“5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, with John Mercer of The University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Penny Bauder
Nov 24 · 11 min read

Consistency. Be consistent with your exercise as your health can improve with regular daily exercise. The trick is to have a sustainable workout program. The long-term benefits of sustainable regular exercise outweigh the weekend-warrior approach. Being consistent is easier if you find an exercise routine that you enjoy. Instead of biking, try learning to unicycle. Instead of running on a treadmill, find some trails to hike. Try indoor or outdoor rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, or any other activity that you enjoy. If you dread the thought of your next exercise session, consider that you may not have the right program.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Mercer. Dr. John Mercer is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Nutrition Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He teaches courses on biomechanics and exercise physiology and conducts research related to sports performance. On top of his academic experience, he has worked as a clinical exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and coach. He is also an avid endurance athlete who competes in triathlons of all distances ranging from sprint to iron-distance events.


Thank you for all joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Since my research is focused on biomechanics and physiology of sports, I have had many unique opportunities related to sports. For example, I have been the featured “scientist” on a network series investigating “superhumans.” In that work, my job was to take several measurements of a person whose claim was superhuman grip strength. The person’s main stunt was to hold two airplanes back from taking off in different directions. I set up some unique tests to measure the forces involved with the task, but I wanted to try the stunt as well! Unfortunately, I was not given that opportunity.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

A class that I enjoy teaching is called Instrumentation. In that class, I cover the instruments that are typically used by biomechanists to measure different aspects of human movement. During one lecture, I went into a lengthy explanation of how to use accelerometers and the challenges of interpreting the signal. I then proceeded to show my students how to collect data. Unfortunately, the explanation that I gave regarding accelerations did not match what the instrument was showing. I repeated the data collection, but there was still a problem between the data that we were looking at and the explanation I gave. After scratching my head and taking a deep breath, I realized I had never turned the accelerometer on. From that experience, I always tell students — and myself — to double check and make sure the instrument is turned on before collecting data.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I originally became interested in the field of exercise science due to my interests as an endurance athlete. I wanted to have more objective information on how to go faster in triathlons, which led me to first return to undergraduate studies. I then continued my education, first earning a master’s degree in exercise physiology and then a doctorate in biomechanics. Along the way, I also worked in a cardiac rehabilitation program and I continue to train and race in endurance events. In essence, I try to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” regarding exercise science. My research is focused on biomechanics and physiological responses during swimming, biking, and running, and I try to use my research to provide useful tips to athletes working to complete endurance events.

My research has addressed simple issues such as the best way to transition from swim to bike after taking a wetsuit off to more complex issues of determining and why we run the way we run.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

After I completed my bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, I started applying for jobs. Unfortunately, the types of jobs I was qualified for were not very attractive to me. To pay the bills, I took on a wide variety of positions such as working in retail and banking, and picking up additional work as a lifeguard. On top of work, I was still training and competing in different endurance events. One day, a member at the pool where I worked as a lifeguard told me about a research study that needed endurance athletes as subjects. This sounded neat and so I volunteered.

The research study involved cycling, drinking different mixtures of carbohydrate drinks, and then sitting in a chair while measurements were taken. I found this process extremely interesting and asked a lot of questions such as: You get paid to do this work? The researcher, Dr. Beth Glace, opened my eyes through her answers, and I knew I had found my career path. That led me to go back to school to earn my graduate degrees, and to the career I have now. So I owe it all to Dr. Glace.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

The three main blockages to putting knowledge to practice are: 1) Time, 2) Time, and 3) Time. It’s a challenge to find the time to shop for the best foods, or to search for the right place to eat lunch, or to cook dinner for tonight or even future meals. We are all so busy and eating in a way that is probably not the best way often because we lack the time to plan for, purchase, and prep meals. Instead, it is easier to purchase pre-packaged meals, go to a fast food restaurant, or purchase foods that are processed in a way to reduce prep time.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

1. Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Start with going downstairs.

Elevators and escalators are convenient, but taking the stairs is good for your health. It’s not just a “calorie” issue. Yes, you use more calories using stairs vs. an elevator or escalator, but using the stairs also increases your heart rate, uses muscles differently — both up and down stairs — can impact bone density, and can even help with balance.

There are some easy ways to include stairs every day. For example, pass up the escalator at the mall or airport and opt for the stairs. Also, locate the stairs at your workplace. If you work on the fifth floor, start by adding in a walk down the stairs. Then, start adding in walking up a flight of stairs, working up to walking all five floors.

Using the stairs is an easy way to positively influence your lifestyle — your muscles will appreciate it!

2. Register for an event such as a 5K run or walk.

Sometimes we can help our regular levels of activity by registering for an event. When we put money on the table to purchase an entry fee for an event, it might motivate us to exercise on a regular basis in order to prepare. Put the date of the event on your calendar, post a sticky note on your car dash or on your work computer — place a reminder somewhere that you see it every day. On top of being a good way to help us stay motivated for regular exercise, you could be supporting a good organization by participating in their 5K.

3. Consistency.

Be consistent with your exercise as your health can improve with regular daily exercise. The trick is to have a sustainable workout program. The long-term benefits of sustainable regular exercise outweigh the weekend-warrior approach. Being consistent is easier if you find an exercise routine that you enjoy. Instead of biking, try learning to unicycle. Instead of running on a treadmill, find some trails to hike. Try indoor or outdoor rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, or any other activity that you enjoy. If you dread the thought of your next exercise session, consider that you may not have the right program.

4. Don’t search out that prime parking spot — park far away from the entrance. Walk, walk, walk.

Walking is great exercise. Adding in an additional 100 yards of walking will not have a big impact on your total exercise for the day, but it’s an easy lifestyle choice. Avoid the stress of finding the best parking spot. Instead, head right to the back of the parking lot where there will likely be plenty of open spaces. You’ll reduce your stress and increase your activity at the same time.

5. Don’t be brand loyal when purchasing exercise gear.

First of all, you don’t always need exercise gear or a gym membership when working out. You can do a lot of different exercises including push-ups, planks, and lunges, at home. However, there are times that you do need some gear and having the right items during exercise is important, but it doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re interested in starting a bike exercise program, borrow a bike or buy a used bike to get started. If you enjoy running, find the shoe that is most comfortable — not the most expensive shoe. A comfortable shoe is one that does not have any tightness, or pressure points anywhere on the foot. Every foot is a bit different, and you have to try on a number of different shoes . Once you find a brand or model that is comfortable, don’t become brand loyal. Instead, be willing to change brands if another shoe or piece of equipment works better for you.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

Regular physical activity will help with muscle and bone strength, coordination, and balance. The old saying — “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” — is fairly accurate. We are built to move, and if we don’t move, our bodies will adapt in a bad way. Our balance will be worse, which means we have an increased risk of falling, and our muscle strength reduces. For example, when I worked in a cardiac rehabilitation program, patients would enter the program and barely be able to lift their arms over their heads. Why is this important? One reason is that it’s hard to reach for food on shelves. Over a 12-week exercise program, I would have a patient use strength training to improve muscle strength — and ultimately — quality of life.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

Find the three exercises that you enjoy doing. If you enjoy walking, add that. If you enjoy biking, add that. In order to be effective, exercise should be part of our regular daily life. For that to happen, we need to enjoy the exercise, and it needs to be easy to add to our regular routine. If the exercise program is not sustainable, it will not have any long-standing benefit.

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?

To get the health benefits of exercise, the routine doesn’t need to cause pain, and probably shouldn’t because that will prevent the person from doing the exercise routine again. Yes, muscles can get sore, but the body has an incredible ability to adapt to stress. That adaptation can happen only if the exercise is done over weeks or months. A good exercise program not only plans out the exercise routine but also the recovery phase. Injuries often result from lack of recovery — there is no shortcut here.

There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?

Great question — but one I try to be careful about answering. The problem is that my answer reduces to anecdotal information. Even though I pay attention to the science of nutrition and exercise, telling people what I do ends up implying an endorsement of sorts. Instead, diet and exercise plans come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to find what works for each individual. That being said, minimizing processed foods and sugary drinks is probably a good general rule to follow.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I enjoyed reading “The Lore of Running” by Dr. Tim Noakes. He challenges established ideas and gets you thinking about things a bit differently. Critically evaluating data is an important skill when reading through published manuscripts. Far too often, we fall into a confirmation bias. Reading material that challenges our way of thinking is a good habit.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Biking to work. There are so many benefits to biking to work, but there are a number of challenges, too. Roads are not always built for bikes and cars to share safely. It can also be challenging to find a place to change at work, like a shower or a locker room. To get this movement off the ground, a big first step would be to increase the number of bike paths in cities, as well as improving road design to make it safer for both bikers and cars.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

When I worked at a cardiac rehabilitation program, one of the participants gave me some great advice regarding parenting. She said: “You’re going to make mistakes as a parent, but as long as you are doing what you are doing out of love for your child, you’re doing the best you can.” This stuck with me as my wife and I raised our two kids. We made mistakes along the way, but we were always trying to make the best decisions out of love for them.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I don’t have anyone in particular in mind, but whether you are a CEO, a small business owner, the mayor of a city, or the governor of a state, it is worthwhile from many perspectives to encourage people to be physically active.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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