What a New York Subway Can Teach Us About Our Body Types

What can we learn from New York City Subways back in the 1980′s to help understand how to be healthy no matter what our body types and genetics are?

Social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982 introduced the concept of the ”Broken Windows Theory”, which states that if a building has a few broken windows or is unkept, then people are more likely to break other windows.

Eventually it will snowball to the point where crime will be tolerated such as robbery and eventually even hard core felonies like murder.

In other words, the house with the broken windows is more likely to be broken into than the house without broken windows.

How do we treat our bodies like this subway train?

The same challenges existed in the New York City subways due to the crack epidemic and other factors.  One of the most subtle factors was the use of graffiti in subway cars.  Kelling made recommendations to the city of New York on how they could shift the culture of crime, by creating a more clean environment.

In the mid 1980′s Kelling was hired as a consultant for the city of New York.  David Gunn, a follower of Kelling, was hired to head the multi-billion dollar rebuilding effort of the New York subway system.  Gunn insisted that graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system and must be stopped first.  Without winning that battle, then all of the reforms in crime would be in vain.

  • Gunn set timetables for cleaning each train line by line on a consistent basis.
  • For the stainless steel cars, solvent was used.
  • On the painted cars, graffiti was simply painted over.

Gunn made it a rule: cars will be clean and there should be no retreat.  They were religious about it.

Cars were removed from service until they could remove the graffiti.  They wanted to send a message to all criminals that spreading graffiti was going to be a waste of time and that their “art work” would never see the light of day.  It took from 1984-1990, before it finally sunk in to youth that graffiti was not going to be tolerated on the subways.

This initiative along with other subtle battles, like the fight against fare-beaters, were huge steps in sending messages to would-be criminals that the city of New York was tired of the crime.  These seemingly small acts changed the context of the environment in the subway systems and dramatically reduced crime.  This along with other debated factors led to the eventual plummet of crime by 75% in 2005 from where it was more than a decade ago.

The Broken Window Effect With Our Bodies

How we treat our bodies and the environment we put our bodies in has the same effect as the Broken Window Theory.

If we surround ourselves with terrible foods, lack of exercise, and other people that couldn’t care less about their diets, then it becomes a recipe for disaster no matter what your body type is.  The same can be said for the opposite side of the spectrum.

Some of you may be familiar with the three major body types, but for others measuring body composition may be a new concept.  We hear about how genetics can play a role and it is often used as an excuse for excess fat.

Let me be very clear…you have a choice no matter what your genetic makeup is.

Just like the house with the broken windows, your body can’t have a “broken windows” environment or else you will surely give into temptation of sugar and insulin spiking flour.  There are several ways to control your environment:

  • What foods do you have in the kitchen?
  • Are you surrounded by others that focus on healthy eating?
  • Are you surrounded by others that get exercise, get outdoors, etc.?
  • How easy is it for you to access healthy food?  Do you prepare your food ahead of time or have a food service provide help?

While there are genetics that will impact how quickly you are able to achieve success, every body type needs to eat healthy to take care of their long term health to avoid diseases like auto immune diseases, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the list goes on.

Let’s talk about the different body types that exist.

There are three major body types:

  • endomorph body types,
  • mesomorph body types, and
  • ectomorph body types.

This classification was created by Dr. William Sheldon in the 1930’s.  He named it Somatotyping.  We are not going to dig into that, but it is a nice pointless fact you can use to impress your friends at a party. You’re welcome.

Different Body Types

Endomorph body types retains fat easily.  They are known as “big-boned” and have difficulty losing body fat.

Mesomorph body types are known as genetic freaks.  They are naturally lean and muscular with little effort required. These tend to be professional athletes.

Ectomorph body types are the lean, skinny types.  They can load carbs without storing too much fat, but they find it difficult to put on muscle.

Rarely is a person 100% in one category.  More than likely you consist of numerous body types at varying levels.

I am an endo-mesomorph.  I can store fat and muscle easily.  I can gain muscle faster than others, but I have to be careful with the amount of poor carbs I store. My older brother was an ecto-mesomorph (lean muscle and skinny) growing up.  He easily could eat anything and found it hard to gain fat.  He was naturally strong with definition even before lifting a single weight.

Here is a deeper dive into each body type:

Mesomorph Body Types

Mesomorphs think they are the Bee’s knees! Jerks!

Let’s get the jerks out of the way first.  We love to hate these people.

They don’t have to do much and they gain muscle and lose fat easily.  They can pound sugar and white flour like it is water and it won’t impact their body composition.

Unlike others, dairy seems to bounces in and out of them like rubber. It’s as though fat is scared of them!

They naturally have small waists, large chests, and broad shoulders.  Again…easy to hate them.

These mesomorph body types are natural born athletes that respond well to any training.  They can probably get through P90x in 30-60 days to get the results that an endomorph may take the full 90 days to see a similar impact.

If you are one of these fortunate specimens, then it can be easy to take your health for granted.  In fact, these people probably aren’t reading this blog.  They are probably tanning on beach somewhere waiting for their next photo shoot.  If you are a mesomorph reading this blog, then kudos to you.

I am often asked, “Do diets affect mesomorphs?”  The answer is they absolutely do.

They still have to train and eat healthy like everyone else.  They just get away with unhealthy decisions more often.  Even if they look great without ever having to work out or eating healthy it is still important.  A mesomorph could genetically have a long line of heart disease, cancer, or other health concerns in their family.  Poor health decisions catch up to all of us at some time in our lives.  It is just a matter of when.

Don’t coast or take your gift for granted mesomorph body types.  Maximize your potential like others can only dream to do.

Don’t each junk food. Treat your body with the respect that endomorph body types must have.  You may have an ideal body type, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t prone to diseases. You could potentially be more susceptible than an endomorph when it comes to health risks.  It isn’t just about cosmetics, but a healthy lifestyle that trickles to every other aspect of your life.

Ectomorph Body Types

Hello skinny people.  If this is you, then you are angular, with projecting bones, small waist and narrow shoulders.

Hey excited Ectomorph

An ectomorph has these characteristics because they naturally dump excess calories as body heat.  They can handle high carb diets without gaining fat unlike each body type.  They need little cardio exercise to maintain their muscle mass. In fact, too much Cardio may be counterproductive and cause loss of lean muscle.

While they can make great endurance runners, it will take loads of work to be a bodybuilder.  If they want to work hard to gain lean mass, they have to be consistent with weight training and a high caloric diet or else they will quickly drop muscle.

They tend to be high stressed.  They should look to relax.  Rent a lot of DVDs, start a blog, and slow down your lifestyle.  That might sound crazy, but it is true.  You need to slow down your ability to burn calories.  Include more sleep, avoid over training, and keep cardio to 15 minutes every other day.  When you perform resistance training do low number of reps (6-8ish) with higher weights.

Obviously if you are this person you know you should have a high calorie diet and never miss a meal. One area where most ectomorph body types struggle is that they eat junk food like refined sugars and white flour. Thrown in high level proteins like meats, eggs, etc.  Also you can probably get away with dairy, protein shakes, and other gray area foods that tend to be more insulin spiking.  Include healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, flax oil and nuts like walnuts and macadamia nuts. Still stick to quality carbs like vegetables.  You want to have high impact work outs.  You need to have a lot of energy.  Avoid the sugar and flour.

Endomorph Body Types

I know the pain that many of you feel that fall in this category.  Endomorphs have large amount of fat cells and can store fat much easier than the other two body types.  They naturally have a slower metabolism than the other body types.  Endomorph body types include higher risks of diseases, long term health problems, and simply being less attractive than they could be if they don’t take care of their health.

The great thing is that you are more easily humbled to practiced appropriate health principles for the rest of your life before others.  You will thank yourself that you did this.

Well done Endomorph.

Carb sensitivity and insulin resistance means you need a low carb diet, especially initially as you start cutting fat.  You also have to include a high Protein diet (50-55% of your calories).  White flour and refined sugar is Kryptonite to these people.  It is to most people, but especially to these canaries in the mind shaft.

They have less room for error and often can’t rest on a healthy diet alone.  An endomorph has to have daily cardio for 20-60 minutes.If this is you, then you have to look how to stretch and motivate yourself more than other body types because it is natural for you to relax.  Notice how I am sitting at a computer typing this post and not burning a lot of fat.Your metabolism is slower.  Find ways to live an active lifestyle and avoid excess sleep.  Look for full body or synergistic exercises like Yoga, Kenpo, Pilates, or Karate.  Also endomorphs do great with programs like P90X, Insanity, and CrossFit.

P90X is a great activity for people with Endomorph body types.  The biggest reason why is because P90X is all about muscle confusion.  It is a way to keep your body guessing so you you never hit a weight loss plateau.  It is also a fine balance between weight training and cardio.  You need both in order to kill the weight plateau beast.

HIIT training is another way to keep your body guessing with a mix of spending 30-120 seconds doing high intensity aerobics followed by 60-120 second periods of low to moderate aerobics.  You burn a great deal of calories during and after because your heart rate stays elevated longer with the consistent spikes.  According to the “Physiology of Sport and Exercise” by using HIIT compared to standard training, you burn an additional 50-75 calories per workout after the exercise is done.  That is about 4-5 pounds a year of fat burned AFTER working out that you burn when you are blinking and breathing.  There is a lot of debate on how impactful that is being nutrition has the highest impact, but this is a 1-2 punch that needs both nutrition and exercise.  HIIT is one of the best ways to lose weight fast.

Be active as much as possible and relish variety in your weight training.

Take Responsibility

Just because you may be more prone to have endomorph or ectomorph body types, it doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to live a mesomorph lifestyle.  We talk about quite a few actions you can take in this blog.

There are many factors that impact easy weight loss.  In the end, this comes down to you no matter where you fall.  I would venture to say that no one is forcing food down your throat.  No one is handcuffing you, tying you up and preventing you from exercising.  Maybe I am wrong and you are reading this from a jail cell, but even then you can do a lot in a small box.

Decide today that no matter how long it takes that this isn’t about losing x pounds in x weeks.  This is about how you are going to live the rest of your life.  This is about wining as many days as you can with exercise and healthy eating.  It is about being patient and saying, “If it takes five years before I am attractive, then I am prepared to do it.”

You decide your environment and whether it has “broken windows” or not.  The truth is that it is an amazing gift that you have.  Set realistic goals and take advantage of your agency to choose.

The important thing is that you are enjoying the journey along the way.