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In part 4 of my series on living well, we’ll be looking at the 3rd Limb of Wellness: Exercise. Grab a drink and settle in. I’ve got a lot to say on this topic.
James and I just got done recording a podcast with the super-charming Heath Padgett of the RV Entrepreneur. Heath, and his wife Alyssa, live full-time in their Winnebago Brave they’ve named “Merica”, and they run a popular podcast for others interested in working from the road. Heath had us on to talk about the challenges of staying fit as full-timers. He shared his own struggles with staying motivated, and then he asked me the most interesting question I’ve had in a long time.
“But why should I exercise?”
He didn’t mean it in an argumentative sort of way. It was asked from a place of true curiosity. It reminded me that without a background understanding of “why”, our entire motivation system to DO exercise is already broken from the get-go. So, this article, Heath, is for you. And for anyone else struggling to stay motivated.
The Body’s Default Modes: Growth or Decay
Depending mostly on your age, your body is running off a default mode of either growing or decaying. Now, Heath, who’s probably somewhere in his 20’s is lucky. His default mode is still growth. So, when he neglects getting exercise, his body is still pretty forgiving about it. But if you’re young and reading this, by no means does this mean you’re off the hook with exercise. While you may not decay if you slack on your exercise, your energy, mood, strength, illnesses, and your future health are all wrapped up in getting physical activity.
And then we get a little older.
Probably somewhere around our 40’s (or so) that free ride of youth ends, and our body stops being forgiving when we neglect exercise. Exactly when it’ll happen depends on how well we treated our body up to that point (and good old genetics). But you can be sure it inevitably WILL happen, and you’ll find yourself transitioning from Growth Default Mode to Decay Default Mode. You’ll be in Decay Default Mode for the rest of your life. I know that sounds pretty depressing, but there’s very good news here. There is a way we can override the Decay Default Mode! There’s only one way though, and there are no shortcuts. Guess what it is? Yup. Exercise.
Aging: The Most Misunderstood Term Ever
When you think of aging, what comes to mind? Here let me help. Weak, slow, decrepit, body aches and pains, etc. None of those ailments however are aging. While aging is a normal process, and we’re all doing it right now this very moment, it’s easily confused with decaying. We all seem to have the bar set so low that we assume becoming decrepit is part of the aging process. It isn’t. Aging is up to nature, but decaying… that’s all on you. Consider these statistics I got from Dr. Henry Lodge, author of Younger Next Year:
- 70% of decay that occurs alongside aging…weakness, sore joints, sketchy balance, feeling crappy…can be held at bay almost until the very end of life with regular exercise.
- 50% of the illnesses and injuries you have in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle to include regular exercise.
- 70% of premature deaths are lifestyle-related.
Decaying is an optional part of the aging process that you can either allow to happen or you can combat. And since there’s no magic pill to do the work for you, you’ve only got one weapon. Exercise.
HOW you live is largely under your control.
In the earlier parts of this article series, I touched on the mind-body relationship, and have been waiting for a chance to get deeper into that. It’s here! Okay, so first, let’s think of ourselves in two parts. The mind… that’s one. The body… that’s the other. Your mind is the director of the whole operation, in charge of everything you think, feel, and direct the body to do. The body, however, is separate from that. It is deaf, dumb, and blind. The mind talks and directs, and the body has no choice but to obey. So, your mind wields all the power.
The problem with finding exercise motivation lies within the disconnect between these two parts. The body craves exercise to grow, strengthen, and amp up your disease-prevention, but the body can’t DO exercise alone. It has to wait for the mind to direct some exercise implementation. But our mind can be pretty complacent, and would rather meet its own needs over the body’s… by engaging in things the mind finds more pleasurable to do.
Do you have a pet? I ask because I’m always so fascinated how easily people can neglect their own bodies, yet they are incredibly loving and nurturing and would sacrifice anything for Fido. Kind of twisted, isn’t it?! If we had that sort of nurturing relationship with our own bodies, imagine how enormous the potential changes to our wellness levels would be. Maybe that’s what we all need to do. Think of our bodies as another pet we need to nurture and care for.
So basically what I’m trying to say here is that you need to find a way to make your mind take on a more nurturing role over the needs of your body. The key to doing just that is through practicing the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the first two limbs of wellness, as we discussed in parts 2 and 3 of this series. Once you can master that more nurturing mindset, you will have all the motivation you need to make exercise a priority in your life.
The Sloughing of the Body:
By the time you’re done reading this sentence, 50 million of your body’s cells will have died off and will be replaced. Some we lose through whatever we’re physically doing, some just reach the end of their lifespan, and others deliberately self-destruct. Cell lifespans vary, depending on what type of body part we’re talking about. For example, your bones get completely regenerated every decade, and your red blood cells live only for about 4 months. So, that arm that’s been lifting your coffee cup while you read? It’s a totally new arm from the one you had 10 years back. It’s pretty weird when you think of the body like that, isn’t it. But, there are some cells we keep from birth to death, so you can squash that old myth that we’re a totally different person every 7 years. We aren’t. (So quit using that as your excuse for that mullet you rocked back in the 80s, James…)
Even your muscles cells are completely replaced about 3 times a year. That’s where exercise comes in. Exercise sets off hundreds of chemical processes that signal the cells towards “growth” mode, which overwhelms that default mode of decay. And THAT, gang, truly is the foundation for aging well. Exercise rebuilds the body with a stronger immune system, a heightened resistance to many diseases, increased energy, a sharper mind, and a strengthened body that moves more efficiently through life. Without exercise, our muscles go back to that default mode, and decay wins the day. So, when I talk about aging well, this is it. You’ve got two choices to how you’ll age. You can either get up and go exercise or you can continue on a path of decaying. There is no other choice.
And Finally…answering Heath’s Question:
So Heath, all of this was my long-winded way of getting back to your question, “why should I exercise.” Here’s your answer. You exercise for Future Heath. He depends on it to keep the Heath Machine running at its highest efficiency. You don’t exercise for Present Heath, he’s already the product of whatever choices Past Heath made and you can’t change where you are right now. You can only change what happens next.
How Much Exercise?
So now we finally get to the action plan. To age well and to keep decay-mode at bay, you need to…
Exercise 6 days a week.
It is non-negotiable, and it is also for the rest of your life. Mix it up with mostly cardio and strength, but make sure you’re also working your flexibility and balance, too. And while I wish I could tell you that just getting 10,000 steps each day will cover you, it won’t. The intensity of your workouts is everything. You need to be working out at a level where you’re uncomfortable. Where you’re sweaty. 10,000 steps counts your trips to the fridge, the bathroom, and simply walking around doing daily living tasks. None of those steps are intense enough to trigger the training response… which is the chemical processes that occur when we do moderate to high intensity exercise. So, doing 10,000 leisurely steps doesn’t combat your Decay Default Mode. You won’t get any “growth” benefits that you need to get stronger and healthier.
Shoot for your workout sessions lasting around an hour.
And don’t bother with those amping-up-gradually strategies, you need to jump right in. Start today! I challenge you to make exercise your new most important task…the thing at the top of your daily To Do list. We’re all already programmed at “going to work”, so thinking of it as your “job” helps, too. My friends, NOTHING you are doing from your 40’s on is as important as daily exercise. (I bolded, underlined, and italicized because it’s the most important thing I’ve said this whole article.) Plus what we do BEFORE our 40’s sets us up for a good 40s-and-beyond so that’s just as important. And by the way, it’s okay to hate exercise. Just do it anyway.
Stef’s Tips for Making it Happen:
- Make a big stink about starting this new exercise-based lifestyle. Tell everyone, throw a party, go buy a bike, plan a weeklong high-intensity adventure trip in the RV…just do something to make your new commitment meaningful.
- Take action that will deepen your commitment. Hire a personal trainer, join a gym, experiment with group classes, or find a sport you love doing and immerse yourself in it. The key here is not just saying you’ll do it, put some effort into creating change so you really will do it.
- Set a time each day for exercise. Make that time each day untouchable. Having a schedule makes it more of a habit…and habits are everything in human nature. It helps us go on auto-pilot and stick with it.
So, there you have it… my thoughts on creating an exercise-based lifestyle. You know, it’s funny. I recently put up a Facebook picture of James exercising at the campsite. Someone commented with this: “When I go RVing I don’t want to exercise. I want to sit by a fire and drink wine! The Fit RV, ridiculous!” It made me feel kind of sad for her! She seems to have no interest in leaving her decay-default-mode, and feels strongly enough about it she left a comment. I couldn’t inspire her to rethink her wellness, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve planted a seed with you? After all, your health…and how you choose to age…depends on it.
Comments are appreciated! Feel free to continue the conversation down below. And if you’re ready to read on to Part 5 of this article series, CLICK HERE!