2012-01-20

Life, Health, and Choices

Not long ago, I blogged about the nature of fitness as I see it; namely, that we are confronted with trade-offs during every health and fitness pursuit in which we engage. In that article, I discussed how the build-up of strength-oriented muscle is a goal that is in many ways counterproductive to the goal of building up one's capacity for cardiovascular exercise.

Of course, health and fitness trade-offs don't really end there. The simple fact is that everything you wish to accomplish in life takes time, and is therefore in competition with life's other priorities. Many of us aren't yet ready to tackle the question of how best to tailor their workout regimen to their goals. Instead, many are simply struggling with how to make health and fitness a priority, given the other aspects of their busy lives.

The Unavoidable Truth: Life Ends In Death
Many of the people who are uninterested in health and fitness excuse their perspective by acknowledging their bad behavior, and then saying, "We're all going to die of something, someday!"

These folks mean well. In fact, they're expressing something very important: Don't sweat the small stuff, don't fret over grey hair and wrinkles, because it is an unavoidable fact of being comprised of organic material. From the moment we're born, we are slowly rusting and working our way closer to our own inevitable demise. We are all indeed going to die of something, someday.

It's good to remember that no matter how healthy we are, some aspects of our lives will never change. We will grow old and wrinkly, we will lose speed, strength, endurance, balance, and our ability to recover rapidly after an injury. With time comes more injuries, more aches and pains, more body fat, and fewer first-place trophies. Part of being a well-balanced, mentally healthy person is learning to transition from the child who dreams of athletic excellence, to the person at the top of their game, to an aging person who should no longer expect to win the race (or to even place well). In the long run, our bodies face a final and inescapable limit to which we must all yield.

Unfortunately, though, I think our less health-conscious friends are missing something more important than all of that.

It's About Quality of Life
I don't exercise to combat age, turn myself into a top model, or live forever. Moreover, I think people who are motivated by such things are setting themselves up for a long life of misery caused by fighting the inevitable (see above).

Instead, I work out because I want to ensure that my quality of life is good, no matter my age.

We have all met senior citizens who can barely walk from place to place, their muscles completely atrophied, their bones brittle, their spines bent, and so forth. Such people are quite unfortunately ripe for sudden falls, inhibited reaction to emergencies, and so on. Beyond the immediate risks they face, they have greatly reduced mobility and often suffer a sense of isolation as a result. Another way to say this is that their bodies are in a state such that their quality of life is diminished.

For diabetics like myself, this is all the more important. Not maintaining my health means suffering blindness, amputation, and organ failure in the long run. Any of these comorbidities is sufficiently debilitating that I can literally not imagine my life in such a scenario.

The fact is, I want to postpone these things for as long as possible. I may die at a ripe age, or I may die much sooner than anyone expects. No matter when I pass on, though, I want my quality of life to be as high as possible.

In short, I may not be able to control how many moments I have in life, but I want each one to count. That's what health and fitness is all about; not living forever, but really living, no matter when our time comes.

But Hard Work Is a Drag
Nevertheless, many of us feel that always eating right and working out hard is an unpleasant weight on our shoulders. The idea here is not that health and fitness are bad, but that they encroach on the pleasantries life affords when we ignore them.

For example, there is an obvious conflict between eating lots of spinach and binging on chocolate cake. More to the point, there is an obvious conflict between being able to eat a strawberry milkshake every day and maintaining a healthy waistline. In this way, many feel that pursuing a healthy body is a force that prevents us from pursuing a delicious treat.

Similarly, we might rather catch up on our favorite television show than head to the gym and do 90 minutes of HIIT.

So, a lot of people get into a little bit of mental trap: Should I be healthy, or should I do the things I really want to do? They find themselves torn between their impulses and their ability to stay healthy.

Good Health Isn't Negative
There is no easy way around this conundrum. A lot of it depends on the particular individual's sense of motivation. Plenty of people only ever work out so that they can eat a lot of treats or party hard on the weekends. Other people became health-conscious as a result of body issues that they sought to correct through diet and exercise. Still others just don't have a lot of time.

Unfortunately, there is no magic switch that you can set to the "on" position in order to change your whole mentality from being sedentary to being fit and healthy. To a certain extent, you have to be cognizant of the benefits of health and fitness and, in the end, favor those benefits over the temporary thrills of a daily doughnut and some good daytime television. I can't tell you that one thing that will turn your life around from sedentary to athletic.

What I can tell you is that those of us who favor healthy lifestyles don't feel restricted by them. We don't dread our daily workout(s). We don't make faces when we are confronted with a plateful of vegetables, and we don't "miss" not eating several slices of pie at Thanksgiving.

Simply stated, being healthy is something we're interested in. The healthier we are, the better we like our lives. We don't weigh tradeoffs between sleeping all day and having a beach-ready body. We simply understand that having a beach-ready body is fun; so fun, in fact, that it seems more fun to us than sleeping all day.

Conclusion
I talk to people all the time who believe that being healthy is difficult, hard work, and totally not worth it. While all of these folks have their own reasons for feeling that way, what they all seem to have in common is the inability to understand that a healthy lifestyle isn't in any way restrictive for those of us who pursue fitness.

Can this love of health and fitness be transferred to those people who feel otherwise? Maybe yes, maybe no. The one thing I know is that if you have chosen to pursue a healthy lifestyle, you will be a lot happier if you conceive of that choice from a positive perspective rather than a negative one.

Confucius is said to have said, "Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life." This rings true for health and fitness: find and pursue diets and exercise regimens that you enjoy and suddenly your whole perspective changes. Rather than missing out on chocolate cake, you gain plate after plate of healthy, delicious, guilt-free food. Rather than grudgingly trekking to the gym after work every day, you get to essentially play all evening long as soon as you get out of the office.

These aren't restrictions, they are incredible benefits.