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Humans Adapt Their Gait to Walk in the Laziest Way Possible

Humans are hard-wired to move in ways that require a minimal amount of energy. A new study in Current Biology from Simon Fraser University in Canada finds that while walking, people automatically adjust their gait to be energy efficient, adjusting their step width and frequency to do the least amount of work possible. 

The researchers, from Simon Fraser’s department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology, outfitted volunteers with robotic exoskeletons that forced them to adjust their gait by making them step more or less often than they would naturally as they walked on a treadmill. The participants adapted their step frequency to the optimum energy efficiency after just a few minutes of walking with their new gait, and did so even when the payoff was relatively small (less than 5 percent energy savings).

The robotic exoskeleton used in the study

As study co-author Max Donelan explains in a press release, “the nervous system subconsciously monitors energy use and continuously re-optimizes movement patterns in a constant quest to move as cheaply as possible."

So while you may go on a walk around the neighborhood hoping to get as much exercise as possible, your nervous system is actively making sure you do the least work you can. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that in the world of early humans, using less energy walking around normally might have left you a little extra energy in reserve to run away from a predator or catch up to your dinner. And, as the study points out, being able to constantly adjust your stride for efficiency might help people adapt to new tasks and different terrain, and avoid stride-inhibiting injuries. 

[h/t: Science News]

All images by Greg Ehlers

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3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them
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You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.

PROBLEM 1: THEY’RE TOO OVERWHELMING

Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.

PROBLEM 2: THEY'RE TOO VAGUE

“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.

PROBLEM 3: YOU FELL FOR THE “FALSE FIRST STEP”

“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”

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6 Tips for Achieving Your Fitness Resolutions in 2018
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If the holiday season makes visions of sugar plums dance in your head, the caloric austerity plan you have in mind for the new year will feel like a rude awakening. Between snacks, drinks, and the main meal, the average American consumes over 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day alone, and with a calendar full of holiday parties, this over-indulgent lifestyle usually persists until January 1.

For anyone who’s planning to pursue a fitness- and health-related New Year's resolution, it’s important to start preparing before the clock strikes midnight on December 31—it's nearly impossible to make a drastic lifestyle change at the drop of a hat. Use these expert tips to get a head-start on your fitness goals in order to maximize your success.

1. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE DEDICATION NEEDED TO MAKE A CHANGE.

It takes a lot of patience and persistence to follow through on your fitness goals. “The problem that most people run into is that they don’t think through what they’re getting into,” says Dean Gavindane, a certified personal trainer and CEO/co-founder of SuperMe Performance.

Gavindane says that underestimating the level of commitment needed to stick to a new fitness routine is common because people see their fitness goals “as a sprint instead of a marathon.” Understanding that your new diet and workout routine won't achieve results overnight is the first step to shedding pounds and toning up.

2. START COUNTING YOUR CALORIES.

Losing weight is a simple math problem: Eat fewer calories than you burn each day. In order to count calories effectively, you therefore need to know how many you are taking in through your food as well as how many you are expelling when you exercise. Use a fitness tracker and a calorie-counting app to help you make smart snacking choices during the holidays.

3. KEEP A FOOD DIARY.

Jen Hazzard, cross country coach and adjunct chemistry and physics professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, has her clients keep a food diary where they record what they eat on a daily basis, using each day as a benchmark for the next. She says the diary is a way to be honest with yourself and to change the way you think about your nutrition changes. “I avoid the term diet,” says Hazzard. “It suggests giving up things you love for things you don’t like. You should never make fitness about denial, but about finding a middle ground. A good start to finding that middle ground is treating certain meals like rewards.”

Hazzard also says that by cutting out processed and junk foods, you’d be surprised at the quantity of healthy food you can consume without gaining weight. There’s no shame in filling up the pages of your food diary as long as they’re healthy foods.

4. STICK IT OUT FOR 66 DAYS.

Hazzard has also worked as a consultant for a wellness program called Commit to 66, which is based on a 2009 study that showed the average length of time it took participants to form a new habit was 66 days [PDF]. It's important to remember that 66 days was the study's average, so it may take you more or less time. What’s important is setting a long-term goal to help you curb your impulses as well as keep from getting discouraged.

5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT WITH FITNESS.

It's easy to get in a rut at the gym (do you head to the elliptical every time you're there?), but keeping an open mind about your physicality and trying new things is an important part of shedding weight. "Simple yet effective exercises and workouts can be done in several different ways depending upon the time allowed and equipment provided,” says Tiffany Tatlock, a certified personal trainer, meal planner, and competitive bodybuilder.

6. INCORPORATE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS INTO YOUR ROUTINE AT HOME.

If a gym isn’t available for you (or if it feels sub-Arctic outside and you can't bear to leave the warmth of your home) it’s still possible to get in a great workout, no equipment required. Here are some body-weight circuits that Tatlock has suggested that can be performed at home and aren’t very time-consuming.

Set 1:
Floor Touch Squats (10 reps)
Wide-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Squat Jumps (10 reps)
Full Tuck Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 2:
Forward and Backward Lunge (10 reps each leg)
Tricep Dips (10 reps)
High Knee Skips (10 reps each leg)
Bicycle Crunch (30 seconds)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 3:
Flutter Kicks (30 seconds)
Swimming Plank (10 reps each side)
Diagonal Squat Thrust (5 reps each side)
Toe Touch Beetle Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 4:
Lateral Lunges (10 reps each leg)
Close-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Single-Leg Skater Squat (10 reps each leg)
Vertical Leg Lift (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 5:
Plank (30 seconds)
Skydiver (30 seconds)
Tick-Tock Squats (10 reps each leg)
Spinal Rock-Up (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Completing sets one through five marks one round, and Tatlock advises performing up to five rounds in your workout session. “Effective and great workouts are all about giving it your all,” Tatlock says. “Typically, three to four of these sessions per week can be effective when the gym isn’t achievable.”

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