Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You owe the world your health

Do you exercise? If you don't, you should, but not to look good (though that's an inevitable side effect) and not to feel good (though that's also something most people report about their moods and their self-esteem). 

You need to get yourself in shape for the good of others. Stop being selfish. You are needed in this world. You have a job to do, and that's to help out in whatever capacity you happen to be best at helping out. That's what you and all the rest of us are here for. The thing is, if you're too tired or cranky, or too overweight or underweight, or too weak, or too prone to injury, you're constantly going to be sitting on the sidelines, getting less done, being less helpful, which means living a smaller life than the one you know you can and should be living. Taking care of your body for the long-haul is probably one of the most unselfish things you can do. 

As Australian business titan Naomi Simson put it in an interview with Body and Soul
"You are absolutely useless to anyone unless you have your health."
I can't help but agree – which is not to say that those who are physically or mentally disabled have less to offer the world – but for those who of us who are less able simply due to our own laziness, there should be no excuse for not making health one of the main pillars of our life. It's about personal responsibility. 

About four years ago this letter went viral. Supposedly it was written in 1959 by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado. I think it's awesome:

Working out for the "wrong" reasons

About a decade ago I dated this really nice guy who was nicely built and prided himself on his nice workout routine. He liked to "whale on his pecs" as he put it, and it showed. He had a solid chest, a flat stomach, and big, manly biceps. I don't know how much time he spent at the gym or doing bench-presses at home, but I do know that when he went to see a personal trainer his answer to the question, "What are your fitness goals?" was simply, "To look good naked."

I can't fault a 23-year old guy (or anyone for that matter) for exercising for any reason, even if only for vanity's sake, and at the time I actually admired his honesty. In some ways, I still do. But the guy is now married and I wonder if he still takes so much time to carefully craft his body now that he's no longer in the dating world. Maybe he keeps himself looking great for his wife, but if he does, I would still say it's a pretty shallow reason to work out.

Here's a cold hard fact: nobody really cares what you look like. The older you get, the more you realize this is true. Only you care, especially when you feel like you're having a "fat day" or a "bad hair day." I'm not saying people aren't aware of what others look like – obviously the fashion and cosmetics industries wouldn't exist otherwise – but no one cares more than you do about whether or not your mascara is smudged or how amazing your butt looks in your jeans. People only want to know what you can offer them. And you're inevitably going to be able to offer more to the world if you're healthy and therefore have more energy to expend. 

We all get good and bad genes, right? I've never been an especially active person (other than the brief period in which I was a determined distance runner) yet I've never worried about my weight or what I eat because I'm genetically predisposed to stay lean, and be able to up and climb a mountain without passing out even if I've been on the couch all winter. 

But I've realized I've reached that inevitable point in my life at which fitness can no longer be taken for granted. I can no longer abuse my body or neglect my diet and deny that it's my responsibility and mine alone to be well and healthy and vibrant. 

Unfortunately another genetic trait I inherited was idiopathic scoliosis, for which I had to wear a body brace 24/7 for nine months when I was 15. My spine is still curved and will be for the rest of my life, which leads to stiffness and some pain because of muscle imbalances. Two months ago today I injured myself falling on my tailbone/sacrum when I slipped on a patch of ice at work (I was working part-time as a farm hand at a dairy farm), so I now have to be extra vigilant about building core strength and looking after my back. No one else is going to do it for me. As my physiotherapist recently said, "It's your spine." I can be given all the motivation and information and warnings in the world, but the only thing to make me actually get fit is my decision to do so. And it's high time. If I want to let myself deteriorate, that's my prerogative, but I'm not the only one who will suffer. If I'm going to do anything awesome with my life I know I'm not going to be able to do it if I'm in not in good health. Here's a pep talk from Kid President about being awesome:

Working out for the "right" reasons 

Until I hit my 30s, I exercised only when I felt like it and only because my body was still young and fresh enough to do whatever I wanted it to (I remember running down mountains and my knees were totally cool with it). And so it was fun to go hiking and snowboarding and dancing with friends, never having to worry about warming up, or being patient about recovery time or general maintenance through good nutrition. I just moved around in the world without pain and never worried about things like getting injured.

Well, almost never. I had a stress fracture in my femur when I was 19 from distance running and I royally messed up my left IT band from under-training for a marathon in 2011. It's still messed up and my knee hurts when I run or go for a long hike. And now that I've injured my back I don't know how long it's going to be before I can resume normal activity again or when/if I'll be able to go back to a physical labour job.

I realize the older I get, the more preventative work I have to do to make sure nothing breaks or stops moving the way it's supposed to. I have to make sure I put the right fuel in to make sure I can still keep up my regular speed. If I'd been better to my body in my 20s, and even teens, both through diet and exercise, I wouldn't have to deal with a lot of what I do now. If I'd always kept myself in peak condition, I'd still be in peak condition now, I'm sure, and doing cool things and making the world better. 

I'd be like Casey Neistat. As the YouTube god told South African health blogger Dylan Muhlenburg in a recent interview
“Your brain is so valuable and without your body it’s limited. That’s a really scary prospect for me. I really value my body. Not to the point that I won’t take risks. If I can never walk again because the chute didn’t open, that’s fine. But to never run again because I ate too many potato chips? That’s not okay.” 
According to bits and pieces I've picked up from trolling the Internet for biographical info about him (he's both my career and fitness idol), Neistat shattered his femur in a motorcycle accident but kept running despite his doctor's advice to quit because of the titanium rod in his leg. He's run 21 marathons – his latest was the 2013 NYC Marathon and his time was 3:03. The guy is crazy fit. So I believe him when he says he works out daily (running, biking, and swimming), and that he does it not to look great (though he sure does) but to stay sharp mentally and be on his game. And no one could deny he is on his game

Anyway, the point is, I need to start working out regularly because I need to get back to work. And I need to stop taking prescription pain medication every day. And I need to stop spending the majority of my days in bed. It's not about looking good naked, it's about feeling ready for anything life hands you and being able to give back what you can. It's about being physically and mentally conditioned to do your thing, whatever that thing might be. So I have to remind myself to see this injury for what it is – a silver lining, a wake-up call, whatever you want to call it – to get in the best shape of my life, not just for one shining moment, but for the rest of my days. Because in life, there are no days off. 

So how to get in shape? 

Now I guess the question is, how am I going to do it? Where should I start, and what should I do to get fit? So far, all I can do because of my back is stretching and some easy strength training exercises the physio showed me how to do in my room. Walking to the grocery store causes excruciating pain. But I'm optimistic. Hell, if Rosalie Bradford can lose 900 pounds by starting her weight loss program just by clapping her hands, there's really no excuse for not making one small step in the right direction towards being healthy, no matter where you're at right now in your life. 

And if this guy can go from where he was to where he is now, so can I, and so can you. This will blow you away:

If you exercise, what do you do to get fit and stay healthy? And if you don't work out already, what are you going to do to get moving? 


Virpi said...

Thanks for the reminder Marelle!

Marelle said...

I'm hoping to get my scuba license sooner than later Virpi! Maybe you can point me in the right direction for that. : )