the importance of classroom routines. How to ask to go to the bathroom. How to enter the classroom. Where homework goes. How a lesson progresses. Whether they know it or not, these teachers are seeing the importance of providing safety and predictability to their environments. They instinctively know that safety and predictability is the space where the most productive learning will come from. Similarly, when we provide our bodies with predictable healthy nutrition and a good base of fitness, it sets the stage for growth and development. 

Why Safety is Important

Safety is important because it allows our bodies to enter a parasympathetic state. A state of relaxation and ease. Imagine a person who does crash dieting. They send their body the message that food may or may not be coming, so the body responds with stress and a tilt toward fat storage. Alternatively, think of a person who eats the same general foods each day, and makes it a point not to drastically change their calories or macronutrient ratios haphazardly. The body can then adapt and get used to the routine. Gaining or losing weight will be easier because metabolism is fairly consistent and will be very responsive to changes. 

In fitness, the principles still hold true. Consistency trumps intensity every time. All fit people are consistent people. Maybe when we are young (<27 yrs old) we can be unpredictable with our body, but otherwise, fitness necessitates consistency. The person who walks briskly for 20 minutes every day will experience vastly more benefits than the person who does a sprint workout on an inconsistent schedule. And interestingly enough, as we will see below, the brisk walker’s body will probably respond more favorably to a sprint workout than the inconsistent sprinter. The main point here is that if we can provide our bodies with a consistent template of movement and activity, it sets the stage for higher levels of health and wellness. 

How Safety Allows Us to Grow

I know there is a lot of talk in popular culture about no pain no gain. And while this is at least partially true, without a background of safety and security, challenges will damage any open system as opposed to growing it. Lack of safety is dangerous to the body. The crash dieter will have trouble adjusting to changes because the body doesn’t have a baseline metabolism to adjust from. A sedentary person will have an exponentially higher risk of injury doing a sprint workout than someone who has built a fitness base through consistent activity. Someone who has experienced trauma will not deal with stress as well as someone who grew up in a safe nurturing environment. So an interesting paradox develops. Stress and difficulty make us stronger, but only if we have background safety. If our baseline is chaotic, it will make it all the harder to make beneficial changes. So the next time we need to take on a big challenge or introduce a new stressor (physical, mental, or emotional) into our lives, we should evaluate whether or not we have set the stage for positive adaptations to occur by providing safety and routines. 

Thanks for reading!

Consistency > Intensity

Active minutes are the main driver of your fitness. I have tried to find ways around it, but it is simple. The more time you can spend exercising the better, as long as you can adequately recover. The American Guidelines for Physical Activity say that people should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (weight training, brisk walking, leisurely bike riding, hiking, dancing, jogging, etc) a week to enjoy the health benefits. And from there more is better. 

Consistency is Better than Intensity

I know that some will immediately argue that if you do more intense exercise, you can get faster results. And that is true…to a point. The guidelines also say you can do 75 minutes of vigorous activity and enjoy benefits as well. I wholeheartedly agree, but I would say that vigorous levels of activity are also much harder to recover from. Think of a fast-paced basketball game, or high intensity interval training. 

Everyone should do some vigorous activity weekly, but I want to posit the idea that moderate levels of physical activity are much easier to recover from, and much easier to do in bulk. I was under the impression for many years that I could just do intense exercise and be fit. It never worked. Every time in my life where I have been fit, it has been because of moderate activity in high volumes. This isn’t the time to skimp on the time investment. Vigorous activity will have much higher injury rates and be much less sustainable. Think about it. When do most football and basketball players retire? Around age 35-40. This should show you that vigorous level intensity is not wholly sustainable, especially as we get older. But, you could go to any 5k and see people in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond still putting up good numbers. 

What is important is that we workout consistently. Thirty minutes three times a week is a good start. Start at a conversational tone, and then build your way up. Phil Maffetone’s approach to cardio is a good baseline to build off of. We don’t want to leave ourselves out of breath more than maybe once or twice a week. High level efforts require longer recovery times, and much higher risks of injury. 

Allow Adequate Recovery

I can get any healthy person to do thirty minutes of moderate pace cardio six days a week and they should recover just fine with good nutrition. I could also throw in two days of weight training and they’ll do fine. If I tried to get a person to do high intensity interval training even four days a week, they would very quickly begin to accumulate fatigue. 

How do we know when we are recovered? This is where technology has given us a great opportunity. With a device like an Oura Ring, we can see our daily levels of recovery via our HRV scores, resting heart rate, and body temperature. If we exercise intelligently we can expect to see modest rises in these scores as the weeks and months go by. 

In conclusion, always remember that if we want to be fit for life, we have to train consistently and intelligently. Don’t be lured by quick results. Look for results that can hold you in good stead for the years and decades to come. Thanks for reading!

How Long Will it Take Me to Build a New Habit?

I have built and broken a number of habits. It seems that when we think of habits, we think of something big such as “working out 3x a week for 1 hour” or “having a spotless house”. But as I said before, smaller habits in almost all cases but be the building block of these larger habits and goals. 

About a Month

To my credit (and demise depending on the situation), I love to learn new things. I highly value my freedom and ability to learn and experiment. As a result, I have spent a lot of time doing both effective and ineffective habits. In most circumstances, I am able to instill a new sustainable habit in about one month. Habits like these include:  

  • Eating enough protein
  • Eating a vegetable with every meal
  • Tracking all workouts 
  • Making sure I don’t wear my shoes in the house
  • Gratitude journaling before bed

As you can see, these are not huge life-changing things in and of themselves, but aggregated they turn out to be the building blocks of a much healthier and happier lifestyle. 

There is no One-Size-Fits-All

I don’t want to deceive you into thinking that every habit will take exactly one month to form, but it’s a good starting point. The next habit that you try to instill will certainly come to fruition faster if you assess how reasonable it is and then just begin. And remember that it doesnt matter how long it takes, it will be worth it. 

Some people may feel that one small habit isn’t enough to make the big changes they need to make. That’s like arguing that compound interest isn’t fast enough. Or that the sun doesn’t rise fast enough. Arbitrary, and completely unproductive. As Brain Tracy says, “Get in line and stay in line”. The patience we learn from staying the course is an invaluable life skill in and of itself. Now obviously, we are all starting from different places and with different levels of resources, but no one ever became a worse person by setting and staying the course to achieve a goal. At the very least, you will have gained discipline and perseverance which are worth their weight in gold. 

I guess I am trying to say, just begin and give it a month. See what happens. Most reasonably sized goals will become a part of your everyday routine within about a month if you can stick to it. 

Thanks for reading! 

How to Plan for your Habits


“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Although this saying is “played out” in a lot of ways, it still remains a truth in almost all areas of life. Planning is vital to achieving any level of success in almost all endeavors. Planning needs to have a structure and philosophy to produce results. Otherwise, it is just planning in vain, and that sounds like one of the worst ways to spend your time. 

Do your Research

Before we begin planning a path toward any particular goal, we must decide what is worth planning for. Let’s say you decide to plan a fitness goal. It would be helpful to have a teacher or trainer guide you through the process. If you are a rebel, perhaps you want to figure it out on your own. But in any case, you need to gather the necessary information to know what reasonable steps to take. As was stated in my earlier article on making small habits, be sure to start small and build slowly. Okay, so now you know that you are going to start your journey by walking for at least ten minutes a day. The next step is to take that small goal and create a reasonable and visible plan. 

Have a Reasonable and Visible Plan

If a beginner to fitness made a goal to begin running 30 minutes each day they would likely fail. Not only is the goal not reasonable, it is unnecessarily hard. Now, if I go from being sedentary to walking ten minutes a day, that is a reasonable goal. Big enough to begin producing results, but small enough not to set off my body’s resistance patterns. 

I now need to make this plan visible. This is a minor, but crucial process in creating a good plan. Let’s say you open up your Google Docs and create a weekly meal plan. The next morning you get up and go to the fridge to begin prepping your meals for the week. What was your snack supposed to be? How many cups of rice go in your lunch? Now imagine that you printed that document and placed it on your fridge with a magnet. Now you get up, go to the fridge and know exactly what to pack to meet your goals for that day. In my experience, this small habit of making the plan visible is indispensable to 100% compliance. 

I am a teacher. When kids don’t do their homework, I make them verbally tell me they didn’t do it. I don’t do it to be vindictive, I do it to provide accountability. If I just walk past and they can look the other way, they don’t have to admit their failure (albeit insignificant) to me or themselves. Going back to the fridge example, If I have to look at the document on my fridge and willfully put something else in my lunch bag, I must admit that small failure to myself in that moment. Of course we forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, but knowing that you have to confront them soon afterward makes for a good accountability measure. 

Be Ready to Tweak

Jack Canfield has a lot of great little sayings that I remember. One of them is “ready, fire, aim”. Basically the concept is to “just begin” and then take stock of the results to make tweaks as you go. This is exactly what we must do with our plans (unless we are under the guidance of a professional). It sounds like a contradiction to tell you to make a plan, and at the same time be flexible, but that is exactly what we must do if we are creating unique goals for ourselves. Just let the idea settle that achieving your goals will require flexibility on your part. 

So remember, do your research, have a visible and reasonable plan, and be ready to tweak your plan as you go.

Thanks for reading!

Habits are Investments

In a previous post, I discussed the idea that you should focus on building habits one at a time. When we commit to smaller habits that are easy to form and sustain, we grow our ability to achieve more and more. If we try to do too much too soon, we quickly encounter our body’s natural resistance mechanisms. A good way to think about a habit is as an investment. 

Results Take Time

Depending on how big the goal, the subsequent energy required to reach it is proportional. For example, if your goal is financial independence, you can expect to spend several years in that pursuit. If your goal is to become fit, you can expect to achieve your goal after several months (maybe even a year or two).  

But what if instead of setting a big lofty goal, we set a more reasonable one and think of it as an investment? A few dollars a day over the course of many years can lead to financial security very quickly. For example, if our goal is to become fit, perhaps we can choose the small goal of eating a piece of fruit every day. It seems inconsequential, but once that habit is solidified, the door opens to add another small habit (maybe eating adequate protein to support an active lifestyle). Then we add another habit…and another…and, before you know it, you reach your goal. 

Patience is required in this process. If we eat our piece of fruit and then expect to see results after a day, we are delusional (you might feel better, but you won’t look any different). But we can eat our fruit knowing that this habit is the step to begin a journey that will lead us to bigger and better (and more noticeable) results. Think of each small habit built as a deposit into the account that will soon pay dividends much larger than the original investments. 

Compound Interest

Achieving a goal is the end of an exponential process. Much like compound interest. You put in $1,000 and earn $20 interest. The next year, you now have your original $1,000 plus the next $1,000 you invest, PLUS the $20 interest. Habits work the same way. Month one you decide to eat fruit. Month two you are eating fruit and watching your protein intake. Month three you are eating fruit, watching your protein intake, and counting calories. With each habit you build, you have the value of that habit, plus all of the other little habits that are grown out of that one. Does that make sense? (I am a math teach haha) The results may not be immediate, but they will grow faster than you think. The beginning is the hardest. It is against our nature to put in effort without seeing reward. But it’s just the way it is. With a little faith, we can know that these small habits will eventually bear fruit. 

Thanks for reading!

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