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The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer Hardcover – April 26, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press; 1 edition (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594630933
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594630934
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Solid advice with motivational oomph to get you up and running." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Armed with the information in this book, readers will be inspired and motivated to reassess their habitual exercise programs and make positive changes." -- Publisher's Weekly

From the Back Cover

"[A] great guide for the mindful athlete who wants to gain all the benefits of physical training while minimizing downtime from injury or overtraining"-- Danny Dreyer, founder of Chi Running

"There has never been a better time in history to grow stronger, faster, and smarter; there has never been a more helpful book than Gretchen Reynolds's The First 20 Minutes. Smart, clear, and beautifully useful, this is the new fitness bible for the modern age." -- Dan Coyle author of The Talent Code and Lance Armstrong's War

"The First 20 Minutes
is packed with interesting tips and insights. Pickle juice for cramps, who would have ever thought! Gretchen Reynolds once again delivers a winner." -- Dean Karnazes, uberathlete and New York Times bestselling author of Ultramarathon Man

More About the Author

I write the popular "Phys Ed" column for The New York Times, which posts online as part of the "Well" blog and also appears in the print edition of the paper's "Science Times." The column regularly is among the week's most emailed stories and several columns have been among the most viewed and most emailed stories of the year at

I also write for a variety of other publications, including The New York Times Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Men's Journal, Outside, Parade, Popular Science and others. I've won a number of awards for my writing and reporting, including two National Magazine Award nominations and one shared win in the Personal Service category.

Currently I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with my husband, an artist, and our teenaged soccer player/swimmer/track sprinter/freestyle skier. I'm also a committed if slowing athlete, with two marathons, a dozen century bike rides, many mountain bike races and a number of Fun Runs under my belt. Nowadays, though, I lose the Fun Runs to my son.

You can read more of my work weekly in the Well blog (see link below) or in the Sunday Times Magazine, where I most recently wrote about exercise and the brain:

An archive of all of my "Phys Ed" articles is available at:

Customer Reviews

Fun, easy to read and so very useful.
Iona Derman
As a long-time reader of scientific studies on healthy living and fitness, I was excited to catch up with the latest research in Gretchen Reynolds' book.
Sophia Rose
I've learned a lot already from reading just the first few chapters!
M.G. Bernard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

270 of 273 people found the following review helpful By MaGS on May 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good book. The style is a little wordy for me. Similar to 'The Power of Yoga', I'd have preferred to have more bullet points and less history of scientific discoveries. Therefore, I summarized the key points myself:

1) Inactivity is the greatest public health threat of this century. A great deal of the physical effects that we once thought were caused by aging are actually the results of inactivity.

2) Although 'Health' and 'Fitness' are often automatically joined together, they are different things. 'Health' is a slippery term, often defined by its absence (it's 'unhealthy' to have high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a wide waist or actuall illnesses, from cold to cancer).
Physical 'Fitness' refers to cardiovascular or cardiorrespiratory fitness(includes measures of lung function). It is a measure of how efficiently you transport oxygen to laboring muscles to maintain movement. A fit person has a robust heart, strong lungs and sturdy muscles. But it doesn't mean he is 'healthy' (he can still have high cholesterol or ulcers).

3) How little activity can people get away with? The best available science indicates that, in order to improve your health, you should walk or work out lightly for 150 minutes a week. You can split them almost any way you want. 30 minutes a day can be split in 3 walks of 10' each. Other option is to do 75 weekly minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise plus weight training twice a week.

4) Almost all of the mortality reductions are due to the first 20 minutes of exercise, which drops your risk of premature death by 20%. (If you triple that minimum level, you drop your risk of premature rate further, but only by another 4%).
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120 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Michael McKee TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While this book contains some suggested exercises at the end of each chapter, that isn't what it's about. What we get is a somewhat rambling discourse about the state of current exercise research. This is written by a New York Times writer, so lacks the rah-rah cheerleading present in most exercise books. Ms. Reynolds shares her personal experience with exercise, mainly running, as well as research and conversations with researchers. In doing so, she shines the spotlight on much recognized exercise wisdom that doesn't stand up to scientific measurement. The narrative rambles a bit but in an entertaining way. It is certainly well written.

Did you know that most of us drink too much during and after exercise, and the need for electrolyte replacement is mostly a marketing myth? Some other myths include: the effectiveness of pre-exertion stretching. It actually hurts athletic performance and doesn't appear to prevent injury. Strength an power don't always translate well. Strength training and cardio training can be performed in the same workout with the same results as when carefully separating them. Running form has little if anything to do with race results. There are many more such revelations. It's all fascinating, unless, of course, you are heavily invested in a belief that doesn't withstand the light of research.

The book is a fascinating read. If you are serious about understanding the current state of the art in exercise knowledge, it's wonderful. I certainly wouldn't consider it my first choice for designing a workout. There isn't a coherent plan. The exercised offered lack pictures to clarify the sometimes specific instructions. And other than a chapter or two, little is actually elucidated on the subject of short workouts, so "The First 20 Minutes," is a bit misleading, hence my 4 star rating. However, as a foundation with which to evaluate other workout books, this is invaluable.
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144 of 153 people found the following review helpful By Time Traveler on May 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I hate to exercise, but I do it for my health. I bought this book in hopes of learning how to get the most bang for the buck. Unfortunately, though many good studies have been done, the jury is still out. That the subject is complex, that many experiments have produced conflicting results, and that there are still many unknowns is not the author's fault, but I think that the title of this book is somewhat misleading, and that the author could have done a better job of organizing the knowns vs. the unknowns.

On pages 2-3 we learn that people who exercise little and people who exercise a lot both complain of more "unhealthy days" than people who exercise a moderate amount. "Or, to be blunt, the issue of just how much exercise people need and how much may be either to little or too much is, from a scientific standpoint, a big fat mess." There you have it.

This business of the "first" 20 minutes is left unclarified: How long between workouts should one wait in order for the next workout to count as another "first" 20 minutes? Do I enjoy greater benefit from walking 20 minutes in the morning, at noon, and after supper than in one continuous hour? Do I have to wait until the next day to get the greater benefits of that "first" 20 minutes? The author is silent on this point.

In various places throughout the book, the author suggests that exercise causes our bodies to generate new cells, and seems to suggest that this is a good thing. But in chapter 10, in the discussion of telomeres, we learn that new cells have shorter telomeres, and that's a bad thing: Cells with shorter telomeres are somehow less robust. From this standpoint, it seems that preserving older cells would be better than generating new ones. I found the whole discussion confusing.
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