On Tuesday, I called Ellie and asked her to stop on her way home to pick up a book that I heard about on NPR. She dutifully obliged, and that night I sat down to dive right in to Gretchen Reynolds’s The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am much of a reader, though occasionally I will find a title that interests me. But for this book, I was not disappointed.

Reynolds positions this book in an interesting way. It’s not quite a manual or a guide to getting in shape, but it’s also not quite a collection of research papers confirming or dismissing commonly held principles of fitness and health. It walks the line between informing the reader that there is quite a lot of scientific research out there, but stops before doing heavy analysis of each study. Instead, it basically presents simple concepts about fitness that many of us have ingrained in us at an early age.

One of the major myths Reynolds goes after is the necessity of stretching before working out as a way to prevent injury. She points to many recent studies dismissing this concept, citing the fact that there is no scientific proof that stretching does in fact prevent injury. What I like about her style is that while she is almost “debunking” commonly held beliefs, she also presents alternatives, such as the idea of warming up by doing a lower-intensity version of the activity you will be doing. For instance, to warm up for running, you should gently jog and work the joints and muscles that will be used. There are loads of concepts, from stretching to sports nutrition, that she works through, pointing to the most current research and discussing the conclusions.

The book is pretty interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it. As Ellie pointed out though (when I was scoffing at a television show talking about free radicals causing harm to the body  immediately after I just so happened to have finished a chapter in the book all about them), just because it is written in Reynolds’s book does not mean that is the definitive answer to everything. It does at the very least cause me to ask why I am doing particular things and not others and why I think certain methods work and others don’t.

Worth a read for sure! Or, as Ellie tells me all the book reviewers say, “Highly recommended!”