Birthday thoughts

by Russ Roberts on September 19, 2011

in Uncategorized

I turned 57 today. And for a reason that will be clear below, I thought I’d write something personal to commemorate the date.

I usually lose weight in the summer. I exercise more and I eat better. Then comes the fall and I put most of it back on. And then a little bit more. Not a good trend. There are some ups and downs. I’ll eat salads for a few days or limit my desert intake for a while. But the trend is unmistakeable. It’s hard to know exactly where I might end up, but “bigger” is a good guess. I’m not grotesquely overweight. Just a bit heavy around the middle as I notice some men are of my age. I am just thin enough to pretend that I am “normal.” But that doesn’t really matter and the trend isn’t good.

This year, I lost about 10 pounds over the summer and within a few weeks, I put them back on. So for the first time in my life, I decided to start going to the gym. I once was a serious runner but that was 30 years ago. I’ve tried walking but there’s something about DC weather that has stopped my recent attempts to get more active outside. So off to the gym. I thought two or three trips a week would make a difference. And being more fit is a big plus. I’d enjoy those summer hikes even more if I were in better shape.

Then a friend sent me a book–Younger Next Year–saying it would change my life. It has a bit of Art Devany to it–there’s an air of science about it because it claims to based on our evolutionary past. It’s written in a breathless tone that occasionally sickens me in a book like this but it also had a certain charm. For some reason it got to me. The main theme is that once your turn 50 or so, your body starts to decay and decay quickly but that serious exercise and strength training can slow down the trend dramatically. The authors advocate 6 days a week at the gym. SIX DAYS! They say it’s like a job. You show up and do your job. They have various ideas about what kind of exercise but the main point is 45 minutes of cardio, and two of the six days should involve lifting weights.

SIX DAYS! It seemed ridiculous. And it’s really not me. Exercise as a passion has never appealed to me. But I tried it. And I like it. I’ve done it for almost three weeks now. Read a few other books to figure out what to do (including some tricks from Art Devany).

I ride a stationary bike for four days and lift weights for other two. I’ve never lifted weights before. I’m frightfully weak. But I actually enjoy it.

I’m back to my end-of-summer weight simply by exercising more and cutting out junk from my diet (one of their other pieces of advice.) I’ve also reduced portion size a bit and I find myself not missing the food I once ate. I have more energy. I feel great.

Can I keep it up? Will I want to? This post is my way of encouraging myself. I’d like to write again a year from now and be able to say I stayed on the path. It will be awkward to admit failure. So this post is my way of tying myself to the mast. The bonds are loose. But it’s a start.

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anthonyl September 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

Happy Birthday Russ!
Joy can be found in the most mundane tasks. Keep up the routine because it builds strength and endurance over time. Much like Econtalk has for me. Your podcast is the very best I have found. It has opened my eyes to economics and certainly given me a much clearer lens to see the world through.
Anthony Lima

tms September 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

Congrats Russ and happy birthday. I’ve heard of that book. It got my recently retired mother-in-law to start going to the gym for the first time in her life.

A related aside, I am training for a half marathon, and have been listening to back episodes of econtalk during my long runs. Makes the runs much more enjoyable….learning and exercising at the same time.

NappingTom September 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

Happy Birthday, Russ!

I get so much out of EconTalk but your PodCast with Art DeVany literally changed my life. I adopted what I understood to be Art’s precepts after hearing it and lost 70 pounds. I still am far from lean and find that the stresses of modern life and the abundance a capitalist economy places at our fingertips make finding time to exercise and avoiding quick meal solutions difficult. Nevertheless, I am healthier than I have been in 20 years and have many more to look forward to.

Thanks again, Russ.

Arthur Felter September 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Happy birthday Russ!

We share the same birthday :)

jhodapp September 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Hi Russ, I’ve found that the time commitment of going to the gym eventually is too much, but I wanted to exercise on a consistent basis. I found that getting a DVD workout set from and working out at home is the best for me. It saves me the travel time which could amount to an extra 45 mins each time I want to work out. Since I made that decision, I’ve been working out to the P90X routine for almost 2 years straight now! I still absolutely love it and am in fantastic shape.

Chip Morris September 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Happy birthday, Prof. Roberts.

I have Econtalk to thank for introducing me to Art Devany’s ideas on diet and exercise. Honestly, you might be better off going directly to his book. The general thought in that community is that “chronic cardio” – long stints on an exercise bike, for example – is not very healthy or useful.

That said, good luck and many more happy & productive years to you.

Pierre Honeyman September 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I know the last thing you need is advice, but, on speculation, I read Gary Taubes’ book “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.” I read it as a skeptic, but, by the end of the book, I was convinced enough to try it.

For me, it worked. I lost over 20lbs in 2 months, and I’ve kept the weight off, so far. I’m still, very much, in the “short term,” since it hasn’t been a full year with the weight off yet, but I find it close to effortless to maintain my new way of eating. And, the best part, I lost that 20lbs entirely on dietary changes. I didn’t change my exercise routine at all.

Now that I am exercising, regularly, 3 – 5 days a week, my weight has remained the same, but I look (and feel) a lot better.

I’m 39 years old, and at 5′ 10″ and about 205lbs, I was heavy. Now I’m 180lbs, and I feel fantastic. Time will tell how the dietary changes I’ve made stick, but so far, so good.

At any rate, I hope the change you’re making feel great and work well for you!


ChrisN September 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Russ…Happy Birthday.

“The curious task of dieting is to demonstrate to men what little they know about what they imagine they can do without”

Burn more calories than you consume.

James N September 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Check out Mark’s Daily Apple, especially the Success Stories. It’s the lifestyle my wife and I have followed for the past two years and it truly works.

Bob in Raleigh September 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Happy Birthday. Once you get in shape enough and your heart is in good enough shape try P90X. It won’t grow hair but you’ll feel twenty years younger after 90 days.

Kvasek September 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I second opinions that listening to EconTalk or audiobooks if the way to go while exercising. Just yesterday I went through your conversation with Robert Frank on Inequality while running. Without it I just get bored too quickly.

To put it in other way, I might exercise less if it was not for EconTalk. Talk about unintended consequences!

Jeff Haymond September 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Happy B-day. I’m pleased w/your story. Another reason to keep it up–think of me! And, oh of course all the rest of your econtalk listeners! We can’t live w/o you! Or at least don’t want to! So stay healthy, stick around and keep educating those of us who try to educate the students.

Scott G September 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Happy birthday Russ.

I was surprised to get on the scale the other day and see that I had gained 20 pounds. I’m 35. I’m still somewhat undecided as to whether I want to get back in shape at the present time. I suppose being more fit would be good and I would probably live longer, however the main problem with most exercise is that it’s boring. I usually have a book going or a blog post that I want to write that grabs my attention more than exercise does.

My situation now is that I’m married, have a kid, a full-time job and have a engaging and time-consuming hobby of educating myself about libertarianism.

One of my solutions for staying minimally fit is to ride my bike to work. I’ve purposely chosen not to buy a house, so that I can always move to within a few miles of wherever my job is so that I can ride my bike to work. The problem with riding one’s bike to work however is that it’s dangerous. The government monopoly on roads is bad for bike safety. Still I take the risk almost everyday of being killed in bike accident in order to ride my bike to work.

Riding one’s bike to work is great because it doesn’t seem like exercise. It’s just part of my day – I have to get myself to work and riding my bike is better than driving in traffic. Mainly because it’s less frustrating. It also has the added benefit that it keeps me in decent shape and allows me to sleep a little better.

The best way to get in shape is to live in a place where it’s easy to be in shape. Washington DC is a really tough place to stay in shape because it’s hot and crowded, with few place to enjoy exercise. Don’t feel bad if you struggle with exercising there. I wouldn’t want to exercise much there either.

I’ve had the good fortune of living in some great towns in my life and I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to stay in good shape if one lives in a cool, beautiful place with mountains and a lake, (or ocean).

In order for one to exercise regularly I believe one has to make exercise mentally beneficial, by making it fun, or relaxing, or a time to socialize, or time to talk through thoughts on one’s mind with a friend. The physical aspects of exercise are usually not enough motivation for most people to exercise. It takes too much discipline, which for me can’t be sustained for long.

Exercise also has to be convenient. If one has to drive to the gym, or drive 30 minutes to the mountain to hike, it’s less likely that one will exercise.

As with most things in life, the environment that one puts oneself in, whether it be a crony capitalist country, a public school, the American Congress, or a company like Apple, is one of the most important factors determining what that person will do or how they will perform. Of course you know that even Russ Roberts would be somewhat corrupted by power if he became President of the Executive Branch. Russ knows that he doesn’t have the discipline in order to overcome the incentive structure created by that environment in order to keep his ideal of Smith-Hayekian liberty. The same is true for Russ Roberts living in Washington DC. Exercise isn’t something that’s going to work out very easily there.

When the time comes, I suggest moving to a town that will make exercise really convenient and pleasant.

Don Kenner September 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Pierre Honeyman wrote:

‘I know the last thing you need is advice, but, on speculation, I read Gary Taubes’ book “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.”’

Same here. I’m pushing fifty and have lost almost 30 pounds. Feel better, sleep better, and (yes) eat better. Exercise is fun and without the grinding schedule (six days a week is BS). Try the paleo/primal diet for 30 days and I promise you’ll be off the yo-yo train.

And the science of this “diet” is something that will appeal to you. Put it this way: the same thinking that goes into standard economic policy in this country was harnessed to come up with the “food pyramid” and Michelle Obama’s “plate.”

This is the libertarian diet. Give it a month, sincerely. You’ll see change. And not the kind of change that politicians promise.

D Moir September 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm

: Taub’s book, and others like it, such as the Zone Diet (Barry Sears), have good evidence that that caloric equation isn’t the whole story. The kind of calories one consumes does make a difference; it’s not solely about quantity. (No doubt there’s an economics metaphor in there, too.)

As to time in the gym: take a look at The Four Hour Body (Tim Ferriss). He’s quirky, but has some workable ideas.

About to turn 53….

Ross September 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Happy Approach to your Sixties, Dr. B!

Thanks for the youthful vigor of your posts and remember: you’re only 39 (in hexadecimal; you’d probably look even better in the Mayan counting system, a mere teenager, I think?)


Drop the “gym every day” voodoo, please. You’re a very smart guy, don’t buy the snake oil.

Take a few days off and speed read the books by Art DeVany, Mark Sisson,
and Robb Wolf. You’ve got Ph.D economists, biochemists, and professional athletes in there. Mix in a dash of kurtosis into your exercise, as DeVany exhorted NN Taleb to do.

And your weight has relatively little to do with your exercise “regime”, and a great deal to do with what you eat.

Good luck; it feels better to eat Primal/New Evolution/Paleo, etc.

(And please save yourself the grief and analysis/paralysis; this doesn’t have to be an academic discourse; just try it for 30 days. If you don’t see results by then…)

Hope to have you around for a long, long time!

James McCammon September 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

You can do it if you put your mind to it Russ!!! The world is your oyster!!

a_murricun September 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Many happy returns.

I have struggled with weight and fitness for most of my adult life, and especially after quitting smoking. I have found that dieting doesn’t work long-term. Rather almost any “balanced” intake proportionate to your desired weight will work, and you never “diet”. Of course, the usual tricks, like a glass of water before meals and eating small meals more frequently, really do help.

The other part of fitness is exercise. This guy’s program has worked for me:

The model is brief stints of fairly vigorous exercise, repeated often. I started at age 72, have lost much of my excess weight and feel great. I trot up 2 flights of stairs, rest and repeat per session, 5 to 10 times per week.

This supports those $15,000 machines you may have seen advertised.

Dr. Sears is one of I suppose hundreds of physician-entrepreneurs who sell supplements in addition to providing medical advice and treatment. I ignore those pitches.

Becky Hargrove September 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I too will turn 57 in a matter of days. What you said about the body losing tone after 50 is true, I still cannot get used to how I look in pictures! But losing 15 pounds is still a very worthy goal, one I never even had to worry about till recently. For me, it’s a matter of daily walks and good protein, five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. That, and no more scowling at the mirror.

Margaret September 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I’m 66, female and have gained muscle mass the last 6 years. I constantly get comments about my arms!! Of course I am not too modest about them and wear those “wife-beater” shirts to show them off. Crazy for a woman, but I didn’t like reading about how muscle mass declines year after year. I work out at our community center and do a variety of things from aerobic dance (zumba) to weights to yoga–all group exercise with an instrucor. I can’t stand exercising by myself. It is all good and fun. Also I try to avoid carbohydrates, especially wheat products and simple sugars. Oh and I wash up my kitchen floor while listening to Econ Talk. Definitely the only way to go with a drudge type task.

Chris September 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm

you should sign up for a race. Maybe a 5k run or a bike race. It will give you a reason to go to the gym besides just getting in shape. Training for an event is much easier than just “going to the gym”

Good luck and happy birthday.

Benson September 21, 2011 at 1:15 am

Happy Birthday Professor Roberts

John September 21, 2011 at 3:06 am

I encourage you to read John Ratey’s book on exercise’s (very positive) impact on brain chemistry. It’s called “Spark”. It hit me hard enough that I’ve actually begun to think of exercise as something I do for my brain rather than for my body.

Richard Stands September 21, 2011 at 7:32 am

Happy Birthday Prof. Roberts!

Nathan September 21, 2011 at 8:22 am

It was your 2005 post “The Return To Exercise” that turned me onto Devany and the whole paleo movement. Many subclinical health issues I had have resolved and my weight and fitness have stayed excellent as I’ve aged into my late 30′s.

The parallels between the Keynesian approach to the economy and the current popular approach to the body are many. Starting with the disbelief of Keynesians, and the disbelief of doctors, in the ability of their respective subject to heal itself.

khodge September 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

Happy Birthday!
A time, I guess, to note some similarities between Economics and Diet/Weight Loss: the science of both are easily hijacked by those with lesser abilities; easy to talk about, hard to do; potentially satisfying when done correctly; loads of money to be made on the fringes.

Adam Ghuloum September 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Alright, Professor Roberts!

Right now exercising might seem cumbersome, but if you do it long enough, you will not want to stop The additonal energy and “machoness” factor will far outweigh the forgone opportunities. MB>MC

Happy Birthday and keep at it.

Arthur Munroe September 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Happy Birthday, Russ.

I’ve gotten lots of useful info from here, may you continue to have great success and prosperity.

SheetWise September 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Weather is an interesting factor in weight. Living in the Phoenix area, we’re the opposite of what you’re experiencing. Five of the seven months with an “r” are enjoyable. I used to keep a house in Sandy OR for the summer, but the kids — as they got older — nixed the idea. I’ll lose 20# in the winter, and put it back on in the summer. It correlates well with the weather.

BTW — Happy birthday. My last “live at home” child is only a couple years from fleeing the nest. With no more vetoes, I think I’m going to try a permanent residence in Alaska — seven good months there, five here. Within five or six years, I should weigh in at somewhere around 110 pounds. It’s a plan. I think Art would approve.

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