Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Step by Step: Exercising the Positive Way

As we plunge into the holiday season in much of the world, weight management might be on your mind.  I covered a number of consequence-based methods that can help in the book, and new research comes out every day.

Exercise is an important part of weight management, and quite apart from that, it's an important healthy habit for everyone.  Here’s a link to the US Center for Disease Control’s webpage with exercise recommendations. The idea is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, and tackle strength training twice a week.  If you’re at these levels, you’re ahead of the game!  How do we get--and keep--ourselves on track (literally)?

Simply recording how much you exercise can provide enough reinforcement for effective motivation.  I know that one of my friends who bought an electronic pedometer started walking more.  After all, what fun to watch the number of steps add up.  If you monitor your progress on a graph with a rewarding upward slope of steps per week, all the better.  Some of the devices on the market do this automatically.

A recent study by University of Florida researchers in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis used an admirably simple approach to investigate what might help inactive older people.  The participants didn't even have to come in to the university much, because the Internet let them submit their results far more easily and frequently.  At first, they followed their usual routines while wearing pedometers, providing a "baseline" level of activity.  Using these initial data, the researchers then set goals for each participant individually.  Everyone submitted their results each night--and got to see graphs of their progress.  In one group, that was essentially it.  In another group, small payments were available in addition for meeting the goals.  Would money make a difference?

Well, yes, the group getting the financial incentives did do better, meeting nearly all of their goals.  But that wasn't the take-home point.  Instead, and even more encouraging:  Both groups exercised substantially more than they had been.

Of course, take advantage of social support, commitments, intrinsically rewarding forms of exercise, etc.  And enjoy the holidays!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

One Year Ago

A year ago, I was frantically preparing for the November 17th launch of The Science of Consequences at the Miami Book Fair International (and worrying about what would follow).  The book was hot off the presses--indeed, the official publication date wasn't until the 20th--so I saw it for the first time at the fair.  What a feeling!--the culmination of so many years of effort.  And what a launch . . .  I enjoyed enthusiastic receptions both at my book fair talk and at my talk at Florida International University.  I'd been a faculty member there for 5 years, so I had lots of friends and colleagues in the area to help give my book tour a memorable start.

Since then, it's taken me to 15 US states for about 60 talks, interviews, and other book events.  In the spring I'll have my first international tour, to Scandinavia.  Whew . . .  Give me a moment to take a deep breath and remember some of the highlights, like revisiting FIU, the University of Kansas, and other colleges and universities where I was a student or a faculty member.   Speaking to several large enthusiastic audiences in the hundreds--but also to informal groups of 10 or 20 who explored the science with me in stimulating and adventurous discussion.  Staying with kind friends, colleagues, and (in a few cases) strangers who opened their houses and their hearts to me.  The diner where fellow patrons unexpectedly paid for my lunch without my knowledge.  The airplane seatmates who exchanged some amazing life stories.  The NPR interview in Kansas City and the talk in the Seattle Science Lectures series, both big highlights.  The huge and completely unexpected poster about my talk on the side of Baltimore's downtown public library. Making so many new friends:  people who had read my book, or were inspired by my presentation (this is so rewarding and powerful), or who just happened to fall into intense one-on-ones about life and its possibilities.  Watching a bald eagle mount high into the sky at the end of my southeastern trip, thinking that life doesn't get much better.

And this is just a small sample . . .  Wish I'd kept a journal. 

I wrote The Science of Consequences because I felt so passionate about the incredible value of this science, its life-changing applications, and its critical role in the larger nature-and-nurture system.  It's been an immense privilege to help spread the word about it, and I'll be continuing my efforts.  Many thanks to all those who scheduled and hosted the events, conducted the interviews, wrote the blog posts, helped with the arrangements, came to the talks, and offered advice and assistance in lots of other ways.  Just as so many helped me with the book over its ten-year gestation, I would not have gotten far during this past year of book touring without you.

As I begin my second year of publicizing this science and my book about it, thanks for your support--and wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bird Migration, Ultralights, Magnetic Fields, and Consequences

Bird migration is on my mind, and not just because of the geese I’ve been hearing overhead.  I’ve been fine-tuning a book-related talk for the Central Valley Birding Symposium here in California later this month:  "No Birdbrains Here: The Latest on Bird Learning, Instinct, and Intelligence."  Should be fun.

This birding festival is scheduled at a time when many thousands of birds descend upon the Central Valley for the winter, particularly ducks and geese.  An additional winter highlight is the spectacular, nearly five-foot-tall "greater" subspecies of the sandhill crane (along with the smaller "lesser" subspecies).  The crane in the photo is an adult, as you can tell by its red crown.

While learning appears to play at least a small role in the migration of many bird species, it clearly plays a major role for cranes and most waterfowl.  The cranes, for example, migrate in their family groups.  Without adults to guide them south, young birds born that year are clueless.

Attempts to re-establish the endangered whooping crane in some of its former eastern US range have relied on ultralight aircraft leading the way (see this link).  Encouragingly, the first group of young birds managed to return to their breeding grounds on their own in the spring.  Researchers have found, however, that the cranes continue learning, fine-tuning their migration routes over many years (and this long and detailed blog post by GrrlScientist provides a nice summary).

As always, the interactions between "instincts" and learning from consequences are fascinating--and there’s still much we don’t know when it comes to migration.  What exactly is the role of the earth's magnetic field, for example?  Some migrant birds are clearly influenced by it, but decades of research have shown that the story is complex and still mysterious.  One of my colleagues, Michael Davison (University of Auckland, New Zealand), coauthored a study on this topic in the prestigious journal Nature.  Using a choice setup--with rewarding consequences, of course--the researchers demonstrated that homing pigeons could detect changes in the intensity and inclination of a magnetic field.  Pretty impressive.

For really impressive, though, visit your local park or wildlife refuge and marvel at the feats of long-distance migrants, frequently returning over thousands of  miles to the same breeding and wintering areas year after year.  If you can't get away, I recommend Scott Weidensaul's Living on the Wind, a great read about bird migration in the Americas.