To me, one of the
most interesting aspects of health and fitness is the fact that everyone knows
what's good for them, and hardly anyone actually does it.
Why not? Clearly the
benefits of health and fitness are indisputable. Working out regularly and
keeping yourself physically fit will extend your lifespan, protect your body
against age-related physical degeneration, preserve your balance and agility
deep into old age, prevent dementia, and give you something to do while you
enjoy all those extra years tacked onto your life. Eating a healthy diet, by
which I mean a diet well supported by the medical literature, such as the DASH
or Mediterranean diets, will prevent weight gain and everything that comes from
weight gain, including diabetes, heart disease, bad-fitting clothes, premature
death, and so on. I'll add that a healthy and varied diet will also expand your
flavor palette, enabling you to enjoy a wider variety of foods than you would
if you just stuck to chicken nuggets and fries like a four-year-old.
But so what? It's
not as if anyone doesn't already know this. The problem isn't a lack of
knowledge or a lack of supporting evidence. The problem is that people would
just rather binge-watch Netflix series while eating chicken nuggets and fries
like a four-year-old, even despite knowing
they're killing themselves.
People don't need
more or better knowledge to make healthier choices. Instead, they need more
compelling reasons to change. Below, I've compiled a list of reasons why I think people ought to eat healthy and work
out. Maybe these reasons aren't enough to convince you, but they're the best
reasons that came to my own mind.
Do it for the children.
Like it or not, your
children are going to grow up to be just like you. So, if you have body image
problems, a bad diet, and an antipathy to exercise, so will your children. You, alright? They learned it from watching you!
Children want to do everything their parents do, at least until
they discover that it's hard. If you spend your family time watching TV, then
that is what your children will believe constitutes "family time." If
instead you spend your time hiking, biking, or playing board games, then that's what your children will learn
"family time" is. When your child becomes a teenager and doesn't want
to do anything but watch TV and play on the internet, don’t ask yourself why
your child became such a bum. Instead, admonish yourself for teaching your
child that down time means staring at a screen.
As difficult as it
is for some parents to believe, children will learn to eat anything that's put
in front of them. There is nothing genetic about the fact that Indian kids like
samosas and Japanese kids like gyoza and Italian kids like ravioli. Kids around
the world come to prefer whatever they eat most often. If you discover that
your child only ever wants to eat mac-and-cheese, ask yourself how often you serve mac-and-cheese. Stop serving it; stop
ordering it at restaurants; stop allowing your child to demand mac-and-cheese.
Then, sit back and watch as your child, as if by magic, learns to acquire new
Furthermore, if your
child watches you engage in emotional eating, negative self-talk,
binge-snacking, and constant grazing, then guess which habits your child will
develop. If instead you choose to eat well-balanced meals at scheduled
mealtimes and strictly limit snacks and treats, guess which habits your child
will adopt then.
So maybe you don't
have enough desire to turn over a new leaf for yourself. But unless you want
your child to have all the health and fitness struggles you have, you ought to
do it for them.
Being Healthy Is Glamorous.
Pretty much the
easiest way to command attention in a room full of people is to be extremely
healthy. That might seem surprising to some people, considering the fact that
working out takes time and effort, but consider the alternatives. Most people
who command this kind of attention do so by being well-respected leaders in
their fields, which means they've invested countless hours and dollars in
schooling, pursuing perfect grades and a flawless resume, with a good dose of
luck along the way, across decades of their lives. Compared to that, going to
the gym every day and eating your vegetables seems almost trivial.
Of course, many
people are glamorous simply because they're attractive. There is a genetic
limit to how attractive a person can be, but every factor that is within your
control involves diet and exercise. If you want your clothes to fit better,
diet and exercise. If you want to find fancy new clothes that will make you
look attractive in public, diet and exercise. If you want to take appealing
photos of yourself and post them on social media, diet and exercise. If you
don't want to do any of that, and would prefer to simply marry into a glamorous
family, well how do you think you'll be able to accomplish that? You either
need money, power, or attractiveness. And considering the costs, diet and
exercise is the single easiest and most effective way to get there.
Glamorous people, of
course, are glamorous even on their days off. They look glamorous when they're
wearing pajamas or lounging around in board shorts. How? By diet and exercise.
Any way you slice
it, when it comes to glamor, the most effective way to achieve a modicum of
glamor without having to invest decades of your life in career success or
hitting the genetic lottery is to eat right and exercise.
Being Healthy Is Fun.
Time and again, when
I talk to people who resist the idea of diet and exercise, their resistance
generally comes down to the notion that eating right and working out isn't as
fun as eating pizza and watching TV. I think this is nonsense.
For one thing, I'm
not even sure whether it's neurologically true. Exercise releases endorphins,
triggers and satisfies opioid receptors, produces endocannabinoids, releases
dopamine and serotonin, reduces physical sensations of pain, and increases your
sex drive. The combination of all of this is enough to clinically alleviate
depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. How many other ways of spending 20-40
minutes of your time can accomplish all of this at the same time?
But for another
thing, consider what this argument implies: It implies that eating cupcakes and
spending a night out drinking is more fun than wingsuit diving, downhill
mountain biking, open water swimming, mountaineering, ice climbing,
skateboarding, intramural soccer, pickup basketball games, and so on.
understand that there's no accounting for specific tastes. If basketball isn't
your thing, that's fine, and also beside the point. I don't know anyone who
doesn't envy a wingsuit diver for flying through the air like Rocky the
Squirrel. I don't know anyone who wouldn't like to breathe the air of the
Himalayan Mountains at least once. I don't know anyone wouldn't like to try
riding a bike through the landscapes of Moab, Utah, or going skiing with the
beautiful people in Aspen, Colorado. Even if a few of these things don't
interest you, there is always something.
There is always
something that people desperately wish they could accomplish that involves
physical fitness. It doesn't matter which specific thing it might be for you,
personally, it matters only that for some people, physical fitness is the only
barrier between them and their dreams.
Consider that, dreams! There is no way cupcakes are worth
your dreams. There is no way that eating a Baconator-a-week is worth a dream.
We all understand this, and maybe achieving a dream is a lot of hard work and
involves willpower that many do not have.
But to argue that
smoking cigars and being 300 pounds is more fun -- as several of my
acquaintances have argued -- than eating right, exercising, and being able to
skydive or hike to the top of a mountain in Jasper, Alberta is complete and
utter nonsense. Doing the things that you can do when you're fit is the most
fun you will ever have.
People Remember And Value Experiences Over Things.
I don't remember
where I was when I ate the best pizza I've ever had. In hindsight, there are a
few restaurants that might be able to claim the title, but I have no way of
knowing for sure, short of retracing my 40 years of pizza-eating across
countries and continents and then trying to remember it all again. The truth
is, the best pizza-related experiences I've ever had had nothing to do with the
actual pizza. I loved The Factory in Logan, Utah because my sister recommended
it to me, and my friends and I had a lot of fun hanging out there. I loved
Pizza 73 in Lethbridge, Alberta because they had funny cooks who made jokes
with me when I placed phone orders. I loved Lorenzo's Pizza in Ottawa, Ontario
because my wife and I used to go there when we were dating. Every great pizza
has a corresponding fond memory that has nothing to do with pizza.
Which means, my love
of pizza has nothing to do with pizza. You could have taken away the pizza,
replaced it with oatmeal, and let the memories play out otherwise the same way,
and my love for pizza would become a love of oatmeal. (Actually, I do love oatmeal!)
There is nothing you
remember having eaten and loved that is not in actuality a memory about the
people you were with, the peripheral experiences you had, and the time of your
life in which you experienced it. This is, after all, the reason addiction specialists
insist that recovering addicts get new friends. It's not merely that the old
friends are bad -- often they are perfectly good people -- it's just that
addicts have to learn how to have experiences without associating those
experiences with the addictive substance.
And people who are
convinced that Thanksgiving is wonderful because of the food are idiots. You
can buy turkey and serve pumpkin pie any time you want to. Why, then, do you
reserve it for a special occasion? The answer is, of course, because
Thanksgiving isn't really about the food at all.
Compare that to
getting in great shape, buying a daring bathing suit, and going to Cancun where
you can show your body off. Again, it's not the bathing suit that you'll
remember, and you'll probably not really remember what Cancun was like, either.
But you'll remember being in great shape, you'll remember turning heads, and
you'll remember any passionate night that came from that.
And suppose you
opted instead to summit Everest or run in the Boston Marathon. You'll remember
those experiences, those sets of experiences, far more than you'll ever
remember The Greatest Doughnut Anyone Ever Brought To The Office.
If you want to fill
your life with great memories, skip the doughnut and train for the beach. Or