architecture · community · creativity · culture · design · Uncategorized

Gamification of exercise in the real world using phone apps

I love this idea of essentially creating exercise Easter eggs for people around the city. It makes people think of their surroundings in totally new, possibly more sporty ways.

The UK government is backing a new fitness initiative that includes putting calorie-counting labels on staircases so people can keep track of how many calories they burn while taking the stairs.

The project, which was developed by StepJockey, includes an app and a website to help people count the calories burned when taking the stairs. The project is backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson, the Department of Health, and NHS London.

The initiative was inspired by food labels that inform people of the calories they are consuming. According to their website, the initiative is “about the other side of the equation,” which entails labeling the physical world to promote fitness and weight loss.

People can “rate” unlabeled staircases by sending enough information for StepJockey to calculate how many calories would be burned when using it. The details can then be printed on a poster that they can put up near the staircases.

I love the concept of interacting with the real world and have crowd sourced information. Plus it’s fun to see spots pop up and know you’re part of the "in crowd," plus some friendly peer pressure to get active.

anthropology · behavior · community · design · environment · happiness · mental health · Nature · psychology

Animals get their own trail systems at Philadelphia Zoo

Lonely Monkey Ape at Zoo
Soon this guy will be able to take his own self-guided tours of Philadelphia zoo. (Photo credit:

I am so excited about this I’m practically jumping out my seat to tell people. I first read about it in USA Today; animals are getting to wander outside of their exhibits, share spaces with other animals, and over all just chill around the zoo. Yup, that’s right:

The Philadelphia Zoo on Thursday opens the first leg of an ambitious enclosed trail system designed to allow large animals such as great apes, bears and big cats to roam throughout the zoo. It will give them access to one another’s habitats in a kind of time-share arrangement and offer visitors a closer look at wild animals behaving like wild animals.

Other U.S. zoos have created paths between exhibits, mixed habitats, elevated paths or rope swings for apes.

“This is an emerging trend” among zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, says the group’s senior vice president for external affairs, Steve Feldman. “Great animal care means providing for animals’ physical and psychological welfare. These pathways and rotations really allow them that kind of stimulation.”

The Philadelphia Zoo’s program is the first to encompass the entire zoo. “This campus-wide effort to build this trail system is unique,” Feldman says. “It’s innovative and is really taking that trend to the next level.”

Because it’s the first effort of its kind, “we don’t have a road map to see how others have done it,” says Vik Dewan, the Philadelphia Zoo’s chief executive officer. The system “puts animal well-being first and foremost,” he says, and gives visitors “an experience here, that when combined with other experiences, paints the bigger picture of how they could be more effective stewards of the world.”

The critters will have to “timeshare” so the orangutans won’t be hanging out with the brown bears. In fact the bears might not get a chance to use the pathways until winter when it’s too cold for the primates. But that said, it’s sure to be a boon for the animals, as well as for the people. The zookeepers already report seeing a positive result from a similar vine system in their primate exhibit.

The article mentions other zoos starting to move in this direction. But which ones, and what exactly are they up to? I’m curious to learn more. Any hints? Leave them in the comments below.

animals given access to the new trail are expected to be more active and
to benefit from the stimulation of being able to see visitors and other
animals from a new perspective.

behavior · disease · health · neuroscience · play

How exercise affects the brain: Age and genetics play a role

Supervised physical therapy may be helpful to ...
Exercise effects the brain in multiple ways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Science Daily:

Exercise clears the mind. It gets the blood pumping and more oxygen is delivered to the brain. This is familiar territory, but Dartmouth’s David Bucci thinks there is much more going on.

“In the last several years there have been data suggesting that neurobiological changes are happening — [there are] very brain-specific mechanisms at work here,” says Bucci, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

From his studies, Bucci and his collaborators have revealed important new findings:

The effects of exercise are different on memory as well as on the brain, depending on whether the exerciser is an adolescent or an adult.

A gene has been identified which seems to mediate the degree to which exercise has a beneficial effect. This has implications for the potential use of exercise as an intervention for mental illness.

more via How exercise affects the brain: Age and genetics play a role.

behavior · brain · cognition · health · play

Make your cells cleaner by exercising

Cells stained for keratin and DNA: such parts ...
For cleaner cells, work up a sweat. Image via Wikipedia

We joke about getting the cobwebs out of our brain, but it turns out there really is some truth to that. And one of the best ways to give our bodies a thorough spring (or winter, or fall…) cleaning, is not through cleansing diets or saunas, but exercise! It’s beneficial on so many levels, including making you cleaner and a better environment for yourself down to the cellular level!

In the new research, which was published last month in Nature, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas gathered two groups of mice. One set was normal, with a finely tuned cellular scrubbing system. The other had been bred to have a blunted cleaning system.

It’s long been known that cells accumulate flotsam from the wear and tear of everyday living. Broken or misshapen proteins, shreds of cellular membranes, invasive viruses or bacteria, and worn-out, broken-down cellular components, like aged mitochondria, the tiny organelles within cells that produce energy, form a kind of trash heap inside the cell.

In most instances, cells diligently sweep away this debris. They even recycle it for fuel. Through a process with the expressive name of autophagy, or “self-eating,” cells create specialized membranes that engulf junk in the cell’s cytoplasm and carry it to a part of the cell known as the lysosome, where the trash is broken apart and then burned by the cell for energy.

Without this efficient system, cells could become choked with trash and malfunction or die. In recent years, some scientists have begun to suspect that faulty autophagy mechanisms contribute to the development of a range of diseases, including diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The slowing of autophagy as we reach middle age is also believed to play a role in aging.

Read the full article at the New York Times: Exercise as Housecleaning for the Body

The best part is it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of exercise, so anything from hop scotch to marathons will give you some benefit!

creativity · youtube

Superbowl ad actually encourages us to exercise (sorta)

Superbowl Sunday is almost upon us, and the Superbowl ads are already being released. Volkswagen has released an ad that features a dog getting in shape for his sport. While it’s obviously meant in jest, in some ways it’s great because it arguably sends the message that anyone can train for their personal goals, whether it’s chasing cars (and vaulting through trees), fitting through the doggie door, or whatever.
What are your goals? I’m participating in a 5k on Saturday, but what physical movement and enrichment do you hope to accomplish over the weekend?

behavior · brain · emotion · mental health

The One Minute Vacation from The Business School of Happiness

Animation of a diaphragm exhaling and inhaling
Follow this cartoon's directions and fill your lungs all the way to your diaphragm, and push the air out from the same place. Image via Wikipedia

Just a nice reminder to breathe every once in a while, courtesy of the Business School of Happiness:

The mere thought of taking a vacation can bring a smile to almost anyone’s face. The idea of getting away from work loads, demanding children, school and any and all other commitments that make up daily life is immensely appealing.

Unfortunately, time and money may hamper making those visions of relaxation reality. This need not be the case because that the same relaxing benefits of taking a vacation can be found in minutes of simple meditation interspersed throughout the day. In fact, three one minute sessions of deep breathing–taken at pre-set intervals throughout the day may indeed deliver the deep sense of peacefulness that might have seemed elusive.

The secret? Schedule a minute of relaxation every two to three hours–just like you would an appointment or meeting. Mark it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Then, find a quiet place. Lock yourself in a bathroom stall if it is your only option or pull over while driving. Close your eyes and take a series of 10-20 very deep, thoughtful breaths.

more tips on breathing via The One Minute Vacation » The Business School of Happiness.

In all honesty I am the worst when it comes to taking time for myself, even a minute. But I posted this exercise, or at least one very similar, to my desk cubicle at work, and even if I don’t give myself a relaxing vacation every couple of hours, it does remind me that that is an option, and it is much more productive than fretting for those two or three minutes.

It may feel weird at first, but give it a shot: breathe innnn sloooooowwwly until you think you can’t fill your lungs any fuller, and then let sloooooowwwly let it out. There, I bet you feel better already. Remember, the more breathing you do the better it is for your brain.


Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter? –

I have always been a HUGE proponent of physical exercise and play for health reasons and brain function, and now here’s more evidence of why physical play is sooooo important:

Animal studies had already established that, when given access to running wheels, baby rodents bulked up their brains, enlarging certain areas and subsequently outperforming sedentary pups on rodent intelligence tests. But studies of the effect of exercise on the actual shape and function of children’s brains had not yet been tried.

For budgetary and administrative reasons, school boards are curtailing physical education, while on their own, children grow increasingly sluggish. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that roughly a quarter of children participate in zero physical activity outside of school.

At the same time, evidence accumulates about the positive impact of even small amounts of aerobic activity. Past studies from the University of Illinois found that “just 20 minutes of walking” before a test raised children’s scores, even if the children were otherwise unfit or overweight, says Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology at the university and the senior author of many of the recent studies.

more via Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter? –

Let’s get play back into everyone’s lives!